So, what is it with my enduring fascination with dragons, anyways?
Fantasy tropes in general, really: wizards, unicorns (yeah, unicorns, I went there), elves, quests, swords, giants. All of it has a special place in my brain, and none of it has much practical use. I’m not going to recite an incantation that magically cleans up my house and washes the dishes. I’m not hiring a dragon-wrangler this weekend to bring over a firedrake and help demolish some of the old buildings on my property that need demolition. None of this stuff actually has anything that I can apply to the situations I have in my daily life.
But dragons in particular. I’ve got no problem picking my favorite mythical beast, none at all. Dragons are just cool. Just awesome.
Maybe There’s An Instinct For It
I’m also fascinated by how evolution has shaped us into the creatures—and consciousnesses—that we are. So when I heard about the book An Instinct for Dragons, I seized upon its premise. In it, author David E. Jones points out that our pre-human ancestors had three principle predators: raptors (eagles and the like), big cats (like leopards), and pythons. Primates look out for these dangers, and evolve responses for avoiding or escaping them.
Consider a young monkey that failed to avoid the leopard—that monkey aint our uncle, he didn’t survive to pass his monkey-genes to any offspring. A fast-acting, pre-conscious instinct that helps you avoid predators would be an evolutionary trait that would be selected for.
Might it be that the instincts for these dangers could amalgamate, and that imagination creates one, uber-powerful, uber-dangerous creature for it? Some great, scaly, winged cat that swoops from the sky, all claws and teeth and crushing muscles. This is Jones’s hypothesis, that somehow this archetype has evolved into our subconscious minds as we changed over hundreds of thousands of years into what we are today.
The book has its detractors, but nevermind that, let’s get past the book. Might it not be that all sorts of flights of fancy that arise from human imagination have roots in ideas that were once evolutionarily useful? For instance, are ogres and halflings some sort of subconscious racial memory of Neanderthals and Homo floresiensis?
This will probably never be proven either way, but I find it a compelling idea. And as a compelling idea, I don’t need it to be Actually True in order for it to be Interesting To Play With.
The Idea of Dragons is Awesomeness
So, back to dragons. I’m playing with the idea that they represent the ultimate predatory danger, something that is ultimately and irresistibly powerful. That’s bad-ass, the baddest bad-assery there can be. So bad-ass, nothing in reality can represent it; we had to make up a creature that rolled three bad-asseries into one, and can breathe a fire that burns down your house on top of all that.
A dragon represents something that is complete in its personal power.
I read a comic book once that introduced a character who looked human in every respect, but who was in fact a dragon in a larval stage. Turns out, in the fictional world of the comic, that’s how larval dragons look—exactly like humans. The character had to survive as a human for decades before he could go into a pupa stage and later emerge in dragon form in imago stage.
What would it be like to slough off all the crap in your life that’s keeping you from reaching your fullest potential as a human being? Whatever your particular “human-powers-that-are-super” are. To get rid of everything that’s keeping you from using them to their fullest extent, and from fulfilling your highest, best, most meaningful use in life?
Totally bad-ass, that’s what.