Library Dissertation Showcase

Friend or foe: exploring the role of the dragon in film and literature

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2020

Dragons have been an integral part of human imagination for centuries, residing deep in ancestral fears and devotions up to the modern day. Their existence in literature, and later film, is especially prevalent, ranging from the colossal guardians of vast treasure hoards and sworn enemy of saints in the traditionally Western belief, to the mystical and wise mentors of Eastern mythology. Such opposing standpoints serve as a prime example of how varying desensitisations can affect perceptions, the same creature simultaneously a symbol of hate and a symbol of hope. It is this polarisation that moulded the texts included in this independent study, each influencing the dragon’s portrayal over the eras in response to the three dominant mythologies of Nordic, Celtic and Chinese origin. Earliest examples of literature include Beowulf, Historia Brittonum and selected poems by Qu Yuan, each exploring the dominant role of the dragon that includes draconic menace, a nation’s icon and divine entity. Such approaches are further continued into later years, enduring through The Golden Legend, The Faerie Queene, Le Morte d’Arthur and Monkey, utilising the heroic figure as an access point into humanity’s position in the world. However, in response to the rise of logical thinking and the instigation of children’s literature, recent interpretations of the dragon beg the question if initial beliefs are accurate. This is revealed in The Reluctant Dragon, The Hobbit and How To Train Your Dragon, each children’s texts that utilise the power of imagination to change that of others, as well as World’s End and Talon. These contemporary portrayals follow traditional mythological scopes whilst exposing how man and creature are one and the same. In comparing texts over time, the coinciding evolution of the dragon provides an insight into the everchanging priorities of the people from each corner of the world. It is the legacy of such cultures that brings life to a creature that, despite never physically existing, maintains a mental authenticity within fiction that has stood the test of time.

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