Monday, April 12, 2021

There are a lot of clichés about dragons but are dragons themselves cliché?

This is a gigantic dragon miniature that comes painted that is definitely not a cliché

Dragons have been a part of fantasy storytelling for a long time. In addition, they are in mythology and folklore the world round. George R.R. Martin used them (he originally didn't want to but was persuaded by someone he knew that it would be cool). They appear in video games, in Dungeons and Dragons, and they are used in a titles for fictional characters. One example of this is Dracula, who is Vlad Dracul, member of the Order of the Dragon. There are also characters in Mortal Kombat who can fatally kill others by summoning flames that look like a giant dragon, or they can channel the power of a dragon. In China, there is even a year of the dragon.

There are also many clichés about dragons themselves. They are greedy, clannish, they hoard wealth, they are very old (practically immortal), cunning, evil, they like to capture princesses, and when they pop up in stories it tends to be either about "the last dragon" or "a single dragon egg that somehow is alive." They are also (nearly always) extremely powerful.

There are also the creatures who are clearly inspired by dragons. Godzilla and King Ghidorah strike me as "dragon-inspired." And practically every fictional setting with a hint of fantasy has some version of a dragon. There are even some in Star Wars...krayt dragon anyone?

So, with all of these thousands (if not millions) of stories in which dragons play a part, I'm wondering if the monster itself is a cliché and should be avoided by writers. I think that at first we all need to know what a cliché is. The dictionary defines it as a phrase or an opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. So, a dragon is neither a phrase or an opinion. But it is a creature that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought. Another definition of cliché is a stereotype or electrotype. When I think about it, there are lots of fire-breathing dragons, and I would say that this is a stereotype. But the ones without any kind of breath weapon do show a little originality in thinking. I mean, that does seem unusual, right?

In any event, I think that for a thing to be truly a cliché, that it must be irritating. And I don't think that dragons (for most people) will ever be irritating. As much as I get tired of seeing them in fiction, once I accept that the dragon is there I usually start to think of how cool it is first. And this is true in Dungeons & Dragons as well. In that tabletop roleplaying game, dragons are even a part of the title as well as being infused into every corner of the worldbuilding. I occasionally think, "Ah it's just another dragon." But then I see the really cool illustration that someone does of it and then the miniature comes out and it's super detailed and looks awesome and I think, "Okay...there's nothing cliché about this now."

But that may be just me. So, I'm curious and am going to pose the question to any of you out there that might be reading my words. Do you think dragons are cliché, and would you ever consider putting them into your stories? I look forward to reading your comments.


  1. The Western dragon is used a lot, but what about the Oriental version? You almost never see that one. Maybe that's an opportunity for writers.

  2. Dragons are like vampires, werewolves, and other monsters that way. If you put a different twist on it then it will feel fresh for the reader.

  3. Can a creature be a cliché? I don't think so. I would argue that dragons are a trope as opposed to a cliché. It's like saying horses are cliché. (I mean, I know dragons aren't real, but myths aren't cliché either. And the argument is that dragons were ancient people's idea of what those dinosaur bones were of.)