The Penguin Book of Dragons by Scott G Bruce - review by Diane Purkiss

Diane Purkiss

Terrors of the Sky

The Penguin Book of Dragons


Penguin 351pp £12.99

How do you like your dragon these days? Tough or tender? Whatever your preference, you are likely to find the right one for you in The Penguin Book of Dragons. The book is dedicated to Gary Gygax, the creator of the game Dungeons and Dragons, and one of a group of modern dragon makers who have help ensure the enduring popularity of this particular monster (the others are J R R Tolkien and George R R Martin). However, those expecting here the kinds of dragons made familiar by games and fantasy fiction may be in for a number of surprises.

For example, it turns out that dragons can be, well, kinky. A 14th-century Byzantine dragon doesn’t eat his princess, but keeps her cruelly suspended from the ceiling by her hair so that he can enjoy flogging her from time to time. Fifty shades of green? More like grim. And this is not the worst creature in the book. Those seeking the most nightmarish dragon should look no further than Beowulf. Antithetical to all that is human, as antithetical as fire is to human flesh, this dragon is furious at the theft of a single item; raging unstoppably, he is far stronger than the bond between the king and his men. In Norse mythology, by contrast, the dragon Fáfnir is easily killed by Sigurd once the correct knowledge is acquired. Before dying, Fáfnir even proves a repository of helpful information and confers mystical powers on his killer.

In his introduction, Scott G Bruce points out that dragons are the enemies of humankind, against which we measure the ‘martial prowess of noble heroes’. As such, they are easily folded into Christian tradition, often cast as agents of the Devil or demons in disguise. In this way,

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