Dragon Abstract

MEDIEVAL DRAGONS AND DINOSAUR FILMS
Michael Delahoyde

Although it has proven unlikely that dinosaur fossilsactually served to stimulate the ancient or medieval imaginationinto creating the legends of dragons, dinosaurs themselves bothin science and in popular culture have taken over the entire mythosformerly belonging to the dragon. Arthur Conan Doyle’s analogiesin The Lost World between surviving fossil-lizards andmedieval grotesques shaped popular conception of the extinct animals,as this book inspired the first important feature movie by thesame name, thereby influencing all subsequent dinosaur films.Even beforehand, though, the original nineteenth-century paleontologistsvery unscientifically succeeded in designing the animals as monsters.The name “dinosaur” itself means “terrible lizard.”

By whatever contrived means the screenwriters arrangeto contemporize these prehistoric monsters with human beings (whetherour cave-dwelling forebears or groups of intrepid modern explorersin uncharted territory), the assumed antagonism between the twospecies is noticeably reminiscent of the harassment of medievalChristians by ravenous reptiles (or vice versa), the latter usuallyemanating from the forces of Hell, for the devil himself in medievalbestiaries was classed as “the most enormous of all reptiles.”Most striking is the focus on the reptilian mouth. Protagonistssuch as Victor Mature in One Million BC (1940), Doug McClurein The Land That Time Forgot (1974), even King Kong, andmany others are found almost inevitably assaulting dinosaurs inthe mouth with sticks, spears, bullets and missiles. Such scenesare identical with medieval iconography of St. Michael and St.George in their roles as dragon-slayers. But the image is notconsciously adopted by the films’ directors; rather, the essenceof the dragon/dinosaur myth involves the horror that Western culturefeels over the dynamics of eating.