The Classification of Dragons

Dragons

Dragons are the most interesting animal that never existed. No other mythological creature has had such far reach across cultures and centuries nor so much lore behind it. They’re even mentioned in the Bible, albeit as a symbolic representation. 

But despite being so universal, they are also diverse. Although many cultures have dragons in their mythology, their designs vary widely, and some of that might have to do with translation issues. They are often lizard- or snake-like, can often fly, sport spines and horns, and have magical attacks like breathing fire. Many don’t follow these patterns, though. Even so, most dragons of legend fit into one of several categories. 

Dragons

Gold Dragon
The most common classification. People also know them as western dragons, because they mirror the designs in medieval Europe. They have four legs (some can stand up on the hind ones, others walk on all fours), a pair of bat wings for flying, and can breathe fire. Scales cover their bodies, like lizards. 

Summary: 4 legs, 2 wings

Wyvern

Smaug dragonThis is where things get controversial. Almost every recent film featuring dragons has what would more technically be called the wyvern design, or at least the updated version of wyverns. Originally, wyverns were smaller, didn’t breathe fire, and had a poisonous spine on their tails, like scorpions. Design-wise, their biggest difference was that they had no forearms, only two hind legs and two wings, which they used to walk on when grounded. Now, think back to every major dragon depicted in film in the last decade or two. Harry Potter dragons, Reign of Fire dragons, and Smaug in The Hobbit (despite Tolkien himself drawing him with four legs), plus the dragons in Game of Thrones and Skyrim, they all followed this design, even though people called them dragons. The only exception I can think of is How to Train Your Dragon, an animated film.

There are a few reasons for this. One is a sense of realism: excepting insects, there are no hexapods (animals with six limbs) that we know of. Bats, birds, and even pterodactyls all follow this design of the forearms being wings. Here is another reason. 

Personally, I dislike this trend. They seem less intelligent and more animalistic this way, in my opinion, and less true to their source material. Plus, it creates confusion, especially in the cinematic Lord of the Rings universe: if Smaug the dragon has only two legs, then what were the creatures the Naz’gul rode in the original trilogy? Smaller dragons? The wyverns might be more realistic, but come on, they’re dragons. The number of legs isn’t going to change the fact that they’re too big to fly, or even exist, and they wouldn’t be able to breathe fire. It seems silly to worry about them being hexapods without addressing that issue. 

Summary: 2 legs, 2 wings

Wyrms

Kirin DragonI’m going to lump several types of dragons in this category. This includes eastern dragons, associated with China and nearby areas. They are either serpentine with no legs or long with two to four legs. They don’t have wings, but can often fly using magic. These dragons are such a part of their cultures that they’re the only mythological beings in the Chinese zodiac. They are often more benevolent than the fire breathing dragons of the west.

Summary: 0-4 legs, no wings

Drakes

Drake DragonsNot so common, these are flightless dragons with four legs. They can stand upright or on all fours

Summary: 4 legs, 0 wings

 

There are some other versions and classifications, but there’s no need to go more specific. Some differences between dragons include what type of breath they have, whether they have scales or feathers, what colors they are, and many other things. 

Famous Dragons

Just for fun, here are some famous dragons to grace myth, book, and screen.

Smaug

Smaug

Smaug is the most famous dragon in LotR, although not the biggest. He is the enemy in The Hobbit who treasures his hoard of gold and dies from a well placed arrow by a character who comes out of nowhere. In the movies, Bard has a little more characterization and pulls a reverse William Tell, shooting a dragon using the head of his son. He is a dragon in the book, wyvern in the movies.

Jörmungandr

This dragon became famous for growing so big it wrapped around the world and bit its tail. When it lets go, Ragnarok will begin. Sounds like a wyrm.

Bowser

He has spikes, breathes fire, and kidnaps princesses, so he’s a dragon. Or a turtle. No, dragon sounds cooler. I’d classify him as a drake.

Mushu

The most famous Disney dragon, he’s also one of the smallest. But he’s got enough attitude to make up for it. He is a wyrm.

Slifer the Sky Dragon

Yu-Gi-Oh’s first Egyptian God, this dragon is of indeterminate length. Probably a wyrm.

Dragonite

Of the original Pokemon, this one is the only one classified as a dragon, even though Charizard looks quite similar. Western Dragon.

Science

And if you want to see more on the science of dragons, look at this video.

What Makes a Good Monster

Roc Monster
Monsters don’t exist, just in case you were wondering. You’re free to look under your bed now.
But why don’t they exist? What makes something a monster?
In old India, surely they thought of tigers as monsters who would take down anyone that wandered out of the safety of the village. Sailors seeing whales for the first time probably thought them monsters. But are tigers and whales monsters? No. They are animals, more specifically mammals. No matter how fierce, dangerous, or powerful they are, they can’t be monsters. Why?
Because they’ve been classified.
They’re no longer a mystery. They’ve been studied. They’ve been placed into zoos and aquariums. We kill many more of them than they of us. And they present absolutely zero threat to human civilization at large.
So again, what makes a monster? The mystery.
In some fantasy worlds, there are fantastic creatures, powerful, scary, and even threats to humanity. But many of them wouldn’t be monsters, because they’re too well known. So orcs and dragons may or may not be monsters, depending on how well they’re understood. On the other hand, in a sci-fi story, if aliens come to invade and we have little knowledge of them, they would be monsters. Frankenstein and Dracula are monsters because no one really understands them, and they’re not a species of animal.
There’s the old cliche that we fear what we don’t understand. While not really true in all cases, in some things, our lack of understanding gives it power over us. The best horror movies leave whatever paranormal creatures in the shadows, not fully understood. Their motives are alien, their biology uncertain.
But what happens when we create monsters out of each other? When we talk about serial rapists as monsters, it’s not just about the heinous acts they commit, although that is a big part of it, but because most people don’t quite understand what drives someone to do those acts, to bypass all moral constraints we’ve had in place since our childhood.
Sometimes we make a whole people we don’t understand into monsters. Muslims, Communists, Nazis, Native Americans. All these groups had both good and bad people (even the Nazis, who were mostly convinced that everyone else, and especially groups like Jews and homosexuals, were the monsters).
Many of the grand scale atrocities in history came because one group dehumanized another, making them ‘others,’ or a monster, and pitting us against them. George R. R. Martin even calls his monsters the Others in the Game of Thrones books.
So ignorance isn’t bliss. Naivety might be, but ignorance is just fear. Fortunately, we have so many resources with the internet that ignorance is willful as well. If you’re ignorant, it’s your own fault. So get out there and try to understand other people, customs, religions, and politics.
And if you’re writing horror, keep us guessing, don’t reveal too much about your monsters.

Weight Loss: The Medieval Way

Legolas
Ever see Lord of the Rings and wonder why everyone (except maybe dwarfs and hobbits) is so thin? Well, the real answer is that they cast pretty people in the movies. But the pretend answer is that back in the day, you had to work to get fat. Nowadays, you have to work weight loss. So what changed?
Mass production.
Most of our food doesn’t come to us fresh, it comes to us in boxes and bottles. Preservatives have been added to extend the life of the food, which does have its benefits, but a lot of food has been processed so much that it loses nutritional value and adds sugars and other fattening ingredients.
Add that to the fact that most jobs are not very labor intensive, we have cars, buses, and trains that take us everywhere, and even doing household chores doesn’t give you much exercise. All these things add up to a lifestyle of laziness filled with fattening foods.
The ideal is opposite the norm. Back in the day, the ideal was to be fat and rich. Now it is to be fit and slim.
So what can you do about it?
The truth is, there are lots of fad diets. They know that people want weight loss, but all the factors are against them. So they make outrageous claims for people desperate enough to follow them. Some have temporary success, but they often gain it back in the long run. Unfortunately, weight loss requires work. Just like it was hard to get enough food to get fat, now it’s hard to abstain enough to get skinny. But there are some basic, universal principles you can use for weight loss, little by little, to keep it off. You will have to make lifestyle changes, though. Go back to your roots and eat the medieval way.

1. Volume

stomach-chart-wtextrecsmall-1
What makes a food unhealthy? When it comes done to it, it mostly has to do with the density of calories. Ice cream’s calorie density is much greater than broccoli. Why does that matter? If you count your calories, it shouldn’t. But here’s the thing. Your stomach can’t count calories. It can only tell you when it’s full. So even if you count your calories, your body will want more if it’s not full. You’ll get a lot fuller eating vegetables than fried chicken with the same amount of calories, which will help out with weight loss.
Suggestion: find a natural food, low in calories, that you like, and eat it as your snack, instead of chips or other fattening foods. Eat it without ranch or other dips, which make healthy foods unhealthy. You can, however, mix good foods. A salad with strawberries and nuts on top can taste good and be healthy if prepared right. It’s hard, but it will make a big difference. Not only do fruits and vegetables have more volume and less calories, it also contains a lot more micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, the stuff your body needs that won’t make you fat. Those things get stripped out in processed foods.
People in medieval times didn’t have the luxury of supermarkets. They stuffed themselves with whatever was available, from bread to oatmeal to carrots. You don’t have to labor on a farm to get your carrots, so enjoy them.

2. Drink water

What-Coke-does
I know you love your Coca-Cola. But do you know what’s in it? Neither do I. A bunch of chemicals. Really, this is about the least natural drink you can have. But don’t think that drinking juice is much better. It’s so full of sugar that in some ways, it’s as bad as soda. In reality, the best drink is water. Let’s count the calories in water. 0. Done. And your body is literally made of something like 80% water. Not 80% Coca Cola, but water. And not only as the healthiest, it’s also the cheapest. Going to a restaurant? Water is usually free (but not the bottled water). Thirsty at work. Drinking fountain. Thirsty at home? Drink some tap water. Get a filter if you feel like it, but tap water is as regulated as bottled water, maybe even more, so you don’t have to waste a lot of money buying bottles. And bottles have a negative impact on the environment.
The problem with this is that so many people are so used to sugared drinks that they feel like water is tasteless. It can take some getting used to. There are a few strategies you could try to increase water intake. One is to only drink water between meals. Save the juice or soda or even milk for the big meals, maybe even only dinner. Another thing you can do, which will help out in weight loss, is force yourself to drink a big glass of water before your meal. Not only will you get your water, but it will help with your appetite so you don’t eat too much.
If people in medieval times saw what we drink now, they would think we’re possessed to put that stuff in our bodies. While they might have favored wine because the water wasn’t always clean, you don’t have that problem, so take advantage.

3. Cook (don’t microwave)

Salisbury_steak
The fine art of cooking has gotten lost in this world of fast food. But it is a lot healthier for you. Find recipes that use natural, unprocessed foods. The closer something appears to how it looks in nature, the better it is for you. When you cook with meat, favor chicken and fish over beef and pork. Add vegetables, while avoiding eating too much rice, potatoes, bread, and pasta. If you do eat these, go for the whole grain versions.
The ready made meals you just stick in the microwave are full of preservatives and salt and have few health benefits. And in the end, home made food tastes better than plastic mashed potatoes. Time does become a problem, but there are ways around it. When you have enough time, cook for several meals and freeze them, to reheat later (microwaving a homemade meal, while not ideal, is better than a store bought one). Take leftovers to work for lunch. Find recipes for delicious food that is easy to make. Crock pots also make cooking easier. When given the choice between frying your food or baking it, the oven is healthier. Little choices like these can make a big difference in the long run. You just have to be patient.
People in medieval times had to work just to purify their water and light a fire. Cooking took all day, and with limited ingredients. So don’t complain about an hour of your time to cook something up.

It’s amazing that all the science we possess can’t seem to rival the natural foods that exist all around us for healthiness. Yes, mass production has helped feed more people, but we’ve gone overboard and now it is killing us instead of helping us. Fight back, both for your own health and as a message to the food industry. Exercise, eat healthy, and don’t overeat. You only have one body, don’t waste it.