You might have guessed, I’m a bit of a fantasy nut. But while plate-wearing warriors with enchanted swords and elvenfolk-fair wielding magic wands are nice, nothing hooked me in harder than those scaly behemoths that stalked (and ended) adventurers of every ilk. Dragons.
I’m not sure when I first stumbled upon dragons, but I do remember my first “WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?” moment. Saturday morning cartoons (Does anyone remember those? Are there any kids that even get a Saturday morning to watch toons anymore?) were full of innocuous pablum back in the 80s (Smurfs, Pandamonium, etc.); but if you were patient, and could hold Mom off long enough, you could get to the sweet 11:00 “Big Kid” cartoons. The brief ruler of this roost was Dungeons & Dragons. Now, if I’m being honest, it was full of its own, special type of treacle (Uni the Unicorn, I’m looking at you); but all that was rendered moot by the ending of the opening sequence where an ENORMOUS five-headed dragon lumbered out of its cave and bathed everything in fire. Thus entered Tiamat into my lexicon.
Did I know at the time that Tiamat, in the D&D universe, was a Chromatic dragon and the god of the various dragon races? Nope. What I knew was that five dragons were cooler than one dragon and that FIVE DRAGONS MASHED INTO ONE was cooler than five dragons on their own! Sadly, the toy escaped me (The closest I ever got in the D&D line was a Hooked Horror; a bear-eagle mash up that was most certainly NOT Tiamat); but looking at it now, I think I probably ended up on the upside of that deal.
Around this time, literary dragons started adding to my internal mythos as well. Smaug educated me on the tastiness of Hobbits and Dwarves. The Dragonriders of Pern….well they disappointed me with their sci-fi dragons who weren’t really dragons. Then I discovered Dragonlance.
I will be the first to admit that Dragonlance, while imbued with some unique and entertaining ideas (Raistlin’s story in particular), is generic sword & sorcery fiction at its most vanilla. The first book in particular, seeing as it was spawned from an introductory D&D campaign, is painful to read when you don’t have Leonard Elmore’s awesome cover art to sooth you. But when I was in high school, sooth me it did. In fact, if it hadn’t been for some of the ass-kickingest dragon art ever on those covers, I probably would have given the entire series a pass. As it was, it did introduce me to an interesting (if just shy of epic) storyline that was chock-full of dragons. They were disguised as humanoids, mutated into foot soldiers, used as mounts for heroes and villains alike, and generally just in your face from the first few chapters on. By the time we found out that Takhisis (Dragonlance’s answer to Tiamat) was the big-bad of the series, 15-year-old me was nearly in a dragon-induced coma. But I still loved every second of it. And, yes, the image on the right was the poster I kept on my wall throughout high school. No, I’m not sure why my future wife continued to date me after seeing it there.
As I moved out of high school and into the more “study-worthy” fiction realms (bah), dragons made much less of an impact. Lucky for me, I’ve managed to take back some ground from that more mature version of myself (screw you, adult Anthony!) with my forays into World of Warcraft. Here there are my dragons of old, mucking around in everyone’s business, getting their heads loped off to decorate the gates of the keep, and, even better, acting as mounts for those few players who can muster the cash to keep them.
Anyone who has spent time in just about any fantasy universe has spent some time with these fire-breathing, magic wielding, adventurer-chompers (even those “realistic” universes that don’t have them usually make a big deal by making note of their absence). When it comes down to it, they’re really just dinosaurs dressed up in ren-fair trappings. And I’m OK with that. As a kid who wanted nothing more in elementary school than to be a paleontologist, hanging out with one (even if it is just in my head) isn’t a bad way to spend my time.