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Have our dragons grown larger?

Discussion in 'Novels & Stories' started by Jabrosky, Jul 27, 2012.

  1. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Once I browsed through some old paintings and other artwork featuring dragons, and what jumped out at me were the dragons' sizes relative to their human adversaries. Some examples:

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    The dragons seldom exceed the horses or human beings in size. Everyone nowadays draws dragons as growing very large, but this appears to be a recent trend if old dragon art is anything to go by. Dragons in old mythology used to be fairly small.

    I wonder if the recent growth in fantasy dragons' size has anything to do with modern paleontology. Most Europeans back in the Middle Ages probably couldn't imagine any land animal outsizing a horse or cow. Of course sailors who had exposure to whales probably knew that marine animals could grow colossal, hence giant sea serpents like Leviathan, but it probably took paleontologists to show that terrestrial creatures could get really big too.
     
  2. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    How old are those paintings? They may be examples of hierarchical proportion, in which things are sized according to their importance. It was common in European paintings pre-Renaissance. (For instance, horses that were not being ridden were drawn as smaller than humans, since horses are less important than humans. Unfortunately, I can't find a good example image of this online.)
     
  3. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    I noticed the same thing years ago.

    I'd say what happened was Tolkien - particularly 'Smaug' from the Hobbit. He probably also introduced the notion of dragons speaking and linking them with huge treasure hordes (though my uncertain memory tells me there might be a norse epic or two featuring treasure hording dragons). But mostly, dragons were described as immensely dangerous animals.

    Biologically and ecologically, smaller cow or horse sized dragons are a lot more feasible. On one of my worlds, back when I was still thinking in D&D terms, there was one area I was going to have primarly populated by dragons. Then I started wondering - 'what is it going to take to keep them all fed?' A bit of a challenge for dragons the size of a bus. But for dragons the size of a cow...or maybe a really thick snake...that becomes a different story.
     
  4. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    But then where would Tolkien have gotten the idea to make Smaug really big?

    It would depend on the dragons' physiology. If dragons are endothermic or "warm-blooded" like most dinosaurs, you raise valid points (although then again dinosaurs could famously grow really big), but ectothermic or "cold-blooded" dragons wouldn't need to eat so much to maintain their metabolism regardless of size.
     
  5. Probably someone also figured out at some point that big giant monsters are scarier than man-sized monsters.
     
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  6. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    From the norse mythology, like he apparently did so much else. The names of most of the dwarves in the Hobbit are straight from a scandinavian saga.

    In my case, I was envisioning them occupying part of a long narrow warm temperate peninsula in the midst of a large ocean. This part of the peninsula, while a couple thousand miles long, was also only a few dozen miles wide, AND I was envisioning a draconic population in the hundreds to low thousands (D&D style dragons). I thought about having them feed on fish. Seemed to me like they'd finish off the fish and start in on the other aquatic life in the area. But smaller dragons, say the size of a really big gator, capable of a gliding flight, and about as smart as a chimp...that could work. They'd also have to be pretty good at climbing to reach perches from which to launch themselves into flight. Probably adept swimmers, if they live in part on sea creatures. As to speaking...maybe mimicry? Breathing fire...doubtful. Spitting poison, now would be in keeping with a reptile. Big disadvantage is they would not be all that fast moving on land, keeping them near tall trees and sea side cliffs.

    sorry to derail things. Got to thinking on the keyboard.
     
  7. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

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    There are definitely massive dragons within Nordic and Babylonian mythology.

    - Nidhog is chewing on the world tree (ie, the universe) and is actually doing severe damage to it.
    - Fafnir is large enough that Siegfried can actually bathe in his blood. (This is also the prototype for dragon's hoarding gold)
    - Tiamat is not only depicted as a dragon, but as the sea itself.

    If you're willing to go as far as to say that the Leviathan and Behemoth are dragons of sort, their size should be obvious.

    One of my favorite dragon myths is that of the Tarasque, who is also huge and depicted as such.
     
  8. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    I've heard some people say that the dragons slain by knights in medieval legend were actually dinosaurs, and that's why you don't see them anymore. Given the size of brontosaurus, T-rex and the like, that makes them pretty huge if it's true. Related is the idea that the monster Beowulf fought and tore the arm from (Grendel?) was also a T-rex; seems somewhat plausible when you look at the size of a T-rex's forelimb, which is tiny in comparison to the rest of it. That's of course assuming, again, that there were dinosaurs in existence when Beowulf was written.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    @Ireth - I've heard that theory thrown out, or even that there is some "racial" memory of dinosaurs. You have to go back what, 65 million years (roughly), to see the last evidence we have of dinosaurs? They may have been around some time longer than that, perhaps the smaller ones in particular, but it doesn't seem too likely that they existed any time even close to when you start getting modern humans on the scene.
     
  10. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Well, it was a very outspoken Christian creationist whom I first heard the theory from, so the Earth in his view would be scarcely older than about 6000 years. I myself am a Christian as well, and I'm unsure about theories of evolution and the like.
     
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Ah, yes. Creationists throw that out there because they have to explain dinosaurs and it doesn't fit well with their young-earth theories. Interestingly, most of the evolutionary biologists I've worked with have been Christian, so there is nothing inherently incompatible between Christianity and evolution and/or an older earth. It is really not much more than a political debate, in my view, with roots in the lessening spheres of church authority during the 1800s and onward. So, my personal opinion is that one can be every bit a Christian and believe in evolution, the Big Bang, and so on. One Christian I talked to, who was in seminary, simply stated that in his view all science was doing was uncovering how God did it all, and to him that made it all the more impressive. Not everyone shares that view, of course. This man was at a Jesuit institution, and I do not know whether that is standard Jesuit thinking on the issue or simply his own viewpoint.
     
  12. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    That is quite interesting. I think we should leave off this discussion here, as this is verging into religious territory and I don't want to anger the mods if we delve into more touchy aspects of it. :)
     
  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I know I was starting to grow angry! :D

    But yes, you're right. A fascinating topic, nonetheless!
     
  14. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    That's pretty typical among Jesuits, which is a Catholic teaching order that usually works pretty closely with secular groups. That's also common among Catholics in the U.S. and Europe. The "official" Catholic teaching is that you can understand much of Genesis as either a literal portrayal or as an extended metaphor, both are fine with the Church - and that's an understanding which goes back at least as far as 300 a.d., when Augustine asked "How can God walk in the garden?" and a priest told him exactly that.

    The main thing that Evolution has done is to give a rationalistic approach to the creation of human life, forcing many denominations into taking a firm stand where they never needed to before. Personally, there are aspects of Evolution about which I have questions and doubts, but not with any zealotry.

    Even from a Creationist viewpoint, there's no reason to define a "day" to God the same way that we would define a day for mankind. I'm not aware of any reason, whatever your beliefs, to think Dinosaurs and Humans have ever lived side by side.

    - - - - - - - - -

    Sorry - go back to your discussion.

    Vikings, for sure, believed in massive dragons. I wonder if other cultures did, too, but simply painted them smaller because of artistic styles?
     
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  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Thanks, Devor. That is good information. I wasn't aware of what the official or predominant views were. I used to talk to this guy in a coffee shop not far from where he was in school. Interesting cat.
     
  16. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

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    Religious talk: The Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches all have an official stance recognizing evolution as scientific reality, although they all have different interpretations of what that means and what it says about the need for a divinity.

    Science talk: As small as a T-Rex's arm might be in comparison to the actual thing, they're extremely muscular and powerful (though rather useless). No way any man could pull its arm off, not even in his wildest exploits.
     
  17. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

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    I think the issues with dinosaurs being present in Beowulf's time, or in medieval tales was more of an issue with them eroding out of cliffs such as at Dover (I think Dover, but certainly it happens somewhere around the south coast of England and Cornwall), and also in ancient miners discovering bones and fossils buried underground. Obviously, dinosaurs weren't known much before the 1800s, so I doubt the people who made these early discoveries actually knew what they were, thus they gave rise to stories of dragons (think the skull of a T-Rex) and giants (the huge thigh bones, rib bones etc).
     
  18. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    Many paleontologists hypothesize that T. Rex might have used its arms like meat hooks to hold struggling prey, so they wouldn't have been useless. You are right about their being very muscular though.
     
  19. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

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    I was very recently in Houston and was talking to the chief paleontologist at their new Hall of Paleontology. He seems to like the theory that the arms were used almost exclusively in child-rearing related activities, and I think that makes sense.
     
  20. A lot of those aren't really dragons, though. Leviathan and Behemoth probably refers to a whale and an ox, respectively.

    Though, actually, if you look close at mythology you may find that the "dragon antagonist" symbolism seems to have developed out of an earlier "serpent antagonist" symbolism.

    Antagonist snakes is a very common theme in mythology. There's Apep, Jormungandr, Python, Yamata no Orochi, Tiamat and the snake in the Garden of Eden. They are all depicted as serpents, often monsterous ones, and they are all killed or otherwise defeated by a god or divine hero.

    Eventually, the serpents became dragons, but they kept their original symbolism - that of a mighty adversary of the just and virtuous, whom must be overcome and defeated. It's really quite interesting.
     
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