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I note that the friendly Western dragon trope becomes common in the 20th century. My question is whether there are any earlier examples than Kenneth Grahame's "The Reluctant Dragon" (1898).

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    I was going to go for "Farmer Giles of Ham", but this is already after the example you gave.
    – Spencer
    Jun 1, 2023 at 21:43
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    The unstated cultural context here is that dragons in older European/Western folklore tended to be cast as evil and/or violent. By contrast, dragons in Far Eastern cultures (China, Japan, etc.) were associated with good fortune and "luck". Jun 1, 2023 at 22:12
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    @Spencer Ditto with The Dragon Tamers (1899) by E. Nesbit. TV Tropes cites "The Relucant Dragon" as the trope codifier and earliest appearance.
    – DavidW
    Jun 1, 2023 at 22:14
  • The source for that Tv Tropes claim is from Wikipedia as far as I know. It feels like there should be earlier examples of said trope, especially since Grahame uses it in a satirical manner, which would normally imply the existence of earlier straight uses.
    – Kevonni
    Jun 2, 2023 at 4:15
  • Since my first question seems to have a full answer, my next question is how is there a 47 year gap between the first example and “The Reluctant Dragon”. That can’t be correct.
    – Kevonni
    Jun 5, 2023 at 1:28

1 Answer 1

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In The Marvellous and Incredible Adventures of Charles Thunderbolt, in the Moon by Charles Rumball (1851), there is a friendly Green Dragon. Rumball wrote under the pseudonym "Charles Delorme" (1, 2) and the book may be listed under either name. Its full text is scanned at Google Books.

During a storm, Charles Thunderbolt's ship is wrecked and the remains are transported to a strange sea. He tries to eat a goose which accidentally flew into a hot part of the sea and became roasted, but the goose transforms into a dragon and carries him away. He finds that the dragon contains interior spaces including a fully-stocked pantry and bedroom. The dragon has many wings, green scales with golden tips, amber blood, a head "of all the colours in the universe", retractable teeth, the power of teleportation, and makes "a continual noise within his head, like to the roaring of engines" because of the powerful workings of his brain.

More on point to the question, the dragon is a "jolly monster" who guides Charles through various otherwordly encounters, frequently sharing jovial remarks and the odd cigar. They also meet several other tame dragons used as mounts by mercenaries, as well as less friendly ones, and the dragon is a frequent part of Charles' heroic deeds.

Eventually, Charles becomes a king and institutes a knightly order, "the Order of the Green Dragon", in honour of his friend - who is thereafter called "Sir Green Dragon". The dragon is named minister of war, and "so well did he execute the functions of his office that peace reigned under his auspices for seven long years". Charles finally returns to England, saying a fond farewell to his old friend, who promises to return for a visit.

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  • I just read the book today and it is clearly an extremely early use of a friendly Western dragon, quite plausibly a codifier based on how the dragon’s friendly nature is emphasized, not just shown. Thanks for the answer!
    – Kevonni
    Jun 2, 2023 at 21:48

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