Dragons are mythical creatures that appear in many different cultures and time periods. They have been described as monsters, serpents, reptiles, or beasts, and they are usually thought to have wings and breathe fire. They are also said to have scales and claws, while some also have horns. Almost always they are said to be venomous, and some may have two or more heads. They may also have more than one tail and may have two, four, or more legs. There is something magical about dragons that has captured and filled people’s imaginations for thousands of years ever since we meet them even in stories written in antiquity. However, it’s not perfectly clear when stories of dragons first emerged, but we know that huge, flying serpents were described by the ancient Greeks and Sumerians.
For much of history, dragons were thought of like any other exotic animal: sometimes useful and protective, other times harmful and dangerous. That changed when Christianity spread across the globe, and dragons took on a decidedly sinister hue and came to represent Satan. Still, these fascinating magical creatures have continued to captivate our imagination through folklore, literature, and more recently films, television series, and video games. Here follow 25 Popular Dragons Paramount To Folklore, Art, and Culture that have probably touched you in one form or another.
Feature image: Flickr; TNS Sofres
Alduin, also known as both the World Eater or the Nordic god of destruction, is a dragon and the primary antagonist of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim video game. Alduin is a reviled force of evil that leaves even the bravest Nord warrior with quivering knees and pee-soaked undies. Hoping to trap him within the time stream, the ancients used an Elder Scroll to rid themselves of Alduin once and for all and inadvertently sent him into Skyrim’s future. Now he’s their main problem.
Maleficent, the main antagonist of Walt Disney’s 1959 film Sleeping Beauty, is one of the very few female dragons one can meet. She has a human form most of the time, but once she gets mad she can turn into a ferocious, fire-spitting dragon that makes her enemies run for their lives.
The Hungarian Horntail
The Hungarian Horntail is a dragon native to Hungary and is considered the most dangerous dragon breed. You know him from the film version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where it broke free from its chain and attacked Harry. The two of them fought in an exciting chase that spanned all around the castle grounds, almost causing Harry to fall to his death.
In Norse mythology, Nidhogg is a dragon who gnaws at a root of the world tree, Yggdrasil. In historical Viking society, it was a term for a social stigma implying the loss of honor and the status of a villain.
The wyvern is a legendary creature with a dragon’s head and wings, a reptilian body, two legs, and a tail. It is particularly popular in British literature and is often associated with cold weather and ice.
Hayao Miyazaki’s glorious Spirited Away is considered by many Anime fanatics to be the greatest anime feature of all time, and it’s due in no small part to the shapeshifting dragon Haku. Unlike his traditional European counterparts, Haku is a benevolent water spirit instead of an angry fire spitter, and the most impressive thing is that he can fly without wings. Cool, huh?
The Male Dragon
The Male Dragon is the main antagonist of Reign of Fire, starring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale. He is huge, highly intelligent, and quite powerful. He is also the only male dragon in the film. We remember him for killing Quinn’s mother, destroying Van Zan’s army, destroying the castle, and killing Van Zan himself.
Bub and Bob
There’s no doubt that Bub and Bob are the most famous video games dragons ever. And yep, some might see Bubble Bobble as a shameless rip-off of Donkey Kong but keep in mind that in this epic video game, you are a dragon, not a plumber, and you have to dodge monsters, not barrels. Talk about awesome!
Charizard is a draconic, bipedal Pokémon and easily the most valuable Pokémon of them all (suck it, Mewtwo). Charizard was near unstoppable in the card game, and if you are a Pokémon fan, then you definitely know that every time he made his appearance in the deck, there were drama and tears.
Vermithrax Pejorative is the villain of the Disney/Paramount film Dragonslayer and is one of the very few female dragons one could find in folklore, film, or literature. She is a four hundred-year-old androgynous dragon that has threatened Urland for years. Translated from Latin, her name means “The Wyrm of Thrace that makes things Worse.”
Are you old enough to remember The NeverEnding Story (1984) and Falkor? He’s the only fuzzy dragon in history who in reality was more of a large and incredibly loyal dog than a dragon. What kid who grew up in the ’80’s didn’t dream of a pet like Falkor?
Drogon from Game of Thrones is one of the dragons born in the Dothraki Sea, along with Viserion and Rhaegal. He is named after Daenerys’ late husband, Khal Drogo, and is distinguished by his black and red scales and red-black wings. He is the largest and most aggressive of the three hatchlings and became particularly popular thanks to the amazing success of the TV series.
Sometimes dragons and humans are friends, and there’s no doubt that Saphira Bjartskular is Eragon’s greatest ally. The two telepathically bonded immediately after Saphira was born, and they have each other’s backs throughout Paolini’s expansive series. Though the books are a great read, you may find yourself more than a little wistful that you’ve never mind-melded with a dragon. For the record, Saphira was the only female dragon known to exist during the time of Eragon II, aside from Eldunari.
Fin Fang Foom
Probably the most famous dragon in the comic book world, Fin Fang Foom first appeared in Strange Tales #89 (October 1961) and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The dragon has also appeared in associated Marvel merchandise including animated television series, toys, trading cards, and video games, while IGN’s Top 100 Comic Book Villains of All Time ranked Fin Fang Foom #99. Not bad for a dragon who invaded the world of superheroes.
Easily the least intimidating dragon on this list, Mushu makes up for what he lacks in size and power with his awesome style and friendliness. What would Mulan do without Mushu, right?
King Ghidorah is a kaiju (a film genre that features monsters) monster that first appeared in Toho’s 1964 film Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. He’s considered Godzilla’s nemesis and is particularly famous in Japan.
Yamata no Orochi
Better known as Orochi, translated in English as the Eight-Forked Serpent, Yamata is a legendary eight-headed and eight-tailed Japanese dragon that was slain by the Shinto storm-god, Susanoo.
Apep was the ancient Egyptian deity who embodied chaos and thus was the opponent of light and order. He appears in art as a giant dragon and was first mentioned in the Eighth Dynasty.
Other than being a kind-heartened and loving dragon, Draco from Dragonheart (1996) is the last of his kind. However, the best part is that he sounds just like Sir Sean Connery. What more could you ask for from a dragon?
Despite meeting Leviathan as a sea monster for the first time in the Old Testament, its name has recently become synonymous with dragon culture and folklore, thanks to one of Facebook’s most successful network games ever, Dragon City. This epic dragon is undoubtedly one of the most famous creatures in this game, where he has inhabited and dominated the seas forever, devouring entire civilizations as a snack.
Even though most dragons are intimidating, furious, and spit fire, Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon is the most harmless and innocent one you could ever meet. You won’t meet many kids who love and become emotionally attached to a dragon, that’s for sure.
In the amazing world of Tolkien, Smaug is a “great” fire drake of the Third Age, considered to be the last “great” dragon to exist in Middle Earth. Drawn to the enormous wealth amassed by the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain during the reign of King Thrór, he laid waste to the neighboring city of Dale and captured the Lonely Mountain, driving the surviving Dwarves into exile. Even though his origin is unknown, some believe he was one of the very few survivors of the War of Wrath.
Kur was an underworld dragon and deity in the mythology of Sumer and lived in the empty space between the primal sea and the earth’s crust. According to Sumerian myths, Kur is often seen as an evil and monstrous dragon for stealing a goddess immediately after the formation of the world, making her his wife against her own will.
Arguably the most famous dragon of all antiquity, the Lernaean Hydra was a serpentine water monster with reptilian traits in Greek mythology and art. According to Hesiod, the Hydra was the offspring of two other famous monsters of antiquity, Typhon and Echidna. It possessed many heads and each time one was lost, it was replaced by two more. It had poisonous breath and blood so virulent that even its scent was deadly, but it found its match in Heracles, who killed her as the second of his Twelve Labors.
The Chinese Dragon
The Chinese dragon is a creature in Chinese mythology that also appears in other Asian cultures. Depicted as a terrifying long snakelike creature with four claws (or five for the imperial dragon), it has long been a potent symbol of auspicious power in Chinese folklore and art.