Neil Gaiman once said, "Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." Kids love fantasy and fairy tales, and for many kids, those stories mean dragons. But why? Why are dragons and violence so appealing?
First of all, while many books do tell stories of dangerous dragons, there are just as many stories featuring friendly dragons, and maybe that versatility is the key to their allure. Across history and culture, dragons have been portrayed as greedy, bloodthirsty, and violent (The Hunting of the Last Dragon by Sherryl Jordan) as well as wise, benevolent, and luck (Dragon Keeper, by Carole Wilkinson). Sometimes good dragons battle dragons bent on destruction (The Ice Dragon by George R. R. Martin or Wings of Fire series, by Tui Sutherland). In many tales, dragons form psychic bonds with humans and act as loyal companions, often undertaking quests together (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin or Dragon Rider by Corneila Funke). In other stories, humans train dragons or keep them as pets (Dragon Keepers by Kate Klimo). Wise dragons often employ humans as assistants or housekeepers (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede or A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine).
Perhaps dragons are so appealing because their variability makes them a perfect companion and/or surrogate. Kids can imagine themselves in the stories. Along with the human characters, an individual child defeats the evil dragon, bonds with or goes on quests with the loyal dragon, and benefits from the benevolent dragon's wisdom. And perhaps the variability of dragon personalities matches the variability of individual children's moods and personalities. Just as human story characters allow children to explore personality traits and actions and the cause and effect relationships between the two, dragons allow children a view of these same traits, actions and relationships when taken to the extreme. Human greed and bloodthirst, after all, pale in comparison to dragon greed and bloodthirst. Through dragons, the effects are exaggerated. Benevolence is rewarded; danger is overcome.
Whether you prefer your dragon tales filled with wisdom and loyalty or bloodshed and destruction, you are sure to find something wonderful to share with your child in our junior collections. If you'd like a new dragon tale, check out this booklist.
Suzanne Davis, Children's Librarian