Top 10 Dragons I Have Known

I’ve gone through several iterations of this list and realized, after polling twitter, that there’s nothing objective about a top ten list, especially when it’s curated by only one person. So I have abandoned the hubris of calling this a list of top ten dragons (which actually started as a top five) and am making it a much more personal list. These are the dragons I have walked through life with, for varying lengths of time, ranked in order of awesomeness, which is another subjective measure that you can feel free to argue in the comments.

(I can already feel a classics student asking this: Grendel isn’t on this list. I’ve never read Beowulf, which feels like a thing I shouldn’t admit out loud but there it is anyway.)

10. Puff, the Magic Dragon

You may ask why Puff is even included on this list when he’s clearly a euphemism for smoking pot. Well, Leonard Lipton, who originally wrote the poem that became the song, has strongly and fervently rejected that interpretation since its appearance in Newsweek in 1964, so get your minds out of the gutter.

I was first introduced to Puff through the Peter Paul & Mary cover of the song, but also saw this cartoon a lot growing up. Puff is an ageless dragon and friend of Jackie Paper, a little boy who adventures with Puff throughout his childhood, but eventually grows up and leaves his friendship with Puff behind.

And that’s why I can’t put Puff any higher than number 10, he makes me too sad. “Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave/So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.” Minus some points for letting one bratty child kill your mojo, Puff.

9. Dragon, Shrek

We first meet Dragon (who does not seem to have a name other than Dragon, but then, she’s married to Donkey, so that makes sense) guarding the castle that Fiona is being held in at the beginning of Shrek. This clip shows her first encounter with Donkey, who she eventually begins a relationship with and, in a way that I’m choosing really hard to not think about, eventually has a family of flying donkeys with.

Dragon is not afraid to use her size and intimidating features (teeth, ability to fly and breathe fire) to tip the scales in the balance of Shrek and friends. She’s the one that rids the world of Farquaad in the first film (uh, spoilers?), and she tips a tower over on Prince Charming (uh, more spoilers?). She’s an attentive mother, choosing to stay home with her brood of dragon donkeys instead of going off adventuring with her husband. She’s also good at joking about her ferocity, as seen at the end of Shrek Ever After when she playfully eats Donkey. Points for agency.

8. Hiram McDaniels, Welcome to Night Vale

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Image from Rob Wilson

Hiram McDaniels is literally a five-headed dragon. He first moved to Night Vale when he was 30 years old and chose to settle there because of the chill reactions of the local citizens when he asked for a recommendation for a place to eat dinner. His five heads have distinct personalities and colors and frequently argue with each other over how to conduct the entire body.

During his campaign for mayor, he runs on a platform of “I’m literally a five-headed dragon. Who cares?” which garners him little in the way of public favor. His candidacy culminates in his arrest over a plot to assassinate the winner of the mayoral race, former station intern Dana Cardinal.

He wins points for his reasoning ability, sense of civic duty (if the expression of this is a little misguided), the fact that any argument with five different heads on a single dragon body would exhaust any human, and the fact that he’s literally a five-headed dragon.

7. Ramoth, Dragonriders of Pern

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Image from Michael Whelan

The thing about Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series is that there are so many dragons to choose from. I could have gone with Ruth, the white dragon; Holth, who helped save the entirety of Pern from an epidemic in Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern; Canth, who went with his rider F’Nor to the surface of the Red Star and almost died . . . you see the options. But nope, I chose Ramoth, and I will tell you why.

At the beginning of Dragonflight, all but one Weyr (basically, dragon fortress) has been abandoned. Thread hasn’t fallen in generations and many people don’t believe it ever will come back. Through a training accident, Ramoth and Lessa (her rider) discover that they are not only able to travel between places (through teleportation), but also between times. She and Lessa hatch a plan to go back in time to the end of the last Pass of the Red Star and bring the Dragonriders back to the present to fill the Weyrs and help them fight Thread.

Ramoth is smart, resourceful, sneaky, and travels through time to save the entire world. Plus Anne McCaffrey’s dragons have telepathic bonds with their riders, which always seemed cool as shit to me.

6. Red Lyrium Dragon, Dragon Age: Inquisition

If you’ve made it any distance at all into Dragon Age: Inquisition, you’ve met the red lyrium dragon. She’s the one that carries Corypheus away from Haven after the Inquisitor’s encounter with him. She’s also the last line of defense between you and Corypheus at endgame. There’s actually an excellent reason for her being the final barrier as well: she’s got a portion of Corypheus’s power in her, and she’s the reason he keeps being able to resurrect himself when he is killed. So you have to kill her to kill him.

She’s a high dragon, and before being corrupted to Corypheus’s purposes probably lived out her thousands of years lifespan by chilling in her lair with her drake harem, clutching a new litter of dragons every hundred years or so.

She ranks this high because her story is pretty sad actually, and, as with most of the high dragons in this game, she’s actually pretty difficult to beat. She breathes red lyrium, for one, which might not mean anything to you if you haven’t played any Dragon Age, but suffice to say it deals massive damage, which is especially bad when you’re playing as a fragile mage. And I’m always playing as a fragile mage.

Plus, at several thousand years old, she’s kind of a bad ass.

5. Temeraire, first seen in His Majesty’s Dragon

Temeraire is one of two dragons on this list I feel almost a parent-like pride for, because I knew him from the moment he was hatched (from an egg!). (The other is Ramoth.) The dragons in Naomi Novik’s series all have distinct personalities and their intelligence levels and abilities vary based on their species. I’ve always liked the history she built in the kinds of dragons that developed across the globe. Temeraire is a Chinese dragon, a Celestial, which in China is the greatest of all dragons. (And, as Laurence and Temeraire would probably tell you, the greatest of all dragons anywhere. Except this list.)

Temeraire has an ability called Divine Wind, which is basically a super sonic sound wave. He first discovers the ability by accident, when roaring in anger at the invading French army caused the Divine Wind to shatter their wooden conveyances. He’s later shown to use it to cause tsunami sized waves to capsize entire fleets.

In addition to his physical abilities, Temeraire is also highly intelligent and compassionate, and uses his position in life to force a better living situation for all dragons in England. By the end of the series, they earn wages and are represented in Parliament. Points for participation in social justice.

4. Falkor, The NeverEnding Story

I met Falkor as a very small child while watching The NeverEnding Story, which is probably one of the more traumatizing childhood movies I watched. I still can’t watch the scene in the Swamps of Sadness without sobbing uncontrollably. Falkor gave me an interesting idea of what dragons are like, since his head is really that of a dog’s, and he doesn’t actually have wings. Also, fur instead of scales everywhere except his back. He was my first exposure to the Chinese style of dragon (which also don’t have wings), and unfortunately he’s not a terribly great representation of the Chinese dragon (what’s with all the fur??). He does breathe fire (it’s blue) and exists on air he absorbs through his scales. Must be handy to not have to eat.

His most useful ability is basically just his existence. He’s a luckdragon, as he states in the above clip. He’s enormously pleasant and optimistic, and things just seem to go well when he’s around. It’s always useful to have a luckdragon on your quest.

Plus! He understands petty revenge and helps Bastion enact it on the kids who stuffed him in a dumpster in the beginning of the movie, so he wins massive points for that.

3. Elliott, Pete’s Dragon

Elliott has the distinction of being the first dragon I ever met, and I thought of them as sweet friendly creatures right up until I read The Hobbit. (That, by the way, didn’t happen until high school so I had a lot of time with my friendly dragons.) Elliott is dismissed throughout the movie as a figment of Pete’s imagination, because no one but Pete can see him. Pete describes Elliott to Nora: “He has the head of a camel/the neck of a crocodile . . . He’s both a fish and a mammal/and I hope he’ll never change.” Elliott is Pete’s best friend and, for a while, the only one that loves him for him.

The thing that makes Elliott special is his compassion for children. He only appears to those who truly need him: lonely children who aren’t loved. Elliott helps Pete escape from his abusive foster family and stays with him in the woods when he doesn’t have anyone. He’s eventually found by Nora, who offers to let him stay in the lighthouse that she and her father seem to somehow be responsible for. Elliott sticks around for a while to see how that works out, and eventually moves on to help the next troubled child after he sees that Pete is happy with Nora and her father (and her husband Paul who finally returns from the sea).

Look, I had a happy childhood, and with three siblings and a lot of other kids in our neighborhood, I was really never lonely. I think that might be why I’ve always had a lot of compassion for kids that are, and this one has always struck a chord with me. Elliott’s always been a hero.

I haven’t seen the updated version of this movie, but the original has the bonus of having an incredibly ear-wormy soundtrack.

2. Toothless, How To Train Your Dragon

You guys, I love Toothless so much. He’s like a cat with wings. The clip isn’t their first meeting, it’s actually, I guess, their third, at this point? But it’s the beginning of a life-long friendship. Hiccup’s village, Berk, is plagued by dragons at the beginning of the movie. It’s his friendship with Toothless that allows Hiccup to discover the truth about dragons that leads to something of a revolution in his village and among dragonkind.

The injury inflicted to Toothless at the beginning of the movie leaves him without a portion of his tail, essentially rendering him flightless without the assistance of Hiccup and the leather contraption he mocks up to replace that portion of fin. Toothless is a small dragon, but he makes up for it in being one of the deadliest and most rare dragons, the dreaded Night Fury. In addition to being small and fast, Night Furies shoot plasma bolts that can create fire explosions. So like, he’s basically a really deadly cat with wings, but also really loves his humans? It’s great.

How to Train Your Dragon has turned into a franchise by this point, and the fun thing about sticking with the storyline is seeing how Hiccup and Toothless’ friendship changes both of them for the better.

Positives: actually has teeth, is basically a cat, frees all of the dragons from enslavement, twice, lifelong pals with Hiccup. Negatives: none.

1. Smaug, The Hobbit

“My teeth are swords, my claws are spears, my wings are a hurricane.”

Smaug is described in the appendices of The Return of the King as “the greatest dragon of his day” and was already hundreds of years old by the time he is first discovered. He heard about the wealth of the dwarves in Erebor and attacked the mountain, ousting an entire kingdom of dwarves. Like, actually all by himself rousts a kingdom of dwarves. He then lives in their mountain for the next 150 years, swimming Scrooge McDuck style in a literal mountain of gold.

In the books, Gandalf worries about Sauron’s influence over Smaug and the havoc that could be wrought by that alliance, and so agrees to go with the dwarves to retake Thorin Oakenshield’s kingdom. He recruits Bilbo under the assumption that Smaug wouldn’t recognize the scent of a hobbit. The movie adaptations follow this basic plot, but reveal that Smaug and Sauron were already in league. Why he was still buried under gold in the mountain when Bilbo found him then, I don’t know. Probably a subject for another time.

During his conversation with Smaug, Bilbo notices a small bare spot on his belly, where a scale is missing. This isn’t given a reason in the book, but in the movie adaptations, it is revealed that the bare patch on his belly is the result of being struck with a special enormous bolt during his initial attack on Erebor, which included the nearby human settlement of Laketown.

Smaug is enormously powerful, his wrath burns for centuries, and he was only brought down because of a blow first struck 150 years prior. (Or, in the books, a blow of completely unknown origin.) Imagine if that bare spot had NOT been there so conveniently, Frodo would never have gotten the Ring. Smaug gets the most points for grudge holding abilities.


And those are them, my ten favorite dragons! Feel free to discuss my ranking in the comments, and tell me about your draconic companions!

 

14 Comments

  • Weasel of Doom September 29, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    I have a very fond place in my heart for “The Flight of Dragons”. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern dragons are on my list, too, and so is Naomi Novik’s Temeraire (Iskierka, on the other hand, just annoyed the hell out of me).

    Rachel Aaron’s “Heartstrikers” series has dragons as main heroes. My favorite is Julius, followed closely by Chelsie and Amelia.

    Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra have awesome dragons. Tiamaris, Sanabalis, Bellusdeo… There is an evil uber-powerful Outcast Dragon, too.

    Robin Hobb has some cool dragons in her Realm of the Elderlings series (does a Liveship count as a dragon? do sea serpents? because they totally should!).

    Maur from Robin McKinley’s “The Hero and the Crown” is an insidiously evil dragon, even after his death. Alas, her “Dragonhaven” was forgettable.

    GRRM’s dragons never did much for me, despite the pivotal role they play. (Disclaimer: I have not seen the show, just read the books).

    Reply
    • Merrin September 29, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      I’m making a long list of all the things you just mentioned that I’ve never experienced. Liveships and sea serpents could count, probably. There were certainly sea serpent dragons in Temeraire.

      I never read enough of GRRM to get to the dragons, tbh. They only hatched at the end of the first book, which is the only one I’ve read.

      Reply
      • Weasel of Doom September 29, 2017 at 1:50 pm

        My work here is done 🙂

        Reply
        • Merrin September 29, 2017 at 2:41 pm

          For clarity’s sake, I have actually read The Hero and the Crown when I was in hs, but honestly did not remember there was a dragon. It’s been MANY MANY years since then.

          Reply
  • Shara White September 29, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Awww, I think Elliott was my first dragon. I THINK. Not quite sure, but he’s the first I do remember. I watched that movie over and over and OVER as a kid!

    Reply
    • Merrin September 29, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      Full confession, I still regularly listen to that soundtrack because it’s one of my favorite children’s movies of all time.

      Reply
  • Nicole Taft September 29, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    As I scrolled through, I just kept thinking, “If Smaug isn’t #1, then we’re gonna have to fight.” ;D

    Reply
    • Merrin September 29, 2017 at 2:40 pm

      HAHAHAHA don’t worry, I got you, girl.

      Reply
  • Lane Robins September 29, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    One of my all time favorite takes on dragons is the lovely children’s book The Dragon Circle by Stephen Krensky. The Dragons are the villains, but such fun villains!!!

    Reply
    • Merrin September 30, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      *writes down on my very long list*

      Reply
  • Shara White September 30, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    While this is relatively recent (by recent I mean within the last ten years or so), but James Maxey has a fascinating series that starts with BITTERWOOD. I only read the first two but really enjoyed them at the time, but got distracted by the rest of my shiny TBR pile. Apparently it’s been collected into a rather cheap omnibus now! https://smile.amazon.com/Bitterwood-Complete-Collection-Book-ebook/dp/B00C4D4AGQ/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1506793826&sr=8-4&keywords=james+maxey

    Reply
    • Merrin September 30, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Someone on twitter recced this to me, they look interesting!

      Reply
  • careymballard October 1, 2017 at 11:17 am

    I love this entire list. Thanks for including the Mayor of Night Vale! And right on about Puff the Magic Dragon. There are a couple of sequels – Puff the Magic Dragon in the Land of Lies, where he teaches a little girl to channel her enthusiasm for lying into writing fiction (!), and Puff and the Incredible Mr. Nobody, about a boy with a really overactive imagination. I don’t remember liking the other two as much as the first, but I would watch them again if I could find them.

    Reply
    • Merrin October 9, 2017 at 2:31 am

      I had no idea there were Puff sequels?!!? And I had to include Hiram, he’s way too much fun on the podcast.

      Reply

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