Tom Shippey at Literary Review:
‘A dragon is no idle fancy,’ wrote Tolkien in 1936, but ‘a potent creation of men’s imagination, richer in significance than his barrow is in gold’. The potency has only increased over the last eighty years. Dragons crowd the pages of modern fantasy; no one needs telling that Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons, holds a crucial place in George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones universe.
Tolkien nevertheless also declared that ‘dragons, real dragons … are actually rare’, counting ‘only two that are significant’. One has to say that even back in 1936 his vision was far too narrow. Dragons, as is proved to the hilt by Martin Arnold’s exceptionally wide-ranging and multicultural survey, are in fact ‘a global phenomenon’ and a cross-temporal one as well. They go as far back in time as the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, and they turn up across Eurasia, from Ireland all the way to Japan. But how consistent is the dragon phenomenon? And what on earth can it mean about us?