Dragons have appeared in mythology and legend for thousands of years in almost every country around the world. And the fact that the creature was truly regarded as an actual monster rather than a myth can be demonstrated in several writings of the day. Edward Topsell, writing in his Historie of Serpents (1608), commented that among all the kinds of serpents, there is none comparable to the Dragon, or that afforded and yielded so much plentiful matter in history for the ample discovery of the nature thereof.
Could it be that the Western dragon developed from a memory in the collective unconscious of modern man, a memory of other, widespread, fierce and fearsome animals, survivors from the age of dinosaurs a memory passed down from our primitive ancestors, who lived in terror of such creatures? In the 19th century, fossil evidence of the existence of the pterodactyl, an extinct winged reptile, led to speculation that dragons, far from being purely mythical, may at one time have been real monsters that had survived from the age of the dinosaurs. A few scientists today regard the theory that a number of dinosaurs could have survived into the Age of Man. Pick up any book on dinosaurs and it is obvious that a Tyrannosaurus Rex would have made a terrific dragon in anyones legend. Such a huge reptile thudding about the countryside of early Europe or Asia could certainly fit even the most extraordinary descriptions of a dragon.
A more acceptable theory is that ancient historians were in reality describing huge snakes such as the python, which often reaches a length of more than 30 feet. Still, this does not account for descriptions of the dragons feet or its ability to walk on all fours. A more believable theory is that large ancient bones discovered in those times such as dinosaur fossils, giant cave bear skulls, mammoths and woolly rhinoceros skeletons could have been mistaken for dragon remains, fueling all manner of stories and folklore.
In the book Mythical Monsters(1886) New Zealand geologist Charles Gould declared: "We may infer that it (the dragon) was a long terrestrial lizard, hibernating and carnivorous... possibly furnished with wing-like expansions...."
A discovery that took place in 1912 gave some support to Gould's theory. A Dutch pilot who crash-landed on the island of Komodo in Indonesia reported seeing huge, grotesque-looking, carnivorous creatures resembling dragons. Investigations confirmed the airman's story. The animal he had seen was a giant monitor lizard, now known as the Komodo dragon. The creature grows to 12 feet in length, has a long powerful tail, feeds on carrion, and sometimes attacks and kills people. From New Guinea, too, have come unconfirmed reports of lizards that are even larger than the Komodo dragon. It is, however, difficult to understand how these particular giant lizards, isolated in a part of the world remote from Europe, could have played any part in the development of the Western legend of the dragon.
Nevertheless, people in Durham (England) still sing of the 'worm' Old English for 'dragon' which terrorized the county in the Middle Ages. It all began when the young heir to Lambton Castle went fishing on a Sunday. He caught an eel-like creature, which he threw down a well. In the well the worm grew to an enormous size, and when the young knight went off on a crusade, it broke out and devoured men and beasts. Every night it would sleep while wound three times around Lambton Hill, now called Worm Hill. Young Lambton managed to slay the dragon on his return from the crusade, but only by promising a witch he would kill the first creature he met after his victory. Unfortunately, it was his father who was first on the scene. Young Lambton refused to kill him, and, because of this, the Lambton family was put under the witch's curse a curse said to be effective still.
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