Ya know, hang around the fantasy genre long enough, and chances are pretty good that you might come across a dragon. The reptilian beasties have been either benefiting or terrorizing the human race for hundreds of years and throughout many different cultures. They have been the subject of myths, movies, and books, the level bosses in video games and the eponymous hero of a children’s song that seems to have been inspired by an illicit substance.
Dragons are and have been so popular, they run the risk of becoming passé after several centuries. So, if you’ve wanted to employ a dragon or a dragonesque creature into your fantasy epic but wanted to avoid cliché, why not take a trip around the Internet and see what you can substitute your charming, fire-breathing monstrosity with?
Mythical & Fantasy Creatures is a great storehouse of information when it comes to entities of the unreal. One of the first things I noticed was how simple and uncluttered the site design was. There are categories listed for just about any phylum of creature you’re looking for, from avian to serpentine, large to small (if you’re looking more for division than phylum, plant-like creatures have their own section too).
Click on a category on the left – say, Large Creatures, for instance – and a new page pops up with a helpful definition of what exactly “Large Creatures” is intended to mean. In this case:
“Large sized mythical creatures are a range of fabulous monsters and fantastical creatures, they are from myths, folklore and legends, or in some cases are based upon exaggerated descriptions of real creatures. Other of these creatures origins are from popular modern fiction.”
On the right side of the page is a list of creatures kept in the site’s library. Here I saw listings for massive things like titans, chimera, and manticore. Out of curiosity, I clicked “cockatrice”:
“The Cockatrice is a snake like creature, which has a pair of great wings that are seen to come from that of a great eagle or that are leathery wings like a dragons. Characteristics of a Cockatrice are that it has glowing red eyes with black pupils. Cockatrice has a magical gaze that it can petrify an attacker to stone.”
Dragons? Please! All they can do is set stuff on fire!
Ah, well, anyhow, if you ignore my advice and want to find more inspiration for your dragons anyway, not to worry: Mythical & Fantasy Creatures has a separate section altogether for Dragons and Serpents. What’s more, the site designer wasn’t content to just say “Here. Dragons.” Instead, the visitor is offered the option of learning about fantasy dragons, culturally significant dragons (such as those found in Chinese traditions), and serpents of both land and sea.
The amount of information on each creature varies. Some entries are about a paragraph or less long, some – such as the entry on the kraken – contain tons of information, including historical references to the creatures that, once upon a time, were actually thought to be real. Regardless, what is clearly evident is the amount of love, work, and research that was put into the page.
As if all that weren’t enough, the site also features designations of mythical beasts by culture. Looking to get ideas from the members of the Egyptian pantheon? Want to base a hero off of a Norse god but can’t come up with any ideas than Thor? The site covers Celtic, Mayan, and elemental beasts (fire, water, that kind of thing) in addition to those, and has a whole Greek section off to itself.
Sometimes when coming up with the ultimate monster/friendly creature, a writer often needs help coming up with inspiration. Turning to the classics – especially the ancient classics, born in less cynical days unspoiled by the scientific method – can provide ideas for the unearthly fauna that will roost in the dreams – and maybe the nightmares – of readers for years.