Blog Archives

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.