Most dragons don’t believe people exist. But there are a few who do, and they gaze strongly at us.
What do they see?
Tradition depicts dragons in caves keeping close watch over beautiful maidens or mounds of gold. Legend suggests that dragons have no use for either. But this is not true.
Dragons use treasure to attract people. The cave in which real dragons dwell is the human skull. And the treasure they hoard is indeed beautiful maidens and heaped gold—because those are the two treasures that inspire the strongest fantasies in homo sapiens, from deep in the reptile root of our brain: desire and power. Do we ever tell ourselves stories about anything else?
As you might expect from the millennia they’ve been hoarding those treasures most useful to us—and watching us strive for them with all our hominid strength and cunning—the dragons who see us know a lot about human nature: especially the sensuous intensity of human desire.
And what do they see?
Our span so brief, our self-awareness so keen, we inspire in dragons feelings both tragic and reverent, the two essential ingredients for the sublime. Dragons are fascinated at an extraordinary depth by the poetry of human life.
In 1905, Lord Dunsany published The Book of Wonder, a collection that includes “Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon of Romance.” It tells of a dragon that steals away a maiden and keeps her as a treasure. The treasure, in fact, is the story itself—a lyrical allegory for the timeless wonder of fantasy, the creative enterprise of the sublime, which our factory-world calls escapism:
Out of the balcony of her father's house in Prince of Wales' Square, the painted dark-green balcony that grew blacker every year, the dragon lifted Miss Cubbidge and spread his rattling wings, and
fell away like an old fashion. And England fell
away, and the smoke of its factories, and the round material world that goes
humming round the sun vexed and pursued by time, until there appeared the
eternal and ancient lands of Romance lying low by mystical seas. [ … ] The tide
roamed on and whispered of mastery and of myth, while near that captive lady,
asleep in his marble tank the golden dragon dreamed: and a little way out from
the coast all that the dragon dreamed showed faintly in the mist that lay over
the sea. He never dreamed of any rescuing knight. So long as he dreamed, it was
twilight; but when he came up nimbly out of his tank night fell and starlight
glistened on the dripping, golden scales. There he and his captive either
defeated Time or never encountered him at all. London
I like how Lord D identifies the lands of Romance as both eternal and ancient: synonyms for the two necessary components of the sublime: Ancient expresses the long-gone, the tragic—and eternity is timeless, transcendent, worthy of reverence.
And what do you make of Dunsany’s observation that the mystical sea whispers of mastery and myth? There is kinship between those two, isn’t there? To err is human, and so mastery is an ideal for us, a myth. Striving for mastery is a large part of our legend among dragons.
When they come to Earth out of imaginary time questing for us, most of the time they don’t actually believe they’re going to find us. Their search is just a lark. Even those few dragons that know we exist have rarely observed an individual human life. We’re too fleeting. The exceptional dragons with the curiosity and ingenuity to notice us try not to blink. Some hoard treasure to attract us and get a fix on our speed-blur lives.
And what do they see?
Turns out, it’s not so much what dragons see as what they’re looking for. They are creatures of the far beyond. They come from ranges remote to human experience. And when they show up here, where we notice them, they are looking for us.