When I was a child, storybook dragons in our town library were harmless, misunderstood creatures who certainly never flamed someone to death or ate maidens. They epitomized the kind of softened, vaguely amused, condescending approach to myths and legends that Tolkein repudiated.
Hence, for a renewed understanding of just how terrible a beast the old legends intended to depict, Smaug in The Hobbit. Smaug is a traditional wicked and greedy dragon with a hoard, who reacts to theft with violence. He has razed whole towns; he is the scourge of his region when he’s not lounging on his pile of gold. He’s not a joke; he’s not cuddly; he’s not generous or kind.
Yevaud, in Le Guin’s “The Rule of Names,” a story in LeGuin’s collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, is nothing like Smaug. He seems, in fact, entirely harmless and not dragonlike at all. But in this story, even the mildest, most peaceful, modest, and shy person can be pushed too far.
Yet another very different dragon: Mayland Long in MacAvoy’s Tea With The Black Dragon, the first Chinese dragon, I’d seen in fantasy fiction, although he appears as an urbane and very knowledgeable gentleman. Can dragons retire? Or only Chinese dragons?
Years after we’d hiked through country that should have had dragons, some of that landscape appeared in the Paksworld stories. In that fantasy world, dragons had once existed, but Camwyn Dragonmaster, it was said, had vanquished them.
I should have known that dragons are not so easily vanquished. When invited to write a story for The Dragon Quintet, set safely (I thought) in the past of Paksworld, “Judgment” invoked a dragon whose offspring were more dangerous than itself, but less so than human greed.
And now, in Kings of the North, a dragon appears one night on the River Road between Harway and Riverwash. And this dragon asks everyone he meets, “Are you wise?” It did not ask me if I intended to have a dragon in this and subsequent books. Wise or not, the dragon’s here to stay.