Back | Next


Dragons are by far the most potent and widespread of all mythological beasts, and dragons or dragon-like creatures appear in just about every mythology in the world. So omnipresent is the image of the dragon, and so powerful the emotions that it evokes, that Carl Sagan, among others, has suggested that dragons are actually a racial memory of dinosaurs, left over from the days when our remote ancestors were tiny tree-dwelling insectivores who cowered in shivering terror whenever one of the immense flesh-eaters like Tyrannosaurus Rex came crashing through the forest. Whatever the truth of that, it's certainly true that dragons are one of the few mythological creatures that it's almost pointless to bother describing. As Avram Davidson puts it, "Although the wombat is real and the dragon is not, nobody knows what a wombat looks like, and everybody knows what a dragon looks like." There are variations, of course—sometimes the dragon is wingless and rather like a gigantic worm; sometimes like a huge snake; most often like an immense, winged lizard. Sometimes it breathes fire, sometimes not—but, for the most part, the rule holds. With very few exceptions, almost everyone does know what the dragon looks like, which is why it is one of the master-symbols of fantasy. (Or perhaps it's the other way around.)

Although the Eastern Dragon (and particularly the Chinese Dragon) is usually depicted as a wise and benevolent creature, a divine being associated with the bringing of the life-giving rains, what we have been describing here primarily fits the Western Dragon ... and, not surprisingly, it is the Western Dragon, the terrible fire-breathing dragon of folklore and fairy tales, that has been the dominant image of the dragon in Western literature and art. In addition to its well-known fondness for snacking on princesses, the Western Dragon is a covetous beast, and can often be found guarding the immense treasures of gold and jewels that it's ravaged from human realms. Although sometimes portrayed as merely a huge mindless beast, the dragon is just as often depicted as having the gift of speech; in this guise, it is frequently a sorcerer, an active magic-user itself as well as merely being a magical creature, and some say that Dragon Magic is the strongest and most ancient magic of all .. .

In the stories that follow, we'll see a dragon so immense that he has literally become part of the landscape, watch a battle between a Hero and a ferocious dragon of the genuine old-fashioned maiden-eating variety, and then, for a change, get to see a little of the dragon's side of the story .. .

Lucius Shepard is a hot new writer whose work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Universe, and elsewhere. His acclaimed first novel Green Eyes was published as an Ace Special last year. Upcoming is a new novel, called Foreign Devils.

Tanith Lee is one of the best known of modern fantasists, and one of the most prolific, with well over a dozen books to her credit. Her most recent book is the collection The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales. She has won two World Fantasy Awards for her short fiction.

Ursula K. Le Guin is a multiple award-winner, and has been widely hailed as one of the major writers of our times. She is the author of such landmark books as The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and the reknowned "Earthsea" trilogy, among others. Her most recent book is the novel Always Coming Home.

Theme anthologies about dragons include Dragons of Light and Dragons of Darkness, both edited by Orson Scott Card, and Dragon Tales, edited by Isaac Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles Waugh.

Back | Next