It was reported that they'd found some fossilized dinosaur footprints they think might be the oldest yet discovered, and my first thought was: "How do they know they're dinosaur footprints? How do they know they're not dragon footprints?"
The section on dragons in the World Book encyclopedia says, "Legends describe dragons as large, lizardlike creatures that breathe fire and have a long, scaly tail."
You may have noticed that -- apart from the fire-breathing part -- that's a pretty good description of a dinosaur. How can they tell from a footprint whether the creature breathed fire or not? If an archaeologist studied one of my footprints, I don't think he could even tell if I'd had Mexican food for lunch.
I admit I may be a little biased here, because I like dragons. I have always liked dragons -- even from as far back as elementary school, when we read about them in fairy tales and stories about knights.
They may be dangerous, and they may go around breathing flames, and they may have a face that would curdle lava, but I don't care.
What dragons have is class. Of all the mythical monsters in song and story, dragons are the classiest by far.
JUST ABOUT ALL the other villains in folklore tend to be loutish, peevish, vindictive or all three.
There isn't an ogre in any story I ever heard who wasn't a certified lout, ill-mannered and ill-kempt. He always looked as if he'd slept in his clothes, and usually had the IQ of a coat hanger.
Trolls were even uglier than ogres, and afflicted with a permanent case of the peeves. They were always jumping up and down in irritation over something, cultivating a lifestyle that was somewhere between a snit and a conniption fit.
Witches were just plain rotten. They never laughed; they cackled. Every one of them looked like a driver's license photo, and took delight in watching people suffer. Witches were sadists.
Dragons, on the other hand, were never loutish or peevish or vindictive. Dragons were upfront and direct. You always knew where you stood with a dragon.
Dragons came right at you, like the old Pittsburgh Steelers. They didn't taunt or whine or throw insults or torment anybody. They just let out a blast of fire and smoke, laid back their ears and charged. If you were braver than they were, and your sword or lance was quicker than their lunge, you won. If not, you lost. You can't ask for anything fairer than that.
SCIENTISTS CLAIM that, eons ago, the earth was struck by a giant meteor that burned up plant life and darkened the skies. But maybe those fires were started not by a meteor, but by a few dragons going around breathing indiscriminately. Did those scientists ever think of that?
I don't mean to put down scientists here. They're doing the best they can, considering they weren't there when it happened, and, for all I know, they might even be right in their theories.
It's just that most of the mythical creatures we're saddled with are such clods that, when one with a touch of exoticism and class appears, I'd like to think that, at one time, it really did trot around the planet.
And if I can't have unicorns, I'll take dragons.
This column was written by Ray Orrock <firstname.lastname@example.org> for ANG Newspapers of Pleasanton, Calif. Copyright Ray Orrock, 1999. Reprinted with his permission.
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