How St George Ruined the Dragon’s Reputation (But Museums Love Him)

I was in London for the weekend and I spent a great many hours in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum wandering the halls and admiring the shiny, the old, and the impressive that they had to offer.

Since I am always on the lookout for dragons, I notice them whenever they show up in the odd sculpture, architecture, or painting, such as this example in King’s Chapel, Cambridge:

But where I noticed them most often was being stuck with a spear or a sword by a certain St George on everything from painted plates to jewelry to pots.

Earthenware dish from the 1700's

I know the story of St George is ever so slightly famous and the British have held it near and dear to their hearts for quite some time.  It is a popular legend about their beloved hero vanquishing the dragon, rescuing the maiden, and generally being awesome in a cliche knight sort of way.

16th century pendant

What we don’t usually get to hear is the unfortunate dragon’s perspective on being thus portrayed.  The dragon has quite a connection with British history and not all of it is so infamous.  The red dragon is on the Welsh flag, after all.

Rachel gave me a fun, cheesy, little movie called George and the Dragon that involved a new take on the story in which the princess insisted that George help protect the dragon and its egg rather than rescue her and kill it, as directed by her father.  I appreciated the gesture on the part of the screen writers.

Italy, 1500. I would like to suggest that here, the princess is going "Stop, you moron! We were just having a cup of tea!"

Tradition is all well and good, but it seems like George and the dragon might do very well to call a truce.  Then we can start seeing pots and plates and gold encrusted baubles that feature a valiant knight making friends with the dragon, playing frisbee with the dragon, having tea with the dragon… I would buy those baubles- wouldn’t you?

I have this theory that George is patting him on the neck here, not holding the dead body of his recent kill. Sometimes the dragon is shown as tamed rather than killed, which is a kinder interpretation of the legend. (This is a 15th century German sculpture)

With all due respect to Tolkien’s Smaug, I have enjoyed the recent imaginative retellings of dragon tales wherein the dragons are not always the villains.  If dragons are going to continue to appear in architecture, stories, and film, George is going to have to either concede defeat or just become friends with them and move on with his life (or legendary existence or whatever). Because, really, this is going a bit far, don’t you think?

Part of the insignia of the Order of the Knight of the Garter from 1628. The only complete insignia known to still exist.

For more pictures, several of which feature dragons, take a look at my blog So I Went to Scotland Searching for Dragons.


About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on December 6, 2011, in Art, Dragons, Fantasy, History, Humor, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Photography, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I like your theory. Maybe that gash in the dragon’s shoulder and the other one in his leg are just the marks of his taming. They don’t look necessarily fatal. Also he looks very underfed. Poor mistreated dragon.

    I am surprised though that there aren’t any dragons standing up for themselves. They are the fiercest, strongest, best monsters. I guess we like to celebrate our one memorable triumph over them.

    • That’s a valid point. Realistically speaking, dragons would not be defeated often, so when one finally was, the people just went nuts over that George fellow and it got a little out of hand. Now every knight thinks he can go off and slay a dragon even if the dragon didn’t do anything to deserve it.

      But maybe if someone donated a cow or two to the dragon every so often, he wouldn’t have felt compelled to come bother them in their villages.

      Villagers For the Support and Protection of Dragons! (VSPD)

  2. Do you know Kenneth Grahame’s book THE RELUCTANT DRAGON? You would love it!

  3. Poor dragons. Stop the oppression! Let them burninate as they will – er, wait, well, maybe not that…but it is interesting to see how views of the dragon have changed with time. From signs of strength, to villains and monsters…to the pets and allies many writers will portray them as today…

    • Yes, if you think of books like the Temeraire series or Eragon, the dragons are the companions instead of the monsters. I like it better because they are not necessarily all GOOD. They are companions to the villains as well as the heroes. I find it more realistic to have sentient dragons that are sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes somewhere in the middle, just like the people.

  4. Rocket Dog (Ergo Proxy)

    Stop killing dragons!! That’s pretty much the basis for my space dragon book. The dragons get sick of humanity treating them like bugs and they go to war with humans (and put saddles on their backs as a way of saying “we’re not meant to be ridden”).

    And they have their own language:

    I hate it when Dragons are made into evil bad guys. But that seems to be changing in books nowadays…I think…Movies certainly don’t treat dragons any better. I’d like to see a good dragon in a movie for once, and not some ugly CGI dragon.

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