D. Lambert, author
Enter a new world. Stay for a while.
I admit; I am a bit obsessed with dragons. Right now, everyone's talking about unicorns, and I don't care. Where are the dragons? That's what interests me!
I find it fascinating that almost every culture the world-over has myths about dragons. Many are huge snakes only, but you can go back through ancient written history and find these stories all over the globe and call it a dragon. Off the top of my head, there's been Apep (Egyptian), Ladon, Python, Typhon (all Greek, plus unnamed ones…), Lindworm (Germanic), Fafnir (Scandinavian), Wyrms and Wyverns (English), Long (Chinese, possibly also Vietnamese), the Leviathan (Biblical-Jewish), Naga (Indonesian), Tiamat (Babylonian), Bahamut (Arabian), Tarasque (French)… And those are just the ones I know! There are thousands out there, named or unnamed, that share the giant reptilian /dragon style.
Why does the world have myths about dragons? Perhaps that would be a good topic for a short story. The 2002 movie 'Reign of Fire' supposed that dragons existed and hibernated between killing sprees! But the main two theories I have heard are 1. We're scared of snakes, so big snakes make a lot of sense as monsters or 2. Ancients saw fossils and drew conclusions.
I think the former is more likely. We, like monkeys, have a reasonably instinctual fear of snakes. Kids often have a fear of snakes even if they live in areas without many snakes. Monkeys who have never seen a snake before, never been exposed to another monkey's reaction to a snake, will still react with fear when they see one. It's a strange genetic memory we do not understand.
Not everyone is scared of snakes (about 40%), but it's enough to make snakes great monsters. And then imagine the thing could fly! Many eastern dragons have no wings but fly.
I'm less convinced that a dinosaur (or other) fossil would universally make dragon myths. Some parts of the world are very fossil-poor. And even if they found a bone or two, they would lack the skills to dig up enough to have any idea what the creature was. There's not enough in those bones for me to believe the whole world would create a myth.
The neatest thing about dragons is how they differ. Some have wings. Some blow fire. Some have many heads. Some have horns. Some have magic teeth or bones.
And the 'rules' for dragons are profoundly malleable. Sacrifice a damsel. Cut off its head. Steal its hoard. Brainless monster. Sophisticated riddler.
Dungeons and Dragons were best known for codifying the dragons by colour, and in doing so combined the myths of many cultures. They even have a monster called Tiamat and one Behemoth. They separated the different archetypes into different beasts, even expanding into dragonkin.
Were the dragons of Espar in the World of Taint inspired by D&D? Strangely, no. While I have played D&D, Espar was born before that, and I wanted the dragons to be more animal, less magical. I figured out how they flew and their dragon breath. And I made the colours different breeds, not species, and created an origin for the various breeds. They had more in common with dogs (if dogs had been bred by magical beings).
But that's the wonderful thing about dragons. No matter how you change a dragon, it's probably somewhere in the mythology of the world, and everyone will recognize it as a dragon. It's a myth everyone knows.