St George and The Dragon — Fantasy Fiction?
If you’re wondering whether the tale of a valiant hero slaying a foul fire-breathing, fair-maiden-eating monster is an early example of fantasy fiction, the answer surely has to be in the affirmative.
The legend of St George and the Dragon has roots going back thousands of years, with links to early Christianity. Mention of the story instantly conjures imagery of warriors on horseback attacking airborne scaly giants. In some retellings, it’s a two-headed creature with a man’s body and a serpent’s head. Other depictions show a boar being attacked as a serpent watches from a tree, or a warrior bearing a standard adorned with a dragon-head design.
Whichever imagery springs to mind, the story always represents the triumph of good over evil, courage over cowardice.
In one telling of the story of St George, the dragon is a beast of pestilence, fouling the waters near the village of Silene. In return for slaying the creature, the village folk agree to convert to Christianity. Once the dragon is slain, the waters of the river run clean and pure and the village is saved. It’s not too difficult to decode the motive behind that one…
In another version, the ravenous dragon devours sheep after sheep and soon townsfolk begin sacrificing their own children to appease the creature’s insatiable appetite. St George, who happens to be passing by, steps in and saves the day. While the details change story to story, the evil dragon is always slain and St George always leaves a hero.
In SFF, dragons are rarely solely evil or inherently good. There’s, of course, the arrogant hoarder Smaug from The Hobbit; the vicious and immature Thorn from Christopher Paolini’s Eldest; and Tiamat from the Dungeons and Dragons pantheon, who is, to put it simply… the worst.
However, there are also ‘good’ dragons out there. Saphira, once again from Eldest, is kind and wise; Smrgol, from the 1982 animated film The Flight of Dragons, sacrifices himself to save his friends; and we can’t forget Falkor, the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story, who acts as a source of hope and inspiration throughout the film.
Dragons in fantasy fiction find themselves both as antagonist and companion, either acting as something to be defeated in order for the hero to fulfil their destiny, or as a wise and well-intentioned source of advice and power.
But why do dragons still feature so often in our popular culture? Well, the obvious answer is that dragons are cool. You have to give them that. The recent popularity of Game Of Thrones is certainly confirmation that they remain immensely popular. Whatever the reason, we’re glad that the fire-breathing beasts remain a staple of our favourite genre. The dragon myth shows no signs of being extinguished and we salute the storytellers who keep the flame burning.
If you’re a fantasy or science fiction writer, then check out our open call for submissions. We’re currently looking for short stories for our upcoming anthology The Hero’s Journey, as well as submissions of novels for our 2022 publishing schedule.