Tolkien writes that dragons were among the most feared of the servants of the Dark Lord. The first dragon was Glaurung, the Father of Dragons, and he lived in the middle of the First Age. Following Glaurung many other dragons came and harassed both Elves and Men. Among them the infamous dragons were Ancalagon the first winged dragon, Scatha who dwelt in the cold northern wastes and Smaug who was the last of the great dragons and guarded treasure in The Hobbit.1
The dragons were not destroyed at the end of the Third Age; and some believe that they have survived to our own time.
In The Hobbit, Bilbo is recruited to help some dwarves steal back their treasure that was originally stolen by the dragon Smaug in the Lonely Mountain.
Bilbo finds the courage to enter the dragon's lair and steals a golden cup. Smaug wakes up and in retaliation kills their ponies. Bilbo reenters the lair and has a conversation with the dragon and discovers that the dragon has a weak spot over its left breast. This eventually leads to Smaug's death and the recovery of the treasure.
In The Lord of the Rings the Ringwraiths, the Nazgūl rode dragons while searching for Frodo.
In the movie Excalibur, the magician Merlin described dragons to a young King Arthur, "The dragon, a beast of such power, that if you were to see it whole, and all complete in one single glance, it would burn you to cinders
But what is the truth about dragons? Are they the stuff of fairy tales or are they as many believe real animals that may exist even today! 2
It was only a thousand years ago that dragons were the subject of gossip and everyone from kings, bishops and stable boys knew of their individual characteristics and descriptions. Dragon graffiti painted the walls of Medieval Europe. Children aspired to being dragon slayers as much as they dreamed of being knights. Becoming a dragon slayer was a genuine occupation. It was sure way to get the girls and the money, if you lived, wasn't bad.
Knights, saints and other brave souls routinely killed dragons that terrorized towns and villages. From Europe to China tales of dragons were as common as the gossip of today's movie stars and celebrities. 3
One of the most famous dragon tales involves St. George who was born in Cappadocia (now Eastern Turkey) in the year A.D. 270. He was a Christian and at the age of seventeen joined the Roman army and soon distinguished himself by his bravery.
He was sent to England and gathered much notoriety by protecting Christians that were to be tortured by his fellow Romans.
While he was in England he heard the Emperor was putting all Christians to death and so he returned to Rome to help. He pleaded with the Emperor Diocletian to spare their lives but could not persuade him. St. George was ordered to give up his faith. He refused and was beheaded on 23 April, 303.
On one of St. George's journeys he came to Libya. There he a met a hermit that told him the cause of the great sorrow that had fallen over the land. Apparently a dragon was ravaging the country.
The cost to appease the dragon was the daily sacrifice of a beautiful maiden. But now, all the young girls have been killed and only the King's daughter remained.
The King promised his daughter in marriage to anyone that could slay the dragon. As any heroic knight would do St. George vowed that he would destroy the monster.
The next day, St. George rose early, and traveled to where the sacrifices took place. There he saw a beautiful girl dressed in pure Arabian silk. It was the princess and her name was Sabra. He told her and her entourage that he would slay the dragon and she was to return to the palace.
He then entered the valley where the dragon lived. Suddenly the dragon, which had a huge head and a tail that was fifty feet long, rushed from its cave and St. George charged and struck the dragon with his spear. It smashed into a thousand pieces and he was thrown to the ground.
Recovering quickly, he got to his feet and drew his sword. But the dragon was ready and spit poison over him which split his armor in two. He staggered away and fell under an enchanted orange tree, which miraculously rejuvenated him.
Rising again with sword in hand he rushed the dragon and stabbed it under the wing where there were no scales. It fell dead at his feet. 4
Dragons were not the stuff of myths and children's tales, but the subject of newsworthiness! Kings, knights, monks, archbishops and scholars reported eyewitness accounts of these events!
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