For a creature that has never existed, dragons sure do turn up a lot in ancient texts.
Almost every major civilization has had a love affair with a scaly, fake mythological creature, which is a) adorable, and b) intriguing as hell, in view of the fact that countries as diverse as Australia, Greece, Scotland, Italy, and Korea have independently told stories about these reptilian beasts.
For example, here's a Germanic dragon:
God, we hope he's just going for a high-five there ...
Gian Luca Ruggero/Wiki Commons
Now you know exactly one thing about Wales.
Don't forget to bury the teeth next to the petunias!
It doesn't technically breathe fire, but it invented the wasabi challenge.
You just need to take one look at them to realize that it's not like these guys spread on their own from a single source like an ancient word-of-mouth version of a cult movie. It seems that a lot of these tales and beliefs happened independently of each other, and there are many theories as to how it happened.
For instance, in Australia and Africa, huge monitor lizards and crocodiles are probably the source of the dragon myth, while the Asian dragon origin can probably be traced back to whale and dinosaur fossils. If you didn't have Wikipedia handy back then and just happened upon a whale bone that wasn't in the ocean, your mind could have naturally produced quite a tale to explain what the fuck you just found out in a field somewhere.
And then you would imagine that they could fly because the human brain is AWESOME!
Another, more deep-seated explanation of the belief in giant, magical lizards throughout history and geography can be attributed to our innate fear of deadly predators. Back when we were just a bunch of primates swinging happily on tree branches, predators constituted roughly 80 percent of all living things under those branches. But as we got bigger and smarter and gun-inventing-er, not even lions seemed to tickle the fear center of our brain.
So to keep us vigilant and on our toes, the brain extrapolated from the animals and fossils around it, and came up with stories of huge, scaly beasts that could fly and breathe fire. That still seems ... strangely specific, doesn't it? But then again, every culture has zombies and werewolves, too, so maybe we were constantly thinking up different monsters, and over time we decided to all keep the same few really awesome ones.
Justin is building a horror novel that is free as the air you breathe. It's over on JukePop here. Vote to keep it going. He would also like to thank Brittney Herz-Glenn for her expertise on wordish things. Thanks to Christopher Kidonakis for the research on this, read more from him here.
For more things we should steal from other cultures, check out 9 Foreign Words the English Language Desperately Needs. And then check out 33 Useful Words the English Language Needs to Add.