How I Modeled My Fantasy Dragons on Real Dragons
by Resa Nelson
When researching my 4-book Dragonslayer series, I came across a document listing real-life dragon sightings from ancient Roman times to the Renaissance. I believed that people who reported seeing dragons over the course of many centuries had seen something … we might not know exactly what they saw, but they saw some kind of animal. I wondered if what they called a “dragon” is something that we might know by a different name. I wondered if they might have seen birds (such as Great Blue Herons) or crocodiles or alligators. But when I started researching an animal that still exists today, my heart raced because I knew I found real inspiration for the kind of dragons I wanted in my novels: the Komodo dragon.
I read books about the Komodo dragon and watched a TV show about them. Wonderful details about this animal bubbled up, and I began to see connections between the Komodo dragon and traditional dragons in fantasy books. Here are my favorite details:
- Fantasy dragons breathe fire. The Komodo dragon doesn't breathe fire, but it has a long yellow tongue. People who live among Komodo dragons say that when these animals flick their yellow tongues quickly, it looks like they're breathing fire! What if people in past centuries saw or heard of Komodo dragons and thought these animals breathed fire because it looked like they were breathing fire?
- Fantasy dragons fly. Adult Komodo dragons eat baby Komodo dragons. During the first few years of life, Komodo dragons live in trees so adults won't eat them. (Adult Komodo dragons are too big and heavy to climb trees.) People who live among Komodo dragons say that when baby Komodo dragons leap from tree to tree, it looks like they're flying. Again, what if people in the past saw or heard about this and thought dragons had the ability to fly?
- Fantasy dragons kill people. Komodo dragons have over 200 different types of bacteria in their saliva. When a Komodo dragon's bite breaks a person's skin, this allows the bacteria from the Komodo's saliva to get into the human's bloodstream. It's so deadly that a Komodo's bite will typically kill a human within a day or two. After biting its prey, the Komodo will often hang around and wait for its victim to die before eating it. (There have been changes in research about exactly what it is in a Komodo's body that kills - new research speculates it may have something to do with a particular gland in the dragon's body. But it's still true that a Komodo's bite is deadly. People who don't get immediate treatment will probably die.)
While writing the series, I had the chance to go to a zoo and see one adult Komodo dragon and one baby Komodo - they were in separate enclosures, of course. What I found especially interesting was that the adult had a very large space, but it chose to press itself up against the glass separating it from the crowd of people looking at it. When a small group of very young children came to look at the adult Komodo, its eyes lit up. You could see its brain working - it had a very keen interest in these tender human morsels. It seemed to study the situation in search of any possible way to get out of the enclosure. A few minutes later, its expression seemed to sink in defeat. The adult Komodo stayed pressed close to the glass but kept an ever-present eye on the kids until they left the room. It was a fantastic experience, and I kept it in mind while writing my Dragonslayer books.
During this blog tour I'm telling lots of stories about the research I've done for my Dragonslayer series. You can find out where I've been and where I'm going next by checking my website (http://www.resanelson.com), my Facebook page (Resa Nelson & The Dragonslayer's Sword), or following me on Twitter (ResaNelson).
If you'd like to sample my work for free, you can download a free “mini” ebook called “Dragonslayer Stories” from my website at http://www.resanelson.com/
Thanks for stopping by, Resa! Here's some information about the Dragonslayer books, which I really enjoyed. Be sure to check them out!
The Dragonslayer's Sword (book 1)
For Astrid, a blacksmith who makes swords for dragonslayers, the emergence of a strange gemstone from her body sets in motion a chain of events that threaten to destroy her life. Her happiness is shattered when her lover--the dragonslayer--disappears without a trace, and the life that she knows and loves implodes without warning.
Astrid lives in a world of shapeshifters whose thoughts have the power to change not only themselves but others. Everything Astrid knows to be true is called into question when she learns the truth about her past and the mysterious family from which she was separated as a child.
Reality turns inside out as Astrid gradually learns the truth about the people she loves as well as those she disdains. With the fate of dragons, ghosts, and slaves in foreign lands resting on her shoulders, Astrid faces the challenge of deciding who she is and how she will stand up inside her own skin. Will she withdraw and hide from the world that has disappointed her so much...or will she rise to lead others to freedom and peace?
The Iron Maiden (book 2)
Astrid is reluctant to travel the winter route beyond the Northlands, even though it's her duty. She'd rather stay home in her village, surrounded by friends and neighbors. Ignoring the bonds of tradition, she decides to spend the cold winter months in the warmth of her blacksmithing shop. Why should she leave the comfort of her cottage to serve and protect foreigners who might raid and harm her native Northlands?
Everything changes when a traveling merchant steals Starlight, the first dragonslayer's sword Astrid forged and her last link to her sweetheart DiStephan. Having no time to alert her friends, Astrid races in pursuit of the merchant, determined to reclaim Starlight as her own and return home in time for dinner. Instead, her quest leads her to new lands, unexpected friendships with foreigners, and a harrowing encounter with the damage done by the followers of a new god that considers women as nothing more than servants to men. All the while, she must be ready to face any dragon traveling the winter route.
In Book 2 of the Dragonslayer series, Astrid must learn that deciding who she is isn't a decision she can make just once. It's a decision she must make every day.
Resa Nelson has been selling fiction professionally since 1988. She is a longtime member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and is a graduate of the Clarion SF Workshop.
Resa was also the TV/Movie Columnist for Realms of Fantasy magazine for 13 years and was a contributor to SCI FI magazine. She has sold over 200 articles to magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Her first novel, The Dragonslayer's Sword, was nominated for the Nebula Award, the highest honor in science fiction and fantasy. It was also a Finalist for the EPPIE Award. This medieval fantasy novel is based on a short story first published in the premiere issue of Science Fiction Age magazine and ranked 2nd in that magazine's first Readers Top Ten Poll. The Dragonslayer's Sword is Book 1 in a 4-book series. Book 2, The Iron Maiden, was recently published. Book 3 is scheduled for publication in Summer 2012.
Resa's standalone novel, Our Lady of the Absolute, is a fantasy/mystery/thriller about a modern-day society based on ancient Egypt. Midwest Book Review gave this book a 5-star review, calling it "a riveting fantasy, very highly recommended."
In real life, Resa is a fan of chocolate, travel, summer, museums, ballet, movies, and Broadway musicals (her favorites are Les Miserables and Wicked). She lives in Massachusetts.