“I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and they’re like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong strong.”
-Smaug, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
The penultimate challenged laid before the hero be it a great fire-breathing beast or it can be an impossibly dangerous man clothed in cybernetic black armor. Black Knights and Dragons have historically stood in the way of the hero for years and prevented them from completing their quest. The Dragon is a force of nature which stands as a danger and a direct epic obstacle in the way of the completion of the story. This is how for years a story has been framed along the hero’s journey, or so we thought.
Many would see the Dragon as just that a Dragon, and yet the trope itself has proven far more complex and varied over the years. A thing to note however is that the Dragon is not the “Big Bad” or the “Boss” they are a major obstacle, enforcer, and overall right-hand of the main villain in this case. Darth Vader is a fantastic example as while he is the primary sith enforcer of the Emperor, he is a major threat in his own right.
The Right Hand
The Dragon the right hand of action and respectively remains a primary focus of force for the villain. The mental bodied Cyclon Centurions and Raiders were the main boogieman fought by the Colonial forces during Battlestar Galactica’s re-imagined series. The biological humanoid Cylons, on the other hand, were the true masterminds behind the war against humanity and yet their far more frail form made them easier to kill than the heavy soldiers.
Instead of being a singular Dragon there can also exist co or even multiple dragons. Unlike a general squad of primary lieutenants, the Dragons in question are not a team. The Homunculi of Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood easily represent the notion of major Dragons with both Pride, Wrath and Envy being heavy hitters. While in the case of the anime Father is the big bad, and yet his “children” are distinctive hands to prevent obstacles to his goals.
How to Use a Dragon
When you create a dragon remember that they are an individual and that they ultimately serve the big bad. In some cases, they can be a former villain who has been usurped or perhaps even demoted by a former minion. They can even be an evil ruler on a throne with the big-bad using them as a priceless key to their evil plan. In other cases, the Dragon can have their own goals and interests at heart. Perhaps they are part of the evil army or the opposition for a clear reason. This is a good and simple way to introduce a subplot or eventually build up the Dragon to eventually supersede the big bad in the next arc of your story.
Dragons need to be more than an individual though and need to represent something special about the overall opposition you present to your main character. Dragons can also just be that special character on opposing sides of an issue. To put it another way, a Dragon can easily be a hero of the opposing side just as easily as the patron of a “hero” is a villain.
A few things to remember, a Dragon must somehow be representative of your main characters opposition. If the big bad is never seen physically then they are their mouth. Mr. Morden in Babylon Five was the face and mouth of the Shadows who was their most visual emissary. Even when he was offering simple deals the man bled menace and caused fear in his opponents. Finally, the Dragon needs a relationship to the big bad which establishes their place in the order of the enemy They are the right hand, the best gal pal, or even the defiant sworn sword of the Big Bad.