Dragons But Not Unicorns?

So there I was minding my own business, having merrily written 40,0000 words of a Magical Realism (“low fantasy –a sub-genre of fantasy fiction involving “nonrational happenings that are without causality or rationality because they occur in the rational world where such things are not supposed to occur.” – Brian Stableford – The A to Z of Fantasy Literature – I had to look it up a while ago).

I was quite happy imagining a Game of Thrones type book (I know, very different from the Wycaan Master series) and then one of my characters has to make an innocent quip: “Dragons don’t exist, do they?”

Before I could press save and turn off the laptop, before I could say – well, burn me to a cinder – there he (or she) was flying around, flapping those great wings, swinging that long spiked tail

“There goes my genre shift,” I thought as the next chapter appeared on my screen.

Now I was baptized in the fires of Smaug (actually I’m Jewish but Smaug as a Mohel performing a circumcision is frankly too disturbing), my sons flew in their imagination on the backs of Saphira and Christopher Paolini’s other dragons.


But there is something about dragons that has kept them alive in our culture that is fascinating. The Chinese have a historic connection that goes back to, well it makes you wonder. In my homeland, Sir George had to slay one to become the patron saint of the Brits, and the dragon is possibly the most common and, dare I say, respected mythical animal in the fantasy genre.

So what is wrong with unicorns, for example? Why have they not become as popular? They can fight, heal, and even create powerful wands (which J.K. Rowlings wizard am I talking about?), but they have not caught our imagination like dragons.

Laying myself at the mercy of Google, I discovered that the dragon myth grew separately in China, Europe, and even the Americas and Australia. The Aussies have a number of animals including the Goanna that lend themselves to the myth. The Nile crocodiles were apparently much bigger than the one we know today and walked in an elevated gait. Whales and dinosaurs also add to the potential creation of the myth.


But perhaps the most fascinating theory is suggested on the Smithsonian blog. I couldn’t find the author to attribute  – my apologies – but these are his/her words:

In his book An Instinct for Dragons, anthropologist David E. Jones argues that belief in dragons is so widespread among ancient cultures because evolution embedded an innate fear of predators in the human mind. Just as monkeys have been shown to exhibit a fear of snakes and large cats, Jones hypothesizes that the trait of fearing large predators—such as pythons, birds of prey and elephants—has been selected for in hominids. In more recent times, he argues, these universal fears have been frequently combined in folklore and created the myth of the dragon.


Whatever created it, the myth of the dragon has deepened with the growth in popularity of the genre. Eragon’s relationship with Saphira and the history in the Inheritance Series is far more complex than Tolkien’s Smaug, or those Harry Potter had to deal with. George R.R. Martin skirts around the existence of dragons in his early books. His description of the crypts of Winterfell, and later when Aria is in the bowels of the capital, are almost a reverent tribute to these once majestic beasts.

It is a relationship that has captured the imagination of a generation. My sons, for whom Paolini was so influential, have devoured many books with dragons, without any sign of tiring. For them and others, I found this interesting artistic reflection of the sizes of the various dragons that Paolini creates – Enjoy.

Have a great week.


Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter).


10 comments on “Dragons But Not Unicorns?

  1. LexyWolfe says:

    Well, as symbols, a dragon was a barrier, something to overcome, a danger, and often, something we need to respect and learn to understand to cooperate with. Unicorns were symbols of sex and purity. Only virgins could attract them, and the goal was to capture or slay the unicorn. It is more attractive to have a creature that is intelligent and a friend or enemy than an animal that is, in the end, merely a trophy.

  2. Elisabeth says:

    The myths developed independently? I often wondered about that. And there’s a scientific basis, too!

  3. Diana Story says:

    As a Brit, my novel has both dragons and unicorns. The connection is the Constellations and their concern that a decimated Earth will affect the Cosmos. Magnus is the the Monoceros, or Unicorn Constellation and Patriarch of the Milky Way. Draco is the Dragon Constellation and sacrifices many beautiful fire breathing warriors who are the first line of defense for Maya in her battle with the Dark Menace.

  4. Diana Story says:

    BTW…There are many ancient tapestries showing virgins and unicorns. Unicorns have been mentioned in the bible and apparently Genghis Khan decided not to invade territory in what we now call India because his Chinese advisors told him that there Unicorns in the area. Very bad luck to knock off a Unicorn. Genghis Kahn turned his hordes toward some other unfortunate group.

  5. Diana Story says:

    Dragons and Unicorns are very prominent in British heraldry. My father was an artist and made a stained glass window of me, it included a Unicorn. He asked me to choose a motto. I chose “To the stars through hardship.” In Latin of course. I believe it is the motto of the Royal Air Force. On second thought, I should have left out the hardship part.

    • Elfwriter says:

      Thank you, Diana. Do you have a photo of your father’s work. Would love to see it. Unicorns and dragons. Yes!


      • Diana Story says:

        That was many years ago and unfortunately I don’t have any photos, but if I get any more info I will let you know. The dragons and unicorns in my novel are the constellations Monoceros and Draco. They help Maya defeat the Dark Menace. Just got a nice review from Val Zavala, a Producer at KCET, L.A. She says the battle between good and evil has never been more relevant. She never thought she would see such dark v light forces playing out so explicitly in our society. She continues that my novel is an excellent reminder of how how important it is to stay living in the light. You can see more on my Facebook page. maya.time.space

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