As part of the Escapist Book Tour for The Iron Crown, I asked author, L.L. MacRae, for her thoughts on dragons.
Love them or loathe them, they’re a staple of the fantasy genre (and to be honest, one of my most favourite things in the world!).
Whether it’s a tiny, palm-sized dragon fiercely guarding a single gold coin (its entire hoard!), or a titanic behemoth whose wings blot out the sun, dragons inspire awe and wonder in equal measure. Even if they can be somewhat clichéd.
In early stories, they were usually some faceless threat that had to be defeated by a brave hero. From Humbaba being slain by Gilgamesh to Maleficent turning into an all-powerful green fire-breathing dragon end boss, or a major antagonist like Smaug, they were often painted as the enemy of people, or simply a natural obstacle that our protagonists had to overcome/outsmart/outright defeat.
There has been a shift in the reasoning for slaying dragons; something more than simply rescuing some poor princess. Now, they’re hunted for their scales/bones/blood—for use in magic spells, potions, alchemy etc.—or they are the perfect chance for an upcoming young warrior to prove themselves in a battle to the death.
Whatever the reason, dragons have a history of being humanity’s enemy.
But even as an enemy—be they nothing more than apex predators or worshipped as gods—dragons can either influence a story in a significant manner or be relegated to window dressing in the fantasy world.
Personally, I love when they impact the world, and in my own writing (Dragon Spirits series, World of Linaria series), this is very much the case! In fact, in The Iron Crown, the magic-drenched world of Tassar simply wouldn’t function without them!
I’m grateful that the time where dragons existed solely to be slain by the hero on their way to rescue a princess is over. Authors are discovering and adding more facets to their draconic stories, and these days you can find stories where they add far more to the plot, or even take centre stage as a character.
And these are the stories I love.
Far more interesting is when dragons impact the world—be it in a magical or ecological sense (Dragons of Terra by Brian Naslund is a great example), are shapeshifting, dominating creatures that run business empires (Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron excels at this), are more animal and naturalistic, with their own hierarchies and castes (E.E. Knight’s Age of Fire series), or are the classic animal companion (everything from His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novak to Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb, and countless books in between!)—when this happens, you know you’re in for a great read.
Dragons are a force to be reckoned with. Magical or not, they are powerful creatures in whatever format they appear, and this makes them formidable enemies allies when stories turn the “dragon/evil monster” trope upside down and explore new paths.
Friendly dragons—Haku (Spirited Away), Toothless (How To Train Your Dragon), Falkor (Neverending Story)—who befriend protagonists and aid them in their journeys, or help provide character growth and development, have created generations of dragon lovers (myself included)!
Sometimes, they are used as a trump card in violent conquest, such as Drogon/Viserion/Rhaegal (G.R.R.M.’s A Song of Ice and Fire), which leans more into their destructive, powerful nature, and reminds us that despite being on our side, they are still creatures deserving of respect.
Turning dragons into allies always makes for a great story, especially when authors delve into reasons why, and methods how. Whether it’s training wild dragons, bonding with and riding dragons, or even saving the “last” dragons to protect or save the world.
Dragon riding schools are just as exciting as magical schools, same as fighting atop the back of a dragon is just as thrilling as charging into battle as part of a larger army!
For me, stories where the motivations of a dragon are stronger than the, “angry monster to be eventually killed,” are far more interesting.
Of course, there are always dragons who are indifferent, too, and that’s another curve ball.
These dragons are simply an awesome force of nature, acting in their own interests, and see themselves above the petty disputes of people. Allying with dragons (even temporarily) can throw in brilliant twists to the story. Shenron (DBZ), a magical, wish-granting dragon, is just as likely to aid an antagonist as much as a protagonist, and cares very little for either side.
This indifference provides a unique flavour to any dragon, and thus makes the story more compelling any time they appear.
Whether they’re with people or against them, dragons add that special something to a fantasy story, and I adore them in all their alignment flavours.
P.S. I HIGHLY recommend every dragon mentioned in this post!
Lauren is a fantasy author of character-driven stories and epic adventure. Her books usually contain dragons, eclectic characters, and are typically fun and hopeful.
She lives in a tiny village in the UK, has a degree in Psychology, and was a professional copywriter before going full-time as an author—swapping corporate copy for magic and dragons!
She has previously published under the name L.L. McNeil.
The Iron Crown, book one in the Dragon Spirits series, qualified as a finalist for SPFBO 7 and signed copies of The Iron Crown are available directly from MacRae’s site: https://llmacrae.com/shop/p/theironcrown or at The Broken Binding: https://www.thebrokenbinding.co.uk/product-page/the-iron-crown-l-l-macrae