Changing Attitudes Toward Dragons in the West

Dragons used to be villains in European myth and fiction—always. Knights were celebrated for slaying them, and no one cared about the dragon’s viewpoint.

There was even a connection with religion. For example, St. George, the mythical hero of Britain, seems to have become a saint mainly for killing a dragon.

Some mainstream Christians still have a religious dislike of dragons, though no one seems to know why. One reason for that may be very old and may have come from folklore associated with Christianity itself, and before that, from Judaism. The ancient deity Tiamat, a pre-Christian pagan goddess, is considered by some historians to be the first dragon mentioned in Western mythology.

That is especially interesting in light of a recent trend in modern fantasy fiction. I have been noticing more and more female authors portraying dragons as shape shifters and as lovers and protectors of women.

Cover of "Tea with the Black Dragon"

Cover of Tea with the Black Dragon

The first one I recall was the hero in the novel Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. McAvoy. In that story the dragon was not a shape shifter but had been curious about humans and had been permanently changed into a man, who promptly fell in love with a human woman. In the story he solves a mystery and protects her from some dangerous men.

A few years later I read a story about a woman, fleeing abuse, who encounters a shape-shifting dragon in his human form, falls in love with him, and goes to live with him as his mate. Now I see more and more dragon shape-shifters as romantic figures in urban fantasy romances. It makes sense.

What if the dragons in the medieval tales of brave knights “rescuing abducted maidens” were actually the victims? Despite the heroic stories and modern glamorization in movies and fiction, the Middle Ages were actually a dark, chaotic, and violent time. Women were legally considered property.

What if dragons were originally the good guys, who respected women, treated them well, and offered shelter in their remote caves? And what if those dragons could take human form? Wouldn’t they have made them tremendously appealing to women?

Apparently the ancient ways, which respected women (and may have been symbolized by dragons) remained tremendously appealing to women throughout the Middle Ages. They must have been, since women risked their lives to continue practicing the old ways despite centuries of Church persecution, until finally religious propaganda succeeded in making both women and dragons into villains.

By Victorian times the propaganda had prevailed. Dragons were bad; women were either bad or saintly invalids/angels. What a bad deal for women!

But something funny happened in the West. Asian cultures, especially those of China and Japan, became known and respected for their spiritual wisdom. And those cultures revere dragons. Is it any wonder that in modern times dragons have been restored to their place of honor?

By the 1960s we started to see the resurgence of dragons as good guys. The song “Puff the Magic Dragon” was a huge hit for several years. Then gradually we started to see dragons as friends to humans in movies and books.

As fantasy fiction (movies, TV, books and games) becomes more and more mainstream, it  is no surprise that dragons are popular. I guess it was only a few more steps to seeing dragons as romantic heros. But not female dragons, at least not yet that I am aware of.

Female dragon heroines with human mates are something we still have to look forward to, I guess. Let me know if you spot any.

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About Dragon Mystic

I fell in love with dragons when I read Tea With the Black Dragon, and never looked back. Not the clunky winged Medieval dragons that ate cows, the graceful Asian dragons that could fly without wings. Later I discovered the elegant Welsh dragons, red and white, as described by R.J. Stewart in his books on the historical Merlin.
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