These creatures of legend have captivated our imaginations from the dawn of time. A staple of fantasy literature and culture, they embody power, majesty, and perilous danger.
I’d like to share with you some of my favorites, in no particular order.
Smaug (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien)
Ah, old Smaug. Wrecker of dwarven homes and stealer of treasures. I can still remember the rapture with which I read this book as a child, with all Bilbo’s misadventures leading him toward an epic confrontation with this ancient wyrm.
Without a doubt, Smaug triggered a fascination with dragons that has lasted my entire life. And now with The Hobbit movies coming out, I can re-live that joy in its full splendor on the big screen.
Vermithrax Pejorative (Dragonslayer, Touchstone Pictures)
I saw this movie as a kid, fresh off my love-affair with Smaug. Even though we see precious little of the beast until the final act, just the sounds of its breath rising from the ground and the reactions of the various characters to its presence fill the movie with a wonderful sense of anticipation.
And the final battle between wizard and dragon is pretty damned good for its time. Definitely, a diamond in the rough.
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Dragonsbane is one of my favorite fantasy novels. It’s a beautiful and poignant tale about a human witch who struggles to balance love against personal freedom. Morkeleb is initially cast as the villain of this tale, until Jenny Waynest saves his life and gets to know the dragon better.
One of the best scenes is at the end when Jenny accepts an interesting offer from Morkeleb, but I won’t spoil it for you. Read this book!
Cyan Bloodbane (Dragonlance Chronicles, Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis)
According to the Internet, his real name was K’Rshinthintl. This huge green dragon seized control of the elven land of Silvanesti during the War of the Lance by mentally dominating King Lorac. In doing so, the dragon created a spooky nightmare-world for the elves.
Although Cyan doesn’t get a lot of page-time in the books, I always thought he was a total bad-ass of a dragon, both wicked and manipulative. I was so happy when he returned to give Raistlin a ride, hinting that his evil would go on.
Anomander Rake (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson)
Anomander, the son of Darkness, is the leader of the nearly-immortal Tiste Andii race in Erikson’s fabulous fantasy super-saga. Not only a powerful wizard and swordsman, this character is a Soletaken (shapeshifter) who can take the form of an enormous black dragon.
Each book, I wait for the scenes with Rake because he always steals the show. One of my favorite all-time characters.
Hungarian Horntail (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Pictures)
This vicious creature is the dragon Harry draws as his challenge in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Native (obviously) to Hungary, this beast is considered the most dangerous of the dragons faced by the young wizards. Able to fly and belching fire, it is a fearsome enemy.
This battle in the movie version is one of the best scenes, in my humble opinion, because of its fast pace and aerial maneuvers.
Nefarian (World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment)
Yes, I’m one of the millions of people who suffer from WoW (the fantasy MMORPG) addiction. My wife and I have been playing, off and on, for about eight years. Nefarian is the ultimate raid boss of Blackwing Lair.
One of my proudest in-game moments was when my guild, after many weeks of struggle, finally killed the beast. I don’t know if any raid in the years and expansions since then has been as sweet.
Although not a fantasy creature, no list of “dragons” would be complete without mentioning perhaps the greatest of them all. My personal hero and icon to the world. May he rest in peace.
I know this list isn’t exhaustive. I’m sure some of you must have favorites I didn’t mention. Let’s hear them!
Jon Sprunk is the author of the Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master) and a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. His next epic fantasy series begins in March 2014 with Blood and Iron.