J. R. R. Tolkien painted this illustration of his dragon character, Smaug.

J. R. R. Tolkien painted this illustration of his dragon character, Smaug.

The flag of the Chinese Empire under the Qing dynasty depicts a dragon.

The flag of the Chinese Empire under the Qing dynasty depicts a dragon.

Some fairytales and legends feature fire-breathing dragons.

Some fairytales and legends feature fire-breathing dragons.

Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon (Paramount Pictures)

Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon (Paramount Pictures)

Soccer fans hold the Welsh flag before a Euro match between Portugal and Wales. The dragon has been a symbol of Wales for hundreds of years. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Soccer fans hold the Welsh flag before a Euro match between Portugal and Wales. The dragon has been a symbol of Wales for hundreds of years. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Imagining Dragons

Posted: November 1, 2021

Close your eyes and imagine a dragon.

Okay, open!

What was your dragon doing? Guarding treasure like Smaug in The Hobbit? Overseeing a princess locked in a castle? Roasting enemies with fire breath? Was it flying? Did it look like a big dinosaur with wings? Did it have a snakelike shape similar to the dragon floats in Chinese parades? Or was it as cute as Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon?

The book of Job discusses a creature called Leviathan. Could these words from chapter 41 describe your dragon too?

  • “Around his teeth is terror.”
  • “His back is made of rows of shields. . . . One is so near to another that no air can come between them.”
  • “His sneezings flash forth light. . . . Out of his mouth go flaming torches. . . . Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke.”
  • “In his neck abides strength, and terror dances before him.”
  • “His heart is hard as a stone.”

Scientists do not agree about dragons. Did a version of these fantastical creatures ever live as real animals? Or did people just think they did? One thing is sure: Even if dragons didn’t exist in real life, they certainly existed in the stories of people groups from all over the world. Could pterosaurs be the source of these thoughts and stories? Maybe. Maybe not.

Some societies associate dragons with the snake in the Garden of Eden and the enemy dragon in Revelation. In other words: Dragons are bad guys. Other cultures have totally different ideas about dragons. In China, dragons are thought to bring good fortune (or luck). Their thunderous voices and wavelike bodies represent rain for crops. The ancient Chinese concept of a dragon was many animals combined into one. A dragon had the horns of a stag (male deer) and the forehead of a camel. It had the neck of a snake, the belly of a sea-monster, the scales of a carp, and the claws of an eagle.