The Thing About Dragons

I love dragons. I think they’re my favorite mythical creature. There was a point in time where I would not read a book if it didn’t have a dragon.

When I think of dragons, I think of majestic, noble creatures. They’re wise and maybe a bit frosty. But their elegance when they take to the skies is unrivaled. I bet they’re even more beautiful than Pegasus.

As a child, I thought all dragons looked the same. I didn’t know there was a difference between Western dragons and Chinese Dragons. When I found out, it boggled my mind a bit and made me reflect on all the dragons I had read about, who, it turned out, looked very different from the dragons I had imagined.

I grew up in a solidly Chinese American household. I was raised with a Chinese American mom, who had a very traditionally Chinese mother, and a Chinese born and raised father. Dragons and phoenixes ruled my life. They were in the golden designs decorating the walls and pillows. Golden figures of them were entwined on restaurant walls in LA’s Chinatown. They were painted everywhere there. I was surrounded by graceful birds with elegant heads and brilliant plumage and serpentine dragons whose bodies twisted this way and that in the air with stubby, yet elegant limbs ending in claws.

gray dragon statue
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

They were the beautiful creatures of my childhood. Their images have been seared into my head. The noble dragons symbolizing masculinity and the fierce, elegant phoenixes symbolizing femininity.

Those are the dragons I always pictured when I read them in book.

One day, I looked up the word “dragon” in the dictionary. There was a picture. But I was confused. It didn’t look like the dragons I knew. It wasn’t long, serpentine, and noble. It looked like a terrifying dinosaur preparing to stomp on me. Western cultures pictured dragons as fire breathing dinosaurs who struck terror in people’s hearts? I was a little heartbroken and sad. I grew up with such beautiful dragons that it was hard to reconcile them with the hideous beasts I had been reading about. No wonder many of them lacked the nobility I knew.

Needless to say, I stopped reading books with dragons for awhile. My dragon phase was officially over, but my love for my Chinese dragons was growing.

Today, as a writer, I almost always include dragons when I write about mythical creatures. But I’m clear in describing them as long and serpentine who don’t always breathe fire. My Eastern dragons are my inspiration. I love them so much, and I want so much to share my love of them.

Today unicorns are all the rage. But I’ll forever be a dragon lady.

Check out some books I’ve read that involve dragons:

The Dragon’s Banker by Scott Warren

The Bone Ships by RJ Barker

The Dragon’s Cave by Rose-Marie Lyttle

12 Comments

  • ourlittleredhouseblog

    I was just finishing a post the other day on dragons. I am still working on it, I need to find some old photos that go with it. It is actually a hiking adventure but it includes dragons. I always looked at desert lizards as little dragons in my world. They do make them scary here in our books and movies with burning everyone up.

    • kat

      Oh, I can’t wait! I’ve always thought of lizards as miniature dragons. Long and not fire breathing, definitely my kind of dragon.

  • bitsanddragons

    I saw one very old (and big) salamander when I was at the Kyoto aquarium. Like a meter long. They do look like little dragons. For me a dragon is the incarnation of a specific power. For example, if there is an old forest, the dragon there IS the forest. Or a cave with other monsters. If there lives a dragon, the dragon IS the cave. And so on. I think I should write a PhD about this 😀

    • kat

      I love that! It feels so magical. Oh, yes, I think you ought to write a PhD on them, haha. I’m really looking forward to meeting your dragons. Not that meeting the party isn’t fun, but, well, you know, dragons…

  • WhyMommaWhy

    I love unicorns, but I’m 37 and I always have. I love dragons too.
    I know it’s nothing close to what you’re speaking about, but I love the movie Eragon. I imagine having a dragon of my own. Silly, but we can all have dreams.

    • kat

      Dream away! I do. I like to think it keeps me young instead of sounding like a nutcase. Unicorns are gorgeous, and I wouldn’t mind one of my own!

  • mothertherealist

    Dragons are so neat!! I admit to have been raised on the flip side of you: with fire-breathing dinosaurs. I love the lore of the Chinese dragons, though. Just beautiful.

    • kat

      Well, those fire breathers sure do dominate Western culture! It’s nice to see a stronger Eastern influence these days. I’m probably biased, but Eastern mythology just feels so much more graceful.

  • jennifermzeiger

    Ah dragons! Such majestic creatures. I’ve never thought of the Eastern version of dragons quite like you describe them but then, I grew up use to the Western version and only became aware fo the Eastern version in college. Interesting how our first impressions of something stick with us so strongly!

    • kat

      Yes, it is! I suppose that must be why so many fantasy writers, who are largely raised with the Western dragons, write what they do. As someone who was raised a bit differently, it was interesting to note the drastic differences and said a lot more about culture than anything else I’d learned in school.

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