Dragons Around the World: The Standard Western Dragon

Hello everyone! If you haven’t guessed yet, although you probably have, this week we’re going to be talking about dragons. And not just any dragon, but the Standard Western Dragon. This is the dragon that we all know and love. Well, not really.

If you’re from the west and are interested in dragons, this is the dragon that you’re probably the most familiar with. They’re also usually villainous, so love may be a bit of an exaggeration. Unless we want to say we love to hate them, but that isn’t actually true, since most people today actually like dragons instead of fearing them. Essentially, it’s complicated.

There are a few things that we can learn about Standard Western Dragons, although you probably know most of them already. We can find out where they’re from, where they like to live, what they look like, their personalities, and famous Standard Western Dragons.

Happy Reading!

Where Are They From?

The Standard Western Dragon is most commonly found in Europe. There are many tales of these dragons all over Europe, although most of them are centered around England. There have also been tales of western dragons as far north as Sweden and Denmark. Many Viking ships had carvings of dragon heads on them, although it can be debated as to whether a Standard Western Dragon is the model or a wyrm.

It may also be noted that the climate of Europe seems to suit them. After all, if you had an internal furnace, wouldn’t you want to live where it’s cold? Of course, ice dragons prefer cold to heat too, so maybe it’s just a Standard Western Dragon thing.

Where Do They Live?

According to most legends, the Standard Western Dragon prefers to dwell in caves. They like gathering treasure, and caves can be easy to defend, since usually there’s one main entrance that’s big enough for people to get through, and other entrances may cause you to lose your way.

Weirdly enough, some dragons may choose to live in rivers. It may be that they have an affinity for a specific river, or it helps them cool off. However, even though dragons tend to live in caves where people weren’t very likely to go, they almost always lived close to villages, and there would be a lot of villages close to a river.

You can also find them in the mountains, which, granted, have a lot of caves.

What Are Their Distinguishing Characteristics?

The primary characteristics of the Standard Western Dragon are: bat-like wings, four legs, and a lizard or snake-like body and face. Most depictions of Standard Western Dragons today resemble lizards more than snakes, though dragons have distinctive facial features. Their legs also tend to be below them, like a cat, rather than to the side, like lizards, so maybe the only real similarity is the scaliness and egg laying.

Here’s where things get tricky. Standard Western Dragons have characteristics that are common to many types of dragons, but not all variations of each type fit what we think of as a Standard Western Dragon. For example, a common name for a type of dragon is wyrm, which can have legs and wings, but is often depicted as legless.

Drakes, both cold and fire drakes, are usually depicted as having four legs. However, whether they have wings or not may vary. If a drake has wings, it’s called a winged drake. Drake may also be a term for young dragons.

Most Standard Western Dragons breathe fire. Although ice dragons are mentioned in works today, they aren’t usually found in historical documents.

What’s really interesting about many fictional Standard Western Dragons is that they are a source of dragon sickness, which can drive a person mad with greed or turn them into a dragon. Although this isn’t really a trait found in historical documents, it is super interesting, and I might write a whole post about it, because I have some theories.

What Are Their Personalities Like?

Historically, Standard Western Dragons were depicted as evil, cunning, hateful, and greedy. They had piles of gold in their caves, and they enjoyed eating the livelihood of villages around them, like sheep, as well as young maidens. If I lived back then, I would call them evil too. It probably didn’t help that Satan is described as a dragon in Revelation.

Many dragons, once they put the fear of themselves into the villagers around them, would require that young maidens be sacrificed to them on a yearly basis. Some dragons need to eat more often, but they would supplement their diet by carrying off sheep and maybe cows, if they were so inclined.

It would be safe to say that dragons were hunters, but it seems they preferred to have others do the work for them. They are considered to be one of the most powerful dragons, so, I mean, if you’re super powerful, you could take it easy if you wanted to. Not that I approve, but I’m just saying.

Most modern depictions of Standard Western Dragons present them one of four ways:

  1. Evil, like Smaug in Tolkien
  2. Ambivalent but intelligent, like Kilgharrah on Merlin, at least in the first few seasons
  3. Without agency, like in The Dragonlance Chronicles (read if you’re okay with adult-ish content), if I remember correctly. They’re kind of like pets, which I assume is also in The Game of Thrones franchise but I haven’t read or seen them, so I’m just guessing. (I can’t recommend them, but I can’t say avoid them either. Use your own judgement, however, they are the antithesis to Tolkien, which means super dark and disturbing.)
  4. Good, like the dragons in Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers series

Basically, you can find pretty much any draconian personality you want these days, so have fun! Find dragon books you enjoy.

Famous Standard Western Dragons

There are many famous Standard Western Dragons. Here are some of our favorites:

  1. The Dragon from Beowulf: We don’t really know what the dragon in Beowulf looked like. However, we do know that it struck at night, breathed fire, and had a poisonous bite. It also hoarded treasure and lived in a cave near a village. It seemed to be pretty fast too, so I would guess it had wings and maybe legs. Anyway, at the end of Beowulf, he becomes a king of his people. Someone steals a goblet from the dragon, who gets angry and begins attacking the neighboring village. Beowulf, as king, goes to fight the dragon with some of his knights. All except one abandon him. Beowulf kills the dragon, but the dragon also kills him.
  2. The Two Dragons of Vortigern: We could also say that they’re Merlin’s dragons, since they’re actually part of Merlin’s first prophecy. According to legend, Vortigern was trying to build a tower on a hill, but it keeps sinking beneath the earth. Some people told him he needed to find a child who had no father and sacrifice them to remove the spell. Enter Merlin, a child who was the son of an incubus (a demon who could sleep with and impregnate women). Merlin told the king that a curse wasn’t the problem (thus avoiding being sacrificed). There was a lake under the hill, with two dragons sleeping there, one red and the other white. They would fight, representing the struggle between the Britons (Vortigern’s people) and the conquering Saxons.
  3. The Dragon killed by Saint George: If you’ve ever heard of Saint George and the Dragon, well, it’s a good story. Also, it fits the MO of our Standard Western Dragons. Holding a village hostage, requiring a young maiden for dinner, and so on. Saint George, the patron saint of England rescued the people of the village. He subdued the dragon before it could eat the maiden by stabbing it, making the sign of the cross, and tying it around its neck with the princess’s girdle. Leading the dragon and maiden back to the village, he tells them he can kill it if they convert to Christianity, which they gladly did.

These four-legged dragons are also common in heraldry, the most famous of which is the coat of arms of Uther Pendragon, Arthur Pendragon’s father.

Of course, there are many, many fictional Standard Western Dragons, but we’ll make a list of those another time.

What’s Next?

Now we know about the Standard Western Dragon what type of dragon will we be looking at next?

I was thinking that our next dragon around the world would be a Wyvern, which is also in Europe, but I thought that studying the types of dragons in each continent before moving to the next one would be more cohesive.

Next week, I will be taking a break from posting, since I’m visiting my in-laws for Thanksgiving. But I’ll be back!

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Resources

“17 Most Popular Types of Dragons in Mythology with Pictures,” Types of List, https://typesoflist.com/dragons/

“The dragon (Beowulf),” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_dragon_(Beowulf)

“European Dragon,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_dragon#Middle_Ages

“Merlin,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin

“Types of Dragons,” Dragonsinn.net, https://www.dragonsinn.net/types-dragons/

“Western Dragon,” Mythical Creatures Guide, https://www.mythicalcreaturesguide.com/western-dragon/

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