Dragons have been a staple of fable and legend for many centuries, both in the European and Oriental mythologies.

There are sizeable differences between the two descriptions... the European dragon is, by and large, a creature of evil and connected with the devil - there is an illustration of the Devil as a huge bat-winged creature taking the church at Over, Cheshire, England away, as according to local legend. 1. There are exceptions to the rule: the Red Dragon that resides on the flag of Wales is benevolent (and is the reason why there are no pubs called George and the Dragon west of the border). The European dragon is often much shorter and stubbier than the Oriental dragon... a much more compact shape than the lithe winged snake that is so often seen in Chinese culture. The oriental dragon is a sage-like beast, with enormous strength but less prone to violence than it's western counterpart.

Why are dragons so common in myth, legend and fantasy? Perhaps it is because they share so many characteristics with us. 'Evil' dragons are often all too quick to anger, with devastating results, horde gold and other objects without appreciating their intrinsic beauty and value, and would be all too powerful to attempt to overcome, were it not for their arrogance, conceitedness and other character flaws, representing all that is wrong with people. 'Good' dragons are wise, noble sages who have accumulated vast stores of knowledge instead of wealth. They are willing to share their knowledge of esoteric fields with people, but do not suffer fools gladly, sending them on their way with a gentle lick of flame, creating a character that should be aspired to. And perhaps the wish to be able to fly, both to rise above the petty squabbles and to explore uncharted territory are something we can all aspire to.

1:UFO Investigation, Reuben Stone, ISBN 1856051285, pg. 64

In David Jones' book An Instinct For Dragons (ISBN 0415927218), which I not yet read, he hypothesizes that early humans knew of three basic types of predators: raptor, big cat, and serpent. Over time, the ideas ran together, creating the idea of a creature that embodied all three predator types at once: the dragon. According to the review in Scientific American, Jones got the idea after he observed that vervet monkeys in Africa have three distinct warning calls, one for each type of predator.

It seems to me that this idea is particularly compelling if you accept the evidence that humans originally came from Africa and later spread across the world. I like it because it's a simple, reasonable hypothesis for the existence of a dragon creature in most of the societies around the world.

Forgot to add in my initial writeup: The Cow's idea above could explain the way dragons are thought to act, but not the fact that almost every culture has roughly the same conception of a creature that doesn't exist.

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