Background Resources on Dragons in Literature

Tina L. Hanlon, Ph. D.
Ferrum College

 Nonfiction Books for Children

 History & Background for Older Readers

Literary Criticism

See also:
Dragons in Picture Books
Dragons in Folktale and Literature Collections
Chapter Books and Novels
Dragons in Poems
Dragons in Harry Potter Books
Dragons Home and Links

 Nonfiction Books for Children 

Blumberg, Rhoda. The Truth about Dragons. New York: Scholastic, 1980. Compares Eastern and Western dragons with many details on their appearance and habits.

Brucken, Kelli M. Dragons. Mysterious Encounters. San Diego, Calif: KidHaven Press, 2006. 48 pp. Includes sections on "The World of Dragons," "Dragon Slayers," "Wise Old Dragons," and "Modern Dragons."

Colbert, David. The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter: A Treasury of Myths, Legends, and Fascinating Facts. Berkley Pub Group, 2002. The short section on dragons contains some interesting background on traditions about dragons, but the book does not contain much analysis of dragons or other elements within the Harry Potter books. For details, see Dragons in Harry Potter Books.

Compestine, Ying Chang. D Is for Dragon Dance. Illus. Yongsheng Xuan. New York: Holiday House, 2006. An alphabet book about Chinese New Year.

Crane, Carol. D Is for Dancing Dragon: A China Alphabet. Illus. Zong-Zhou Wang. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press, 2006. Alphabet book about China, with a colorful dragon dance illustration on the cover.

Day, Marie. Dragn in the Rocks. Buffalo: Firefly Books, 1991. This is a fictional picture book about a real person, Mary Anning, who hunts shells and fossils with her father at Lyme Regis, on the English shore. Before her father dies, he tells the family about a huge skeleton like a dragon trapped in remote rocks. Mary finds the ichthyosaur skeleton, laboriously removes it from the rocks, and reassembles it. Scientists bought the skeleton and it is still at the Natural History Museum in London. Mary and her mother, no longer so poor, continued to hunt for fossils. People say the tongue-twister "She sells seashells by the seashore" is about Mary Anning.

Doeden, Matt. Dragon Legends. Edge Books. Mankato, Minn: Capstone Press, 2008. 32 pp. "Describes popular dragon legends and myths from around the world."

Doeden, Matt. Real-Life Dragons. Edge Books. Mankato, Minn: Capstone Press, 2008. 32 pp. "Describes real-life animals and their similarities to dragons"--provided by publisher.

Gibbons, Gail. Behold . . . the Dragons! New York: Morrow, 1999. Explains briefly, with colorful drawings, the development of many myths and legends about different types of dragons around the world.

Grant, John. Life-Size Dragons. Illus. Fred Gambino. New York: Sterling Pub, 2006. 48 pp. "Explores the origins, varieties, and history of dragons, presenting them as if they are real creatures." Includes fold-out pages and a poster.

Hall, Angus. Monsters and Mythic Beasts. London: Aldus Books, 1975. 144 pp. This is a detailed informational book with many photographs and art prints. The first of eight chapters is "Dragons in Myth and Mind."

Hamilton, John. Dragons: Fantasy and Folklore. Edina, MN: Abdo Pub, 2005. 32 pp.

Krensky, Stephen. Dragons. Monster Chronicles. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2007. 48 pp. with illus., some color. Contents: World-Famous Monsters, Dragons Get Personal, Dragons in Folklore, Dragons Take Flight.

Lurie, Alison. Fabulous Beasts. Illus. Monika Beisner. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981. N. pag. One page of general description and one colorful painting of each mythical beast, including the dragon and basillisk or cockatrice.

McCall, Gerrie. Dragons: Fearsome Monsters from Myth and Fiction. Illus. Myke Taylor/The Art Agency. New York: Tangerine Press/Scholastic, 2007. Sections include seven dragons from Ancient Legends and eight Mythological Dragons from different parts of the world. The Media section contains six dragons from novels: Norbert and the Norwegian Ridgeback from Rowling's Harry Potter series, Smaug from Tolkien's The Hobbit, Glaurung from Tolkien's The Silmarillion, and Luckdragon from Michael End's The Neverending Story. Each double-page spread includes a slick color illustration with body parts and significant features identified, a map and other illustrations, background on that dragon, and a list of facts called Did You Know?

Marsico, Katie. A Komodo Dragon Hatchling Grows Up. Scholastic News Nonfiction Readers. New York: Children's Press, 2007. 24 pp. "Traces the life of the world's largest lizard from infancy to young adulthood."

Passes, David. Dragons: Truth, Myth, and Legend.  Illus. Wayne Anderson. NY: Golden Books, 1993. Short retelling of traditional tales, mostly but not all European, with rich color illustrations.

Penner, Lucille Recht. Dragons. A Stepping Stone Book. Illus. Peter David Scott. New York: Random House, 2004. 42 pp. "Relates myths about dragons from different countries, including where they live, what they eat, and how they look, as well as how the myths may have developed. For hundreds of years, people believed dragons were real. They thought dragons lived in caves full of treasure, soared through the air on large bat wings, and breathed fire. Storytellers told tales of dragons that fought knights and kings. Now kids can learn the unnatural history of dragons and recapture their magic with this full-color chapter book" (Worldcat). The fifth and final short chapter explains living Komodo dragons and speculations about a Loch Ness monster in Scotland.

Pringle, Laurence P. Imagine a Dragon. Illus. Eujin Kim Neilan. Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2008. In picture book format, Pringle, a noted writer of children's nonfiction, "relates myths about dragons from different countries and from different time periods, including dragon lore from Egypt, Greece, England, and China."

Schaffer, Christy. Dragon Coloring Book. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2002. 33 pp. With an introduction and short texts on each page about types of dragons and famous dragons and legendary heroes around the world. Drawings to color from Dover Pictorial Archive.

Sellier, Marie. Legend of the Chinese Dragon. Trans. Sibylle Kazeroid. Illus. Catherine Louis. Calligraphy and chop marks by Wang Fei. New York: NorthSouth Books, 2007. "Long ago the people of China lived, worked, and fought under the protection of guardian spirits that took on the appearance of animals, but the children grew tired of war and created a new spirit to protect all the people and bring peace." Listed as a preschool book with "a timely message of cooperation and empowerment."

Simonds, Nina, and Leslie Swartz. Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes. Illus. Meilo So. San Diego: Harcourt, 2002. "Presents background information, related tales, and activities for celebrating five Chinese festivals--Chinese New Year, the Lantern Festival, Qing Ming, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Moon Festival." Colorful watercolor illustrations.

Stallman, Birdie. Learning About Dragons. Illus. Lydia Halverson. Chicago: Children’s Press, 1981. Says they are “the first scary monsters people believed in. Of course, dragons are make-believe monsters. They are only real in stories or on TV. But don’t tell a dragon that!” Shows dragon watching TV with dragons in western, Chinese dragon pattern on chair, bones around house. Has sections on Scary Dragons; Friendly Dragons: Eastern compared to Western; Modern Dragons: Smaug, Eustace in Narnia, Reluctant Dragon, Real-Life komodo. Last page: “If you do meet a dragon…Slay it. Run from it. Feed it warm milk. But whatever you do, never ignore a dragon.”

Tatchell. Dragons. Illus. Peter Scott. London: Usborne, 2005. 20 pp. A sturdy book for younger children with softly colored illustrations and many flaps to lift for information and comments about dragon lore, including baby dragons, flying dragons, and dragon hoards. The pages on Welsh dragons and South American flying dragons are interesting.

Wyly, Michael J. Dragons. The Mystery Library. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2002. 96 pp. with illustrations from ancient documents, artworks, landmarks, and films. Compares Eastern and Western dragons, discusses possible origins of dragon lore and the komodo dragon. Includes notes, references, and an index.

 History and Background (Real and Imaginary) for Older Readers 

Allen, Judy, and Jeanne Griffiths. The Book of the Dragon. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books, 1979. 128 pp. Dragons in art and literature.

Animal Planet. Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real. Television film. DVD. Sony Pictures, 2005. 99 minutes. Web site includes video clips, historical background, activities, transcript of a live chat with scholar Peter John Hogarth, and bibliography.

Barber, Richard W., trans. Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford M.S. Bodley 764 with All the Original Miniatures Reproduced in Facsimile. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2006. Also available as eBook through library services such as NetLibrary.

Barber, Richard W., and Anne Riches. A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. Illus. Rosalind Dease. London: Macmillan, 1971. 168 pp. Survey of historical records and legends about dragons.

Book of Dragons and Monsters. Introduction by Susan Stronge. New York:  Abbeville Press/Canopy Books, 1992. First published in UK by Victoria and Albert Museum, 1992. Small books with illustrations from V & A Museum art.

Briggs, Katherine. Her reference books on folk tales and fantasy are well-researched guides.

Cowan, Finlay. Dragons & Fantasy Beasts. Fantasy Artist's Pocket Reference series. Cincinnati, Ohio: Impact, 2008.

Ciruelo, The Book of the Dragon. 1991. New York: Union Square Press, 2005. A large, lavish book from Spain on types of dragons, their history and legends, and their culture and customs, with dramatic paintings by H. G. Ciruelo Cabral (a native of Argentina).

Delacampagne, Ariane, and Christian Delacampagne. Here Be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Dickinson, Peter. The Flight of Dragons. Illus. Wayne Anderson. New York:  Harper, 1979. A somewhat satiric big book of dragon history with lavish illustrations.

Dinter, Maarten Hesselt van, and Mark Poysden. Dragons: Chinese-Japanese-Medieval Dragons. [S.l.]: Mundurucu Publishers, 2008. 256 pp.

Dinter, M. Hesselt Van. Fabulous Creatures: Demons, Unicorns, Dragons, Griffin. Mundurucu Pub, 2008.

Evans, Jonathan. Dragons: A Beautifully Illustrated Quest for the World's Great Dragon Myths. New York: Metro Books, 2008. 192 pp. Organized geographically and by major dragon myths.

Goldman, Corrie. "Stanford Fossil Historian Links Dinosaur Bones to Mythological Creatures." Stanford Story Bank. Stanford University. October 22, 2008. Article about research on connections between dinosaur bones and belief in dragons, and exhibit at Indianapolis Children's Museum.

Hamilton, Mary. A New World Bestiary. Illus. Kim LaFave. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre. 1985. 40 pp. A picture book bestiary that includes some dragon-like creatures of the Americas, including the Aztec quetzalcoatl and incredible serpents.

Hargreaves, Joyce. Hargreaves New Illustrated Bestiary. Glastonbury, England: Gothic Images, 1990. An alphabetic encyclopedia of fantastic beasts, with an index of alternate names and bibliography. Black and white drawings on every page, many based on artworks of the past.

Hogarth, Peter and Val Clery. Dragons. New York: Viking, 1979.

Hogarth, Peter J. "Mythical Animals." The Biologist 31 (1984): 44-48.

Howard, Martin. The Dragon Hunter's Handbook. Illus. Miles Teves. New York: Metro Books, 2008. A large illustrated book with Adelia Vin Helsin named as its author on the cover, a fictional account of a noblewoman who describes and hunts dragons. "The manuscript of Adelia of Troense tells the true tale of the cruelty and savagery of dragons. The handbook demonstrates the supreme skills and strategies needed to fight dragons and chronicles Adelia's feud with the most powerful adversary imaginable, the Ancient" (Worldcat).

Johnsgard, Paul and Karin. A Natural History of Dragons and Unicorns. New York: St. Martin's, 1982.

Newman, Paul. The Hill of the Dragon. Bath:  Kingsmead Press, 1979.

Nigg, Joe. The Book of Dragons & Other Mythical Beasts. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's, 2002. 128 pp. with colorful illustrations.

Pitman, Joanna. The Dragon's Trail: The Biography of Raphael's Masterpiece. New York: Touchstone, 2007.

Rose, Carol. Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2000.

Rowling, J. K. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them.  New York:  Scholastic, 2001. Published (for charity) to look like a slim textbook written by Newt Scamander and owned by Harry Potter, with comic marginalia by Harry and his friends, and a foreword by Albus Dumbledore. For details, see Dragons in Harry Potter Books.

Sanders, Malcolm. The Dragon Chronicles: The Lost Journals of the Great Wizard, Septimus Agorius. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2002. "This careful reproduction of the illustrated 'diary' kept by the Great Wizard, Septimus Agorius, details his incredible attempts to hunt down and slay four malevolent dragons in accordance with the wishes of his dying king." A big book with medieval decoration, diagrams of dragons, and lavish illustrations of a fictional kingdom.

Scott, Michon. "Dinosaurs and Dragons." Strange Science: The Rocky Road to Paleontology and Biology. 1996-2009. Web page with pictures and historic references, from 19th-century discoveries and misinterpretations of dinosaur bones to earlier bestiaries and scholarly accounts of dragons.

Shuker, Karl. Dragons: A Natural History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Foreword by Desmond Morris. Excellent retellings of dragon legends from all over the world, with illustrations from a variety of historical sources.

Simpson, Jacqueline. British Dragons. Myth, Legend and Folklore Series. London: The Folklore Society/Wordsworth Editions, 1980. 2nd. ed. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 2001. 176 pp. A folklore study with several b/w illustrations. Includes songs about "The Lambton Worm" and "The Dragon of Wantley." The Laidly Worm and "Kemp Owyne" are discussed as "one story which did make the transition from medieval romance to localised legend" (58-60).

Steer, Dugald A. Dr. Ernest Drake's Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons. Illus. Wayne Anderson, Douglas Carrel, and Helen Ward. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2003. A large, lavishly illustrated book with encrusted (plastic) gems and many foldout attachments and special features. Full of fictional lore about the hunting and study of dragons. Interactive resources on Ologyworld web site. Click here for review by a student. The books below and others in this series have similar features. See also novels by Steer in the Dragonology Chronicle series.

Steer, Dugald A. Dr. Ernest Drake's Dragonology: Field Guide to Dragons. Illus. Douglas Carrel. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2007. Includes pockets with 12 small ready-to-assemble dragon models, labeled as different categories of dragons, and a 36-page field guide to different types of dragons.

Steer, Dugald A. Dragonology: Tracking and Training Dragons: A Deluxe Book and Model Set. Vol. 1, European Dragons. Illus. Douglas Carrel. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2006. This book contains a ready-to-assemble 23-inch European dragon and a paperback illustrated guidebook for tracking and taming dragons. Vol. 2 is The Frost Dragon, 2008.

Steer, Dugald, and Helen Ward. Wizardology: The Book of the Secrets of Merlin. Illus. Anne Yvonee Gilbert, John Howe, Tomislav Tomic, and Helen Ward. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2005. Dragons are included in illustrations and some of the fictional lore about wizards in this and other wizardology books.

Summers, Lori. The Dragon Hunter's Handbook: A Field Guide to the Paranormal. New York: Price Stern Sloan, 2001. A small guidebook with diagrams and descriptions, comparison with other animals, photos from films, instructions, a world map, summaries of legends, and ID card and notebook pages for dragon hunters. Friendly and Unfriendly dragons are discussed.

Time-Life Editors. The Enchanted World: Dragons. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1984.

Topsell, John, and Joe Nigg. How to Raise and Keep a Dragon: An Owner's Manual. Hauppauge, NY: Barrons Educational Series, Inc, 2006.

Trumbauer, Lisa. A Practical Guide to Dragon Riding. Illus. Daren Bader, et al. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2008. "In this follow-up to A Practical Guide to Dragons, wizard's apprentice Sindri Suncatcher once again opens up his notebooks to share more wonders of dragonkind."

Trumbauer, Lisa. A Practical Guide to Dragons. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 2006. "This lavishly illustrated guide showcases the wide array of fantastic dragons encountered on the world of Krynn. Sindri Suncatcher-wizard's apprentice-opens up his personal notebooks to share his knowledge of these awe-inspiring creatures, from the life cycle of a kind copper dragon to the best way to counteract a red dragon's fiery breath."

 Literary Criticism 

Barnard, Mary. “A Dragon Hunt.” American Scholar 33 (1964): 422-7.

Berman, Ruth. “Victorian Dragons: The Reluctant Brood.” Children’s Literature in Education 15 (1984): 220-33.

Dunn, Margaret. “In Defense of Dragons: Imagination and Experience in the Earthsea Trilogy.” The Child and the Story: An Exploration of Narrative Forms.  Ed. Priscilla Ord. Boston: Children’s Lit. Assoc., 1983. 54-60.

Evans, Jonathan D. “The Dragon.” Mythical and Fabulous Creatures: A Source Book and Research Guide. Ed. Malcolm South. NY: Greenwood, 1987. 27-58. Excellent scholarly historical overview and bibliography.

Evans, Jonathan. "The Dragon-lore of Middle Earth: Tolkien and Old English and Old Norse Tradition." J.R.R. Tolkien and his Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth. Ed. George Clark and Daniel Timmons. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000. Available as E-book through library services such as NetLibrary.

Fireside, Bryna J. "A Second Look: My Father's Dragon." Horn Book Magazine 71 (Jan./Feb. 1995): 90-91.

Hanlon, Tina L. “The Art and the Dragon: Intertextuality in the Pictorial Narratives of Dragon Feathers,” in Tales, Tellers and Texts, edited by Gabrielle Cliff Hodges, Mary Jane Drummond, and Morag Styles. London: Cassell, 2000, pp. 79-94.

Hanlon, Tina L "Dragons Forever, Dragons For Everyone," with annotated bibliography, The Five Owls, vol. 15, no. 5, Summer 2001:  97-101.

Hanlon, Tina L. "It 'was Against the Rule': Secret Dragons at School." Paper presented at the Children’s Literature Association Conference, Wyoming Seminary, PA, June 2002. Reprinted in this web site.

Hanlon, Tina L. “The Taming of the Dragon in Twentieth-Century Picture Books.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, vol. 14 (Spring 2003): 7-26. Essays from the 16th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (Fort Lauderdale, 1995).

Johnson, Diane. "The Dragons and Serpents of Laurence Yep." The Five Owls, vol. 15, no. 5, Summer 2001: 109-110. A critical survey of Yep's use of Chinese dragon lore in a variety of novels with fantastic and realistic settings.

Koller, Jackie French. "Conquering Dragons." The Five Owls, vol. 15, no. 5, Summer 2001:  105-6. The author of the Dragonling series describes experiences with her son that led to the writing of stories about peaceful dragons, introducing "a new kind of hero who uses his wits instead of his fists, who values justice above glory." (See page on novels for Koller's books.)

Le Guin, Ursula. The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. NY: HarperCollins, 1992. Includes essay “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” Le Guin writes that, although American society often rejects fantasies containing dragons, the dragon "is alive: terribly alive. . . . It frightens us because it is part of us, and the artist forces us to admit it." This essay is reprinted in Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. Ed. J. D. Stahl, Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006

Rahn, Suzanne. "Dragons International." The Five Owls, vol. 15, no. 5, Summer 2001: 111-12. Surveys children's books with dragon stories from many places.

Schafer, Elizabeth D. Exploring Harry Potter. Beacham’s Sourcebooks for Teaching Young Adult Fiction. Osprey, FL: Beacham, 2000. Background material and teaching guides for the first three books in the Harry Potter series, including a section “Magical Animals and Creatures.” See Norbert in the index for comments on the dragon in Book 1, and teaching guide for chap. 14 in Book 1. “The dragon Norbert is Harry’s alter ego, acting toward his foster parent like Harry wishes he could act toward the Dursleys, literally biting the hand that feeds him. Norbert is sent to safety in a create much like toddler Harry was exiled in a bundle of blankets” (p. 68). See also Dragons in Harry Potter Books in this web site.

Shastri, Hope. The Picture Book Dragon. Ph.D. Diss. Texas Women’s Univ., 1993.  This library science dissertation classifies and analyzes many specific features of dragons in 151 American picture books published between 1950 and 1992. Shastri found that tame, domesticated, often self-deprecating dragons were by far the most common in these books.  Shastri links her descriptions of picture book dragons to eight generalizations made by critics such as Jonathan D. Evans and Jane Yolen, confirming earlier critics' observations that dragons become “inferior and subordinate” as they become friendlier, and large numbers of modern dragons are “enfeebled and self-commiserating” (2). In the books Shastri analyzed, 22% of the dragons cry and 30% work for humans; these are larger percentages than any of the other actions she counted besides flying, talking, and breathing fire.

Stein, Ruth. “The Changing Styles in Dragons—from Fafnir to Smaug.” Elementary English 45 (1968): 179-83.

Stott, Jon. “Will the Real Dragon Stand Up? Convention and Parody in Children’s Stories.” Children’s Literature in Education 21 (1990): 219-28. Reprinted in
Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. Ed. J. D. Stahl, Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006, in Part 7, Satires and Spin-Offs: Reworking Classic Children's Literature. Stott discusses the teaching of traditional stories and modern parodies in elementary classrooms.

Tax, Meredith. "In the Year of Harry Potter, Enter the Dragon." The Nation. Vol. 274, issue 3. Jan. 28, 2002, pp. 30 ff. Surveys Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea books, with analysis of the changing reputations of fantasy and realistic fiction.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism. Ed. Lewis Nicholson. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame, 1963. 51-103.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “On Fairy-stories.” Tree and Leaf.  London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966. Contains Tokien's famous statement that as a boy he "desired dragons with a profound desire." Although he did not want them in his own safe neighborhood, he yearned for the rich "other-world" of imagination and fantasy that contained dragons.

Yolen, Jane. “Dealing with Dragons.” The Horn Book, vol. 60 (1984): 380-88.

Yolen, Jane. "Here Be Dragons," 2000. Reprinted online at http://www.janeyolen.com/essays.html. Yolen defends child readers and stories about dragons against censors who illogically think that books about dragons are satanic or stories of mythical beasts will hurt children. The essay gives examples of different ways that dragons function metaphorically in stories by different authors. Yolen writes, "If we give the dragon experience a name—give it a metaphoric shape—we also begin to give children a way to fight their own battles in their own dark caves."

Yolen, Jane. Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood. New York: Putnam, 1981. Revised and reprinted by August House, 2000. Essays in defense of fantasy. See cover and details on
Yolen's web site.

Links to Online Resources


This page's last update: May 21, 2010
top of page

Links to Online Resources