Everyone wants a dragon pet or a dragon pal, but the truth is, dragons don’t need us. In your average fantasy narrative, dragon species are perfectly capable of surviving and thriving without human interference. Some even have their own advanced societal codes and structures.
We wish we could live among them, but most of these dragon clans would just give us the cold shoulder, if we were lucky…
How to Train Your Dragon
The story of Hiccup finding his very own Night Fury is warming to even the most cynical of hearts, but the second film widens the scope of the dragon world. Hiccup discovers that his mother has helped create a secret dragon society by rescuing various species from Drago Bludvist, who was trying to capture dragons to form his own personal army. After a massive battle, Toothless becomes the alpha of all the dragons, defeating Drago’s Bewilderbeast and saving the day. But it’s not over! In the third installment, Hiccup works with Toothless to finds a rumored “Hidden World” for dragons, where they can be safe from human influence and control. They manage to find that place—and a mate for Toothless—and Hiccup eventually has to say goodbye to his friend, knowing that humans are not capable of coexisting with dragons at this point in time. Hiccup vows that he and his people will guard the secret of the dragon “Hidden World” until humanity is ready to live side by side with these incredible creatures.
Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
When Princess Cimorene balks at the idea of an arranged marriage to a prince, she decides to make a deal with a dragon named Kazul and becomes her princess. This deal is not an uncommon one in their world, and Kazul uses Cimorene as a housekeeper of sorts, for cooking and organizing books and treasure. Most people assume that Cimorene wants rescuing, but she’s quite pleased with the arrangement. An encounter with a wizard lets Cimorene in on a plot that threatens her new equilibrium: The wizards are gathering dragonsbane, and Cimorene brings it to Kazul for identification, accidentally making the dragon sick. Their information comes too late, and the King of the Dragons is poisoned and killed, leaving an ill Kazul to participate in the trials for who will become the next king. In this society, “king” is not a gendered term, and with help from Cimorene and friends, the wizards are defeated and Kazul becomes the King of the Dragons. Dragons have a lot of power in this particular world, and are found in later novels negotiating with various species and protecting castles with magical bubbles.
Turning Darkness Into Light by Marie Brennan
Set in the same world as The Memoirs of Lady Trent, Isabella’s granddaughter Audrey Camherst is taking up the family mantle by deciphering a series of ancient tablets that may give humanity more information on the Draconean civilization of yesteryear. Brennan’s universe asks the reader to view dragon society from an anthropological prospective, through the eyes of those who study them, beginning with Lady Trent’s first encounter with a Sparkling (which she must preserve in vinegar to prevent it from turning to ash) and carrying on through her more exciting discoveries about the world of dragons. Now her granddaughter is uncovering a conspiracy at a point and place in time when anti-dragon sentiment is rising and her work could be very important to the future. In this world dragons are very similar to wild animals that real zoologists find themselves studying—and they are vulnerable to the same dangers that real-world animals have when sharing the planet with humans. It is only by learning more about them that Audrey and her grandmother can prevent humanity from doing what it is wont to do when nature stands in its way.
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
In Earthsea, Dragons and Men were once of the same race, but they split eons ago. By the time our hero Ged begins his wizard training, dragons are frightful, long-lived creatures, who make their homes in the West, keeping their own company and minding their own societies. But sometimes they’ll venture East, closer to human habitation to ransack homes, and generally causing terror. Because of this, one of the occasional tasks of the professional wizard is to drive them back. A Great Dragon makes its home in the ruins of Pendor Island (whose awesome history also includes being the home base for a pirate) and allows its eight wyrmlings to wreak havoc, destroying the buildings and making the people of a nearby town called Low Torning very, very nervous. The young wizard Ged makes part of his reputation by confronting the dragon, first by killing a couple of the wyrmlings, and then by telling the dragon his True Name (Yevaud, in case you ever run into him), which gives him just enough of an upper hand to force a truce. The Dragon tries to barter with Ged, but the wizard proves that he’s growing into his adult responsibilities by simply ordering Yevaud back West, where it can be among other dragons and leave humans in peace, rather than striking a deal.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
The dragons were an integral part of the world in Avatar: The Last Airbender before the Fire Nation hunted them as a proof of their own power. Avatar Aang and Prince Zuko eventually learn that Zuko’s uncle, Iroh, claimed to have killed the last dragon when he hadn’t—he met with the last two dragons and learned about firebending from them, then left them in peace. Not only did dragons have their own society and special knowledge in this world, their abilities as the world’s first firebenders caused certain humans to develop their own society inspired by the dragons: The Sun Warriors predate the Fire Nation by thousands of years, and they created the first forms of firebending that other users would study. The Sun Warriors understood firebending as the dragons did, knowing that the element was much more than a destructive and aggressive force, instead viewing it as an aspect of life and energy. But they kept their own culture a secret, much like the two dragon masters that they protect.
A Chorus of Dragons series by Jenn Lyons
There is actually only one dragon that we’re introduced to properly in The Ruin of Kings, book one of Jenn Lyons’ series… but with Dragons, plural, right there in the series title we’ll likely be getting to know more of them in later stories. Often referred to as the Old Man (rude), the dragon Sharanakal has a peculiar habit: he captures people, traps them in stone, and then forces them to serenade him. Our young protagonist Kihrin ends up caught in such a position, with nothing to do but entertain. Which isn’t perhaps the kindest fate in the world, but if you’re captured by a dragon, we could certainly think of worse fates… While we’ve yet to meet other dragons, Sharanakal himself is a gigantic powerhouse—a force of nature that a human would be lucky to survive an encounter with. Which means that unearthing more of them could cause all sorts of trouble.
Dungeons & Dragons
In Dungeons & Dragons lore, the Dragons tend to be solitary beings, content to swoop down and raid villages to grab cattle or treasure before returning to their private hoards. Adults will bond long enough to mate and care for their wyrmlings, but the couple usually splits up as soon as the babies leave the nest, and, since Dragons tend to consider themselves superior to other lifeforms (they’re not wrong) cross-species societies are nigh-impossible. But of course, there are always exceptions. “Chromatic” dragons will occasionally team up to hunt down a dragonslayer, or to fight “metallic” dragons. They’ll occasionally come together for religious ceremonies, as chromatics worship the dragon-goddess Tiamat while the metallics follow her brother, Bahamut. And then, too, sometimes a family will stay together and gather more individual dragons into a clan—according to The Draconomicon, the dragon Irril-Indriss lived in the Achlan Mountains with a dozen fellows, and was called the Thunder King by the humans who knew of him. There is even the occasional dragonborn empire, which is pretty much what it sounds like: an empire ruled by dragons (’cause who else would rule?) and populated by a complex hierarchy of other, less-powerful dragons, humans, goblinoids, etc. whom the dragons have chosen to tolerate. We’ve certainly heard of worse systems of government.
The Temeraire Series by Naomi Novik
Set in an alternate history where dragons exist side by side with humans and are used as a form of military might in a Napoleanic Wars, Novik’s Temeraire series features numerous dragon species throughout the world. Some live in the wild and have their own languages, but those exposed to humans learn their languages while still in the shell, and some are very quick to pick up new ones. Dragons that are raised by humans will often imprint on a human companion, either by being given a meal when quite young, or being allowed to chose their own companion after a thorough education process. These bonds are extremely close, as dragons are incredibly possessive; what is normally extended only to treasure and wealth in any number of fantasy stories, the dragons of the Temeraire universe extend to people, even sometimes becoming jealous of their human’s relationships with other people. Some human cultures treat dragons as nothing more than tools, while others leave them be, fold them into society as valued citizens, or even worship them.
The Dragon Pit Chronicles by Jane Yolen
The Dragon Pit Chronicles work as a counterpoint to the rest of this list, because Yolen gives us a world in which dragons are not allowed to have a society. In the far-future, on the far-off planet of Austar IV, human colonistshave to fight a harsh environment to survive. This has resulted in a brutal society that churns along on the engine of slavery. And one of the quickest ways to make coin and buy your freedom? Training a dragon to fight in the Pit. The society’s dietary staple? A Stew made form the dragons who have failed in the Pit. This system continues, seemingly unchangeable, despite the humans knowing that the dragons are intelligent, even sentient—it’s just how life has to be. Over the course of the chronicles, we follow Jakkin, a young enslaved boy who first trains a stolen dragon for money, then comes to love his dragon and learns to communicate with her. He eventually ventures to a different colony, where dragons’ lives are quite different, but just as grim, as they are back home. The undercurrent of the books, however, is that left to their own devices the dragons would have their own way of life that humans cannot know.
Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
Pern may be the one dragon society on this list that is truly symbiotic. Humans and dragons need each other: the dragons would not be what they are without human intervention, but the humans wouldn’t be able to survive at all without the dragons. Pern is similar to Earth in many ways—which is why the humans attempted to settle—but one definite improvement on life on Earth came when they found little fire-breathing lizards that looked like smol versions of a certain Mythical Beasts. The first colonists dubbed them dragonets in tribute. Soon after the colonists settled they discovered that due to a planetary anomaly, Pern would be victim to a Thread Fall, a deadly showers of spores, every 200 years. Luckily, they realized they could fight Thread with fire, and even more luckily, one of their scientists, Kitti Ping Yung, was able to remix dragonet DNA until the humans had access to giant, sentient, highly-empathic creatures. Protected by the dragon’s fiery breath, and flamethrower-wielding Riders, humans are able to create a new, cooperative society, that thrives by the two species working together.