On dragons and literary symbols

On dragons and literary symbols

A very interesting discussion has begun at Melanie’s blog in her review of Michael O’Brien’s “A Landscape with Dragons.” In discussing literature for children, O’Brien brings up the phenomenon that so many symbols that throughout Western civilization have been seen as evil are being portrayed in so much contemporary literature as good or even just neutral. Dragons are one example, he cites. Another might be the prevalence of “good” vampires or “good” witches and the like. If you’ll read the discussion that blog you’ll see that I’m not entirely convinced by what Melanie has told me of O’Brien’s argument (I haven’t read the book myself), but I do think he has some valid points.

The discussion continues in a second post as well.

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  • I like O’Brien and have the book, but he does overstate his case.  The dragon symbol was not considered universally evil even in Christian nations.  The Christian Saxons led by King Alfred (translator of parts of the Bible into Old English, and inveterate baptizer of defeated pagans) marched under the standard of a golden dragon.  The Welsh have used a red dragon as a national symbol for millennia.

    Still, I will agree that there is much merit to his evaluation of dragon imagery.  I just wish his analysis was a little less broadbrush (a recurring flaw in his works, which are otherwise of great value).

  • Melanie:

    Glad to help!  [I would have posted at your blog, but I couldn’t figure out how to register—sorry!]

    Here’s more info on Alfred—a fine biography of the man by Alf Mapp, entitled “Golden Dragon.”  Mapp points out that the Saxons battled invaders who also used dragon imagery—the Vikings (who definitely fit the O’Brien mold). 


  • I mean to use the title as an example/evidence, not “info.”  “Golden Dragon” was also a title apparently applied to Alfred himself—as fine a Christian leader as ever walked the earth.

    Still, it’s a good book, though I got my copy much, much cheaper than 29 bucks.

  • Kitty:

    I’m not saying the dragon is per se a Christian symbol.  Melanie has it right—the dragon symbol has been effectively “baptized” by some Christian cultures—the Anglo-Saxons and Celts, to reiterate the examples here.

    IOW, the dragon is not some universal standard of evil.

    Building on what Maureen said about the Irish lords being called “dragon”—ditto Welsh rulers.  Maelgun, a sixth century ruler, is called the “Dragon of the Island of Mon [Anglesey].”