Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/11469
Dragons and "the Other" in Modern Fantasy: Tolkien, McCaffrey and Novik Compared
Dragons, in stories from Western culture, used to be fearsome monsters which hoarded treasures and were slain by heroes, whereas in today’s literature dragons are often accompanied by dragonriders who use them as transports or fighters. This essay explores the different usages of dragons in three works of modern fantasy and science fiction, in relation to the postcolonial concept of “the Other” as defined by Edward Said: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire. Smaug from The Hobbit is the closest to “the Other” because he functions the same as the dragons from traditional dragon tales in which the dragon inhabits and represents the uncivilized wilderness. However, as a character Smaug is an inversion of “the Other,” as he shares qualities with the British upper-class, having been reared in an industrial environment. In Dragonriders of Pern, the dragons are extraterrestrial creatures that humans have tamed and bred to use them to destroy a dangerous substance. Their minds are mostly impulse-driven and the humans, to whom they are bonded, control them through telepathy. The dragons’ impulses affect the humans, their political positions and social norms. Unlike “the Other,” the Pernese dragons are not fixed entities but a developing species, undergoing progress in physical and mental attributes. In the 19th century-based Temeraire, dragons are also tamed and bred by humans but they possess human-like intelligence. Treatment of dragons varies between countries, e.g. Chinese dragons are respected and treated as equals to humans whereas in Europe they are treated as mindless animals, used in warfare. The dragons have human handlers, and there is great affection between them but the general attitude towards the dragons is similar to like towards a social minority. They start a campaign, led by the main characters, for draconic freedom and must fight ingrained norms to achieve it.