MEDIEVAL DRAGONS AND DINOSAUR FILMS
Although it has proven unlikely that dinosaur fossils actually served to stimulate the ancient or medieval imagination into creating the legends of dragons, dinosaurs themselves both in science and in popular culture have taken over the entire mythos formerly belonging to the dragon. Arthur Conan Doyle’s analogies in The Lost World between surviving fossil-lizards and medieval grotesques shaped popular conception of the extinct animals,as this book inspired the first important feature movie by the same name, thereby influencing all subsequent dinosaur films.Even beforehand, though, the original nineteenth-century paleontologists very unscientifically succeeded in designing the animals as monsters.The name “dinosaur” itself means “terrible lizard.”
By whatever contrived means the screenwriters arrange to contemporize these prehistoric monsters with human beings (whether our cave-dwelling forebears or groups of intrepid modern explorers in uncharted territory), the assumed antagonism between the two species is noticeably reminiscent of the harassment of medieval Christians by ravenous reptiles (or vice versa), the latter usually emanating from the forces of Hell, for the devil himself in medieval bestiaries was classed as “the most enormous of all reptiles.”Most striking is the focus on the reptilian mouth. Protagonists such as Victor Mature in One Million BC (1940), Doug McClure in The Land That Time Forgot (1974), even King Kong, and many others are found almost inevitably assaulting dinosaurs in the mouth with sticks, spears, bullets and missiles. Such scenes are identical with medieval iconography of St. Michael and St.George in their roles as dragon-slayers. But the image is not consciously adopted by the films’ directors; rather, the essence of the dragon/dinosaur myth involves the horror that Western culture feels over the dynamics of eating.