Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dragonets, Firelizards, and Faerie Dragons

Original US cover for Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong, the first of the Harper Hall trilogy

 Dragons were now in danger of becoming too familiar, even cozy. One sign the dragon was in trouble as a true monster, even threatened with terminal decline, was the appearance of the cute “shoulder dragon” – a creature with all the traditional attributes of dragonkind except size and convincing ferocity.
The following quote from the role playing game supplement Gurps Dragons is typical of the attitude modern books have towards the concept of  small dragons. If it's not a D&D super-wyrm than it's a modern fabrication of little worth. Unfortunately for the research abilities of these so called experts the tiny dragon is hardly the creation of modern fantasy, SF, and superhero stories. Anne McCaffrey did not invent the shoulder dragon, as is often claimed, such creatures have been a part of western folklore for thousands of years. And all of these real folkloric dragonets are far more interesting than tiny dragon pets with stingers or funny dog-dragon's that explode when kicked!

Paul Kidby's depiction of Terry Pratchett's swamp dragons

Tiny dragon-like creatures are commonly found in northern European folklore. These creatures (usually having a mix of the characteristics of both faeries and dragons) are known under many names including kratchens (Belgium and Holland), krats (Scandinavia), drachens (Germany), feu draks (France and Switzerland), aitvaras (Lithuania), lideric (Hungaria), pisuhand (Baltic areas), and tulihand (Estonia). The descriptions vary according to local folklore but are generally they are shapeshifters that appear as little house fairies that smell like rotten eggs, wear red caps and white tunics. They can turn into black cats or chickens in order to blend in with the household but when they fly they become winged 2-3 foot long four-legged dragons with a flaming tail. They thus are compared to a will o' wisp or tiny flaming ball.

Unsurprisingly, fairy drakes are also said to guard treasures when encountered in their will o' wisp form. This description changes in Finnish folklore where the krat is always depicted as a tiny dragon, yet still is depicted as a house fairy. Other names are Rarash, Kaukas, Pūkis, Damavykas, Sparyžius, Koklikas, Gausinėlis, Žaltvikšas, and Spirukas.

Typical d&d version of a Faerie dragon courtesy of AFSA clipart
 According to legend these little dragons are very loyal and form strong bonds with families (especially man of the house) and will travel across the world doing chores for their masters, bringing them essential medicine, exotic foods, and gifts, in exchange for being taken cared of. They can also become revengeful, able to unleash powerful destructive forces. They are house fairies and move into a house and keep the firewood dry and takes care of the house, barn and stables, making sure that the pantry and money chest are well stocked. They can travel the world in a split second, and bring their masters a present back from faraway places. In return, the master keeps the drake fed and treated with respect. Should the drake be insulted it will burn the house down. If you see a drake on its travels, take shelter, for they leave behind a poisonous sulfurous fog. If you quickly shout "half and half" or throw a knife at the creature, then the drake may drop some of its booty in your lap. If two people together see a drake, they should cross their legs in silence, take the fourth wheel off the wagon and take shelter. The drake will then be compelled to leave them some of his haul. 
Another use for a small dragon, AFSA clipart again

Some of my favorite regional variants of the faerie dragon are the...

Aitvaras: a household spirit in Lithuanian mythology is described as having the appearance of a rooster or wet chicken while indoors and the appearance of a dragon outdoors. An Aitvaras will lodge itself in a house and will most often refuse to leave. It brings both good and bad luck to the inhabitants of the house. Aitvaras provide their adopted home with gold coins, milk and grain, often getting the household into trouble as these treasures are stolen from the neighbors. According to many, an Aitvaras can be obtained from the Devil in exchange for one's soul, but can also be found, or brooded from the eggs of a seven-year-old cock. The spirit must be fed with omelet if it is to stay in the house. If it dies it becomes a spark.

The dragon's of Oz, showing the Aitvaras-like tail light
 Lidérc: this faery dragon is from Hungarian folklore and is similar to the aitvaras in appearance except that it hatches from the first egg of a black hen kept warm in the armpit of a human or a heap of manure and attaches itself to people to become their lover in exchange for blood (it is a vampire) or their soul. If blood is given the Lidérc hoards gold and thus makes its owner rich. If your soul is given instead of blood then the person owning the Lidérc gets gold and suddenly becomes capable of extraordinary feats (super powers) from the Devil. To dispose a Lidérc, it must be persuaded to perform an impossible task, such as haul sand with rope, or water with a sieve. It can also be destroyed by locking it into a tree hollow. 

The cockatrice, yet another small dragon-chicken in myth
The Pisuhand: also known as Puuk, Tulihand, Pukys, etc. This is similar to the other faerie dragons but takes the form of a cat instead of a chicken. It guards a particular house and is about 2ft in length. In some beliefs it does not have wings and in others it does and flies around with a fiery tail. This Dragon steals treasure for its master and guards the treasure of the household and tends to play tricks on people.

The book A Wizard's Bestiary by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart also has this entry in its dragon section:
Faery Dragon: Also called fairy dragons, fey dragons, or penny dragons, this type of dragon is prevalent in South America. They range from the size of a mouse to about a foot in length. The faery dragon resembles a classical dragon of Europe in build, but there are several important differences (besides the size, that is!). Penny dragons sport two sets of dragonfly or butterfly wings. They have a longer, more tapered snout; large iridescent eyes; and are colored to blend in with their surroundings in the same manner that moths, butterflies, and other insects do. However, if the light hits them just right, the faery dragon's hide will shine with a rainbow of colors.
 I can find no folkloric origin for this type faerie dragon but I did find mention of a South American cryptid animal said to resemble a small dragon or pterodactyl with acidic saliva that burns skin. 

An acid spitting pterosaur - It doesent get much better than this! Who else would like to see some of these in a recent fantasy book or RPGs?

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