“…occasionally you meet a nice one, Starman, ET…but usually they just turn out to be some kind of big lizard!” —Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters 2
Lizard-People are definitely up there in the domination of the anthropomorphic SF world, neck and neck with Cat-People and Insect-People, and it’s easy to see why. Actual lizards were pretty much in charge of the planet way before we ever came along, so it makes sense science fiction and fantasy would have a whole slew of hissing, scaly creatures populating books, comics, movies, and television. And because of their slithery ubiquity across the world of SF, I’ve decided to narrow down the pantheon of Lizard-People to the greatest hits. I give you: The Top 10 Greatest Lizard-People of All Time!
10. Reptile (Mortal Kombat)
This guy may have looked human, but wait until he took his face off! Right. Big-time lizard-person. Later on, Reptile was upgraded to include actual claws and even a tail in some more contemporary incarnations of the video game, though I think we’ll always remember him for that acid-attack/taking off his human face action.
9. The Voth (Star Trek: Voyager—“Distant Origin”)
In bars lately, I’ve been hearing this voice saying “you know Voyager wasn’t that bad. There was this awesome episode with intelligent dinosaurs!” Then I recognize that voice. It’s mine! This is a great episode—intelligent dinosaurs who left Earth so long ago that they don’t longer remember even being from there (here?). Not only that, but in their culture it's blasphemy to suggest it! What’s not to love?
8. Lithians (A Case of Conscience by James Blish)
In keeping with a sort of religious theme, James Blish’s Hugo Award-winning novel depicts a race of intelligent reptiles living in a seemingly perfect utopian society. But the space-faring Father Ruiz-Sanchez is worried about the souls of these Lizards, and wants to quarantine their whole planet! As with Bradbury story “The Fire Balloons,” the notion of religion in space is handled deftly in a compelling narrative.
7. Dracs (Enemy Mine)
Like a lot of Lizard-People in SF, we’re ultimately taught something about humanity through our affection for some cold-blooded creatures. I don’t know about you, but whenever this one was on in my house, everybody cried. My mom the most. If a list of tear-jerking lizards were complied, Jerry would easily win.
6. The Lizard (Amazing Spider-Man)
Sometimes Lizard-People are human people who become Lizards. Such is the case with Dr. Curt Connors in the Spider-Man comics. To me, The Lizard was always one the best of Spidey’s baddies. And while both Green Goblin and Doc Ock were the results of experiments gone wrong, The Lizard seems to have more perfect symmetry as a foil against Spider-Man. Plus, I hear he’s about to make his Broadway debut!
5. Dragons (The Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey)
Okay, so they’re not Lizard-People. They’re mythical creatures living in a science-fictional setting. But they have to be on the list! They’re intelligent reptiles who can communicate telepathically with their riders. They can also teleport sometimes! They may not be bipeds, but these scaly beasts are some of the most memorable.
4. Silurians (Doctor Who—Various Episodes)
Like The Voth, homo-reptilia were on Earth way before we got here. Unlike The Voth, they never left. The great thing about the Silurians in the grand scheme of Doctor Who monsters is that they’re not aliens. The fact that the Silurians have the same claims to the Earth is one of the best uses of Lizard-People in terms of creating a great moral quandary for the audience. Though I sort of wish they had tails.
3. Visitors (From V)
They look like people. But then they rip off their faces and proceed to eat mice just like the snake in your third-grade science class. If they didn’t have such stiff competition, they’d be number one on this list.
2. Medusa (The Greeks)
Like the Dragons from the Pern series, this is not exactly a Lizard-Person. But let’s not split (snake) hairs here. Without Medusa the Gorgon, we might not have Lizard-People in popular fiction. She’s the scariest and most classic reptilian-human thing ever. Unfortunately she’s going to lose the top-spot to a guy in a rubber suit.
1. The Gorn (Star Trek—“Arena”)
When one hears the phrase “Lizard-Person” (which if you’re lucky, is every day) this is what springs to mind. Bar none, this guy is the quintessential Lizard-Person. It was only ONE episode and The Gorn are still going strong. Remember when Scott Bakula wrestled a CG Gorn on the bizzaro-universe episode of Enterprise? Of course not! Because it wasn’t near as cool as the original design. This is what should have happened: Sam from Quantum Leap leaps into the Gorn that Kirk is fighting in “Arena.” Talk about an “oh boy” moment. In any case, the fact that Kirk spares the Gorn is the ultimate proof SF tends to depict Lizard-People as a sort way of feeling guilty about all the bad things we humans do.
This is something I understand. When I was nine, my father told me that not only do lizards grow new tails, but that severed tails in turn, grow new lizards. After accidently stepping on a lizard’s tail, my guilt compelled me to take the tail inside and keep it in my room to ensure a new lizard indeed grew back.
I’m sworn to secrecy as to what happened after that.
Ryan Britt’s writing has appeared with Nerve.com, Clarkesworld Magazine, Opium Magazine and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn and knows for a fact that the Narn from Babylon 5 are actually not Lizard-People, but more similar to Space-Marsupials.