Dragons are truly timeless with a history reaching back thousands of years. Despite the western fascination with the fire-breathing tyrants, dragons actually originated as thoughtful, wise creatures in the Asian countries. Although over time, the different views of dragons have meshed and spread, generally, tales of dragon lore vary according to the Eastern and Western traditions.
China has the most ancient dragon traditions. In China, dragons were proud, ancient creatures that ensure good luck and wealth. Dragons were not to be feared, but rather a creature of great honor and respect. Chinese dragons also have five toes, with dragons to the south losing toes the farther they move away. Dragons in Japan, for example, only have three toes. Eastern Dragons are also revered for being able to control the amount of rain needed for the harvest as well as offering protection against evil spirits.
Western dragons, as described during the centuries surrounding the Middle Ages,
were large reptilian creatures with wings and the ability to breathe fire. These dragons were known to steal away princesses or fair maidens, battle knights, eat villagers, and create giant hoards of gold and treasure.
Rarely portrayed as kind or wise, these dragons were fierce beasts with little intellect and a great deal of savagery. The only exceptions to this viewpoint were the Vikings who carved dragons into the prow of their ships to bestow sharp eyesight and craftiness to the warriors, and the Welsh who claimed the dragon as their national symbol.
Dragons, as we see them today, are extremely varied. The East and West have blended to produce dragons with a smattering of all, or none, of the previous characteristics. Dragons appear in many popular fantasy series. Many times the dragon is a wise, friendly creature with extrasensory abilities, and other times, the dragons remain true to the fierce nature characteristic of the Western tradition.
Dragons are also extremely popular in clothing design and in accessories Ė including tattoos. While the exact interpretation of the dragon emblem or tattoo relies on the individual wearing said item, generally, dragons today continue to represent wisdom, heroics, and certain fierceness.
The most common depictions of dragons, sometimes called fire-lizards, are as follows:
- Dragons are huge animals with scales, reptilian bodies, forked tongues, and the ability to breathe fire.
- Dragons are essentially magical creatures with innate powers for good or evil, and often a great wisdom that transcends that of humans.
- Dragons are fierce creatures with the intent to kidnap beautiful princesses in exchange for treasure. (This version of the dragon is still popular in some fantasy novels.)
- Dragons appear in many colors, shapes, and sizes. There are different names given to the different "styles" of dragons depending on the originating country or author.
- Dragons are the symbols of royalty in China and some other countries.
- Dragons can control the weather and storms.
- Dragons are the preferred means of transportation for many wizards, elves, or magicians. Dragon riders often have a magical ability of their own.