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What’s the first thing people think when they hear the word “dragon?” Most Americans and Europeans probably envision a huge scaly green beast, one that sits on a hoard of golden treasures and breathes fire. Asians are more likely to think of a benevolent snake-like creature, one that controls rains and rivers. And some people will think of the dragons in movies, or in books, which come in innumerable shapes, sizes, and dispositions. Practically every culture on Earth has dragons of some kind. The broadest way of categorizing dragons is into Western and Eastern dragons, though some of the dragons in the media have distinct characteristics as well. And then, of course, is the ultimate question: did they exist?

Western dragons are the storybook monsters that most Americans recognize. The most common variety have four legs, two bat-like wings, a long tail, and a lot of teeth. They breathe fire, are covered in scales, hoard treasure, and have dangerous claws. They vary in color, and can be any shade of the rainbow, white, black, or any of various metallic shades. They are usually fierce, and feast on young virgins or sheep sacrificed by nearby villagers in an attempt to pacify the beast (Blumberg 6-7, Lurie n.p, Walker, Tempest).

The Eastern dragons, by contrast, are benevolent water spirits. They are long and sinuous, covered in scales, and wingless, though they have four legs. They have whiskers, horns and often a mane, and always have a pearl either under the chin, in the mouth, or in the claws. Eastern dragons govern rain and rivers, and breathe clouds rather than fire. They are fond of swallow’s meat, and afraid of centipedes. The Chinese and Japanese emperors were believed to be descended from dragons (Ayles...

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...gons have over the human imagination is as legendary as the great beasts themselves.

Works Cited

Aylesworth, Thomas. The Story of Dragons and Other Monsters. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980.

Blumberg, Rhoda. The Truth About Dragons. New York: Four Winds Press, 1980.

Dickinson, Peter. The Flight of Dragons. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

Dragonheart. Dir. Rob Cohen. , 1996.

Lurie, Alison. Fabulous Beasts. New York: Rae Publishing Company, 1981.

McCaffrey, Anne. Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern. New York: Ballantine Books, 1983.

Mulan. Dir. Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft. Disney, 1998.

Pete’s Dragon. Dir. Don Chaffey. Disney, 1977.

Tempest. “Advanced Dragon Description.” D.R.A.G.O.N.S. n.d. 14 May 2002.


Walker, Jennifer. “Physiology of a Dragon.” Here Be Dragons. n.d. 14 May 2002. <

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