Contrary to popular belief, a dragon stuffed toy is not reserved exclusively for little boys; girls too, are quite fond of dragon stuffed animals. Given these creatures are a universal source of ongoing fascination, it’s no surprise they are not gender specific.
While dragons didn’t appear on the scene all at the same time or in the same form, they are all part of many societies and legends around the world. It’s believed they first made their appearance in China, with a series of both objects and work chronicling their emergence and evolution.
In general, a dragons appearance is drawn on mostly from the reptile world. Reptiles are common themes found in folklore and are a source of both fear and fascination. The name ‘dragon’ comes from the Greek word ‘drakon’ which comes from the verb ‘derkomai,’ meaning “to gaze intensely.” The gaze of the dragon is similar in scope to the snake whose eyes are both transparent and fixed. It wasn’t until the 19th century when fossil remains of very large animals were defined as belonging to giant reptiles – dinosaurs – that once roamed the earth. With the help of human imagination, these same dinosaurs began to be associated with dragons that had seemingly survived the Great Flood, taking refuge in places that were out of the way to the rest of civilization.
It is thought that dragons were able to live and thrive in any environment with their power magnified because of their mastery of earth, water, air, and fire. If legend is to be believed, dragons sometimes lived in caves underground or were buried right in the earth where they triggered earthquakes and left their mark on the landscape. In Asia, dragons are considered the messengers between the gods and humans, while in the West, they are a representation of Satan – a fallen angel who kept his wings. In some ancient texts, dragons are described as fire-breathing, although it’s only in more recent images where this has actually been depicted. The water element is quite a common theme in every type of dragon, often being thought of as aquatic animals that can bring about rain. While rain is a source of life it can also cause devastating destruction in the form of floods.
The ongoing legend of the dragon throughout history has been fuelled through various “proofs;” In Antiquity, Aristotle made reference to them and Marco Polo said on his travels through Asia, that he saw them. Curiosity cabinets in the 16th century, displayed fire-breathing she-monsters representing dragons but scientists eventually went on to prove that these displays were nothing more than fakes.
Dragons are often known as the makers of heroes; with the terror that they wreak, humans and demigods alike need to defeat them so as to either save a princess, free a town, or get their hands on treasure (often guarded by dragons). Combat usually ensues culminating in the death of the dragon and the slayer deemed a hero. In both Greek and Asian legends, many a dragon-slayer can be found. Today, the dragon is considered an ambivalent animal, in the West, associated with evil, but in Asia, a positive influence. In Bali for example, dragons are placed above cradles and in Europe they’re used to chase away demons.
No matter your feelings about dragons, children just can’t seem to get enough of them. Many of them have been depicted in film (Dreamworks’ “How to Train Your Dragon”) and literature (the song turned into a story entitled “Puff The Magic Dragon”) as the ‘good-guy,’ rather than the terrifying monster of old. As is the case, dragon stuffed toys often find their way into children’s bedrooms all over the world. Despite not having the same reputation as the teddy bear, the dragon stuffed toy is a great cuddler nonetheless.
Copyright Shelley Vassall, 2010. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.