The Dragon Illusion

Recently, I think I’ve seen a resurgence or perhaps a continuation of “dragon books.” I couch it that way because I’m not keeping a tally on how many dragon books are being written and sold. Certainly, dragons are popular, popular enough that lots of books about them are sold and that DragonCon is one of the largest of F&SF conventions

As a writer, I’ve never had much interest in them, most likely because I find the giant ones, in particular, rather unbelievable. From what I can determine, Drogon from Game of Thrones, [if I have this right] has a body some fifty feet long, roughly six times the length of a large adult male tiger and four times higher. Such a tiger would weigh between six and seven hundred pounds [the largest recorded was 850 pounds]. That would put Drogon’s weight well over 14,000 pounds, and Drogan certainly appears to be built as massively as a tiger.

But most dragons supposedly fly. The golden eagle is one of the largest raptors, with a wingspan of from six to eight feet and a corresponding weight of from eight to fifteen pounds. So, assuming some correspondence between weight and wingspan, a 14,000 pound dragon would need roughly a wingspan of 25,000 feet [structurally, of course, that doesn’t work]. By comparison, the wingspan of a B-52 is 185 feet. If a dragon were built like a golden eagle, a 185 foot wingspan would only lift a body weighing 375 pounds, but if magic is equivalent or superior to jet fuel, the Navy A-4 [with a 28 foot wingspan] might be an approximation to a 14,000 pound dragon.

Even in a very verdant environment, a tiger requires a minimum of 20-30 square miles, and in the Siberian locales it’s more like 250 square miles. How much land and how many villages would it take to support just one dragon? And for how long would the villagers put up with it before leaving or becoming troglodytes?

Obviously, 14,000 pound dragons must be very magic…or at least too magic for me to want to write about them.

10 thoughts on “The Dragon Illusion”

  1. JakeB says:

    I gotta say I think you’ve put too much science in your fantasy here. Think of magic as a kind of fusion energy, with sparkles, maybe.

    More seriously, I have no brief for Game of Thrones, but the fantasy genre would be quite a bit poorer if there had been no dragons in the Earthsea books, IMHO.

  2. Sam says:

    Personally I think it’s more important that fantasy stories remain internally consistent to their own established rules rather than directly correlate to real world physics in every instance.

    I’m a much harsher critic when it comes to science fiction than I am with fantasy.

    I feel that magic in fantasy stories has to have some limitations in order for me to enjoy those stories. If anything goes there is no dramatic tension.

    That said I’m comfortable with magic being used as a device to allow for something to occur that should not rationally be able to.

  3. Tom says:

    I have never liked “fantasy” because, to me, the worlds seem childlike imaginings even though the plots and actions were reality based. It was not until I had enjoyed my third LE Modesitt Jr novel that I realized why I liked your type of fantasy – this blog entry describes my reasoning very well. As you have pointed out in the past, readers bring their own needs to what they choose to peruse. Thank goodness for variety.

  4. Tim says:

    In the late 70s I remember reading in Scientific American about the finding of a single bone of the largest known pterasaur which was then named Quetzalcoatlus Northropi. I believe it is still the biggest. Found in Texas of course.

    Consensus ended up with giving it a wingspan of 11m and a weight of 250kg.

    So fantasy remains..fantasy. and so it should 🙂

  5. R. Hamilton says:

    Although as I understand it she viewed them (given the context) as SF more than fantasy, McCaffrey’s dragons had powers in addition to flight; and in particular, had an escape clause: “…the dragons can carry that which they think they can carry.” (having allowed teleportation, telekinesis, and telepathy, that’s not a huge leap further) Nothing says that couldn’t have included their own weight.

    Still, I expect a little willing suspension of disbelief is necessary in most fantasy (indeed, even in most SF), although IMO for a story that doesn’t give the protagonist(s) easy solutions merely overlooked, there have to be consistent and discoverable limitations for them to overcome.

  6. Conrad says:

    we survived the vampire illusion, the zombie illusion, the end of the world illusion (maybe not yet but…), so we’ll survive this installment of the dragon illusion too as we did the previous ones

  7. Jeremy says:

    Back in a high school bio class, a friend of mine and I did a presentation on “The Science of Dragons”. Our theory was that they had a honeycomb bone structure and some sort of biological mechanism that produced acid. The acid reacted with the calcium in the bones and produced hydrogen. This explained both the ability for such a large creature to fly and the ability to breathe fire. It also explained why dragons do not appear in the fossil record.

    1. Wine Guy says:

      And hydrogen is flammable…

      1. John M. says:

        Making dragon hunting an even more risky sport than I’d imagined.

  8. Christopher says:

    This approach is why I enjoy your books.

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