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The medieval dragon

Could you imagine a game set in a medieval and legendary universe without dragons? Well, we can't! In LotRT, your brave knights will, of course, encounter some during their quests! 


Dragons, true emblems of contemporary fantasy, embody the power of imagination. Indeed, they are everywhere: from TV series and movies to fantasy novels and, of course, video games. 


Let's explore together this essential figure of the Middle Ages! 


Gif of the dragon from one of LotRT's adventures where Sire Gauvain wounds the creature. See the description of the dragon in the alternative text of the Paintover of the dragon.
Work in progress animation: knight player versus dragon.

Dragons in LotRT 


Our dragons, directly inspired by 13th-century illuminations, might look surprising and different from how we usually imagine them! These fabulous creatures will not simply serve as antagonists to our valiant knights, although the planned confrontations will be epic, they also play a role in the stories you will experience.  


Without giving too much away, we can say that there will be a fire-breathing dragon in Morgan le Fay's castle, and that it's related to a certain wyvern (another legendary creature we'll talk about in a future article!). Another dragon in a somewhat special form will be encountered in the adventure dedicated to Tristan and Iseult. 


An illuminated painting (2D paintover) of one of the dragons in LotRT: he has red lion paws on a blue body and tail, wings with multicoloured feathers and the head of a red lion-dog with big ears and a green tongue that he pulls.
2D dragon paintover using illumination techniques

Influences and Appearances in Medieval Imagination 


While many cultures in various times have known these fearsome creatures, the medieval viewpoint is quite unique and often misunderstood. In Europe, the dragon comes from a very ancient mythical background, already present in Celtic and Germanic folklore, Greek mythology (Jason's theft of the Golden Fleece), and in the Bible (Apocalyptic Beast), just to name a few important inspirations for poets and illuminators.


Among the many texts recounting Arthurian legend, Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae and Robert de Boron's Merlin both illustrate an episode with a red and a white dragon! Soaring from the still water beneath a tower, they engage in a battle in the sky before Vortigern (the tyrannical usurper of the throne of Britain).


The white dragon ultimately triumphs, and Merlin reveals the meaning of this enigmatic omen. In one version, the red dragon represents Vortigern and his defeat against Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father, symbolized by the white dragon, who will soon arrive to end his reign. The name Pendragon speaks for itself. And the red dragon is still depicted on the flag of Wales today! 


More generally, these fearsome beasts appear mainly in works recounting legends, in some bestiaries, or generally in a majority of text ornaments, often illustrating allegories. 


But, beyond scholarly writings, they are present everywhere in the church where their representations are legion: stained glass windows, sculptures, paintings... 


Illumination showing a red dragon and a white dragon fighting while Vortigern and some clerics watch.
13th century novel, manuscript copied in Ghent (Flanders) around 1300 Source: BnF, Manuscripts, Français 749 fol. 139

What Makes a Dragon a Dragon 


Medieval representation can be confusing for us accustomed to large reptiles resembling dinosaurs! 


To put it simply, the dragon is an upgraded snake with wings. As for the number of legs, wings, or heads, it can vary indefinitely. The use of multiple colors (polychromy) is also common, while the various parts of the body were inspired by those of other animals, for example, lion's paws (symbols of power), in order to create a unique and meaningful being! 


It's important to understand that, first and foremost, illuminations convey an entire symbolic language. 


A symbol made into a monster 


Although the dragon is a constant embodiment of power and destruction (with the fire it spits from its mouth and ears!), its symbolism appears shifting and plural. 

Particularly in Christian representations, it represents vice or evil (temptation of the serpent in Genesis, Apocalypse). Close to the ground, it walks or crawls, and sometimes swims. It is strongly associated with the dense, dark earth element, and therefore with instinct, with what is low, coarse and unrefined, sometimes with evil tendencies. Nevertheless, nuance is required, as they also have wings! 


Wings whose function is not to show that the creature can fly, but rather to signify mystical flight, a tendency towards spiritual elevation. Angels share this attribute, linking them to heaven and the divine. They illustrate its celestial, multidimensional existance (able to navigate between different planes). 


According to Pastoureau, this creature belongs to the three worlds: terrestrial, celestial and aquatic, and maintains close relations with the four elements and the five senses. 


Illumination of a dragon on a mound of earth, in a frame with blue and green motifs. The dragon has only two legs (a chicken's?), wings in shades of blue, red and brown, a grey reptilian tail and a red lion's head with large ears and a long outstretched tongue.
Illumination taken from De avibus by Hugues de Fouilloy (12th century)

The dragon as a symbol of prestige 


Many illuminations, bas-reliefs and sculptures feature knights (like Saint George) slaying a dragon! More than a heroic battle, it's a struggle between two forces: man annihilates his own dark side, embodied by the dragon, his wild, animal, uncontrollable side.


By mastering his passions, the knight emerges victorious from the struggle, transforming himself from creature to creator, in an act of civilization. 


It's not for nothing that noble families (or even towns) have one or more dragons on their coat of arms. Their image becomes very positive and prestigious, as if the family or town in question were embracing all the creature's power and qualities! 

  

The evolution of dragon representation in the Middle Ages 


In the 12th-13th century, we begin to see the evolution of dragon forms, with more eccentric heads, in parallel with the rise of gargoyles and strange creatures representing human feelings, vices and virtues. During this period, the original winged snake underwent a transformation: legs and heads multiplied on the same specimen and became more imposing, sometimes even adding a horn or two! 


At the end of the 13th and 14th centuries, the dragon continued to undergo metamorphosis. Its appearance tended to diversify: it took on aquatic or reptilian forms, or adopted an appearance close to that of imps or even mammals such as felines. The religious vision transforms the original winged serpent into an even more differentiated monster, looking less and less "natural". 


** 


The dragon is neither inherently good nor evil. It represents the soul and its tendencies: towards heaven and earth. In any case, it will elude any attempt at definition, so elusive is its nature. And that's why it will remain a great source of inspiration, both for 13th-century illuminators and for us 21th-century video game designers. 


We hope you've enjoyed this article! And if you're interested in the subject, we'll be doing more articles on fantasy creatures in LotRT! 


To find¬†out more, we¬†recommend¬†the excellent book by medievalist¬†Michel Pastoureaux:¬†Pastoureau, Michel. 2011. Bestiaires¬†du Moyen √āge,¬†Paris, Le Seuil.



To chat with us and other fans, join the Discord or find us on X (Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube for plenty of new information about LotRT! 


 Clélia, Pierre & the Artifice Studio team












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