Are you a draconic purist? Do you firmly believe that a dragon has certain qualities and if it doesn’t it’s not a dragon? Or do you subscribe to close enough is good enough? If it has scales, wings and breathes fire (or not) it’s a dragon, no matter what you call it?

I admit to being a purist. And a pretty rabid one at that. When I first saw the ‘dragon’ in the Harry Potter movies, I waxed lyrical about the fact that it was not in fact a dragon at all but a wyvern. My friends still remember it to this day. I was disappointed that such a big budget movie couldn’t get the detail right. It made no difference to the story which depiction was used, but apart from being a purist, I am also a perfectionist with an eye for detail. How much more effort would it have taken to get it right? None, I am sure. It was just ignorance or laziness. And if it was ignorance, then someone (whoever was responsible for that particular piece of imagery) needs to learn more about the genre they are working in.

Some of the ‘dragons’ in ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ were also wyverns (of the variety modelled after pterosaurs – that is, they use their wings to substitute for front limbs). The movie was hilarious enough for me to overlook it, particularly as the main dragon was a proper dragon with four legs.  

A pterosaur-type wyvern ‘dragon’ from ‘How to Train Your Dragon’
So are you nodding your agreement? Or are you thinking ‘This chick is a bit of a nutjob’.

If it’s the latter, you’re probably also thinking ‘Doesn’t she realise dragons aren’t real? It’s made up! It can look like whatever we want it to look like!’

Well yes… and no.

Dragons are not real and if this comes as news to you, then you’re a little more whacked than I am. But the body of mythology from which they originate and the body of literature that has grown up around them is very real.

In fact, if you search Wikipedia, you will find this reference:

“Dragons are usually shown in modern times with a body like a huge lizard, or a snake with two pairs of lizard-type legs, and able to emit fire from their mouths. The European dragon has bat-type wings growing from its back. A dragon-like creature with no front legs is known as a wyvern.”
Ah, yes, the wyvern. That’s what we see in Harry Potter. A wyvern. Thank you, Wikipedia, for being as much a purist as I am.

You’ll also notice the Wikipedia reference talks about European dragons. That is the typical type of dragon we find in the fantasy genre. I am not here discussing Chinese dragons, which are an entirely different type of beast.

So now we have dragons and wyverns. What about the multiple-headed dragon? Can’t we just call it a two-headed dragon? Or a seven-headed dragon?

No, actually, that also has a name! We call it a ‘hydra’, although typically a hydra has three, seven or nine heads. Typically, severing one of its heads causes two more to grow. Nasty! The hydra originates from the Greek legend of Heracles. In that tale, Heracles defeated the hydra by severing the hydra’s one mortal head, thus killing it. Of course, finding that one vulnerable head in a writhing nest of poison-spitting, fanged mouths would be no easy task. Presumably Heracles thought so too. He solved this problem by severing each head in turn and burning the stump of each neck (with fire, or the beast’s own poisonous blood – there are two versions) to prevent them growing back. Process of elimination! Brilliant…

If you’re a purist, you probably already know this. If you don’t, maybe it’s news for you. Here’s some pictures to help you out!
A typical dragon. It has four legs, bat-like wings and is scaled. It probably breathes fire.This picture helpfully has a person drawn in to give us scale
A wyvern. Notice it has only two legs? This mythological reptile is more bird-shaped than a dragon.Typically they are much smaller than dragons (being an inferior cousin). It isn’t usually much more than twice a man’s height, or a quarter the size of the dragon (above)
A hydra. Less commonly depicted than dragons or wyverns. This one has seven heads, one of the ‘typical’ numbers associated with hydras. They are sometimes but not always depicted with wings.
So, do you believe a dragon by any other name is still a dragon?

Or are you a purist who will cite the various qualities of the different species at the slightest hint of a debate?

Put another way, are you with me or against me?

Share your thoughts!

You can find other posts in mythical creatures series here – Fantastical Horses, Creatures of the Sky, Mythical creatures of the Sea – Part 1 and Part 2, and Spirits of Inland Waterways

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to check out my previous posts if you haven’t already. If you’re finding yourself here often, you might like to join as a member, sign up to the blog through RSS or email, or subscribe to my newsletter.

Don’t forget to share the love and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook or StumbleUpon (or other social networking site of your choice) if you know other people who might also enjoy this.

Thanks for stopping by and visiting with us!