Folktales in which a hero slays a dragon are
common in Europe and North America. The hero, or occasionally the heroine, may be of either noble or common birth. Often the hero has one or more animal helpers, usually dogs or horses, as companions. The dragon-slayer’s motivation might be the need to save a princess or a kingdom, or, occasionally, the desire to gain the dragon’s treasure.
The dragon usually breathes ﬁre, may have more than one head, and is sometimes able to ﬂy. It may or may not be able to speak, but is always hostile toward humans. The dragon imperils the land with ﬂame or devours people ortheir livestock. Often it possesses a hoard of treasure. Other heroes already may have died trying to slay the monster. The hero in these tales is often the only one who will dare to confront the dragon.
Another element of these stories is a sacriﬁce, most often the princess, who is to be the dragon’s meal or, less often, the dragon’s bride. Her purity usually is stressed and her hand in marriage is often promised to her liberator. She may be the last in a line of sacriﬁces of more common-born maidens, or she may have volunteered to save the other young women.
When the hero meets up with the dragon, there is a ﬁght to the death in which the hero always wins. The hero may win on his own or with the aid of the princess or his animal helpers. When there is a heroine, she may use trickery to weaken the dragon, possibly getting him drunk, or she may pretend to be the sacriﬁcial maiden so that she can get close enough to slay him.
The story often ends with the death of the dragon, but some variants add a further complication. The hero may cut out the dragon’s tongue or take its head to prove he killed it, and then fall asleep from exhaustion. An imposter, someone who is jealous of the hero or desiring of fame or the princess, may claim to be the dragon-slayer, only to be proven a liar when the hero reveals his token of victory.
Perhaps one of the best-known stories of this type is that of Saint George and the dragon. Saint George, the patron saint of England, was likely a soldier in the Roman army about 300 C.E.He saved a princess from being sacriﬁced to a dragon and led the dragon into the city using the princess’s belt as a leash. Some versions of the story have him convert the dragon to Christianity. Other versions have him simply slay the dragon.