The Hobbit author J.R.R. Tolkien described dragon Smaug as “a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm.” The Flight of the Conchords have a song called Albi the Racist Dragon, and on Dragon Day at Cornell University, an effigy of one of the giant beasts is burned while students shout and dance.
They can be fiery, fearsome creatures. “Noble dragons don’t have friends,” writes Terry Pratchett in Guards! Guards! “The nearest they can get to the idea is an enemy who is still alive.”
It’s not hard to understand why the folks on Game of Thrones are wary of Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) brood of the beasts when she spouts off lines like, “When my dragons are grown, we will take back what was stolen from me and destroy those who wronged me! We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground!” Then there’s Bryagh, the serpentine villain of The Flight of Dragons who not only insults the movie’s heroes before dispatching them, he also gobbles up the eggs of other dragons!
Maybe if characters in movies paid more heed to the advice given by author Steven Brust — “Always speak politely to an enraged dragon” — then movies and TV wouldn’t have to offer up such a wide array of ways to rid the world of dragons. Look on IMDb, there are dozens of titles containing the phrase “dragon slayer.”
The 2010 animated hit How to Train Your Dragon begins in a remote Viking village where killing a dragon is “everything.” It focuses on Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a kind- hearted boy who captures one of the flying behemoths and discovers two things: One, he can’t bring himself to kill it, and two, that dragons aren’t the fearful monsters everyone thinks they are. He becomes a Dragon Whisperer and the movie shows the serpentine creatures in a different light than the abysmal brutes usually seen on screen.
This weekend, How to Train Your Dragon 2 adds to the list of cinematic dragons who are more misunderstood than actually evil.
The 1941 Disney flick The Reluctant Dragon features a dragon that would rather recite poetry than cause havoc. “You’ve got to be mad to breathe fire,” he says, “but I’m not mad at anybody.”
In the live-action DragonHeart, a fire-breather must team with a dragon-slaying knight (Dennis Quaid) to end an evil king’s rule. When the giant serpent is accused of eating an adversary, he is indignant. “I merely chewed in self-defense, but I never swallowed.”
Eddie Murphy lent some comedic relief to the 1998 animated movie Mulan as the tiny, blue-horned Mushu. He may be the size of the Geico gecko, but don’t mention it. “I’m a dragon, not lizard. I don’t do that tongue thing.”