Black has a fascinating symbolism. Black is the color of the Underworld for the Greeks, of suffering and mourning for the Romans, of disease, death and wickedness for the people of the Middle Ages. Black is also the color of the fertility of the soil and of rebirth for the ancient Egyptians, of the deities of the night for the Germanic and Scandinavian cultures, of the color of water in the Chinese theory of the Five Elements. As with all colors, black is associated with a wide set of ideas, phenomena and terms that different metaphors and metonymies have gathered in the form of expressions that, due to the evident link between culture and language, they tend to have a negative meaning. And when the wings and scales of a mystical being that originally represented the chaos and the destructive aspect of nature are painted with this ominous ink, the result is the fantastical embodiment of these concepts. The snakes that sprouted from the shoulders of the evil king Zahhak, an infamous character in Persian mythology whose story stemmed from the legend of the dragon Azî Dahaka, are as black as tar; the representations of dragons in some Greek hydrias (Typhon, Ladon, the Lernaean hydra)were usually painted black, and one of the Dragon Kings of the Four Seas is the Hēilóng or Black Dragon, a deity of weather that represents the essence of winter.
However, there are not many mythological accounts of dragons wherein the black of dragons is far more important than all the other aspects these creatures symbolized for the ancient cultures and civilizations. It is for that reason, and partly due to my preference of discussing mythological dragons from a rather different perspective, that today’s post is dedicated to some well-known (and perhaps infamous) black dragons that soar the skies of the realms of fantasy.
Ancalagon (The Silmarillion – J. R. R. Tolkien)
Ancalagon the Black was not only the first winged dragon that was created by Morgoth, but also the greatest and most powerful dragon of Tolkien’s legendarium. The Silmarillion told that during the War of Wrath, a series of battles that come to an end with the assault on Angband, Morgoth released his winged dragons in a last attempt to stop the enemy’s forces. The immense Ancalagon led the attack, and the terrible flight of the dragons brought forth thunders, lightning and a storm of fire, thus forcing the Valar and their armies to retreat. It is then that Eärendil, with a Silmaril on his forehead, crossed the skies on his magnificent ship, Vingilot, and together with Thorondor and the Eagles of Manwë they faced the dragons. They fought for one day and one night, but right before sunrise the captain of Vingilot killed Ancalagon, whose body fell on the towers of Thangorodrim, reducing them to ruins. The fact that his fall was as devastating as to crush these towers can give us an idea of the huge size of this beast, since the towers were actually three ever-smoking peaks on the top of a volcano of gigantic proportions.
A non-canonical comparison of the size of the dragons of Middle Earth
Balerion (A Song of Ice and Fire – George R. R. Martin)
Balerion the Black Dread was the hugest dragon of house Targaryen in the universe of the epic saga A Song of Ice and Fire. His teeth were long like swords, his wingspan wide enough as to shadow entire towns when he soared above them, and his jaws as huge as to swallow an aurochs or even a mammoth hole. Balerion was born in Valyria and he was one of the five dragons that Aenar Targaryen brought with him when he fled to Dragonstone after the Doom of Valyria. His grandson, Aegon the Conqueror, used Balerion during the wars of the Free Cities, who burned a whole fleet of ships from Volantis when they tried to take the city of Lys.
Nevertheless, the greatest deeds of Aegon and Balerion took place during the Conquest of Westeros. Balerion was first used to defeat the armies of Lord Darklyn and Lord Moton, and then to take the massive castle of Harrenhal, the last refuge of King Harren the Black, the ruler of the Iron Islands and the Riverlands; the king and his subjects were burned alive once the dragonfire ran through the castle towers. Later, the power of the three dragons of House Targaryen, Balerion, Meraxes and Vaghar, was unleashed over the large hosts of the King of the Reach, Mern IX Gardener, and the King of the Rock, Loren I Lannister. Four thousand men perished among the flames, including Mern IX, and the armies of both kings were dispersed once the victory of Aegon was evident. The reputation of the Targaryen dragons was such that, when King Torrhen Stark and his bannermen marched south to engage Aegon’s forces in battles and beheld their enemies’ camps and the three huge dragons flying on the sky, he submitted his lands to the conqueror without a fight. The same happened in Oldtown, where Lord Manfred Hightower opened the city gates to surrender before the Targaryens.
Balerion, The Black Dread (Tommy Scott)
The second rider of Balerion was Maegor the Cruel, the second son of Aegon the Conqueror, who rode him to suffocate the rebellion of Jonos Arryn in the Vale when he declared his land independent from the Iron Throne, and the rebellion of the Faith Militant, in which Balerion burnd seven hundred of the Warrior’s Sons. Also, when Maegor’s nephew claimed the throne for himself after his father’s dead, Maegor rode Balerion and fought against him and his dragon, Quicksilver, killing both of them in the Battle Beneath the Gods Eye. Balerion lived to be two hundred years, and his last rider was Viserys I Targaryen, a rather amiable and pleasant monarch when compared with his predecessors, who did not want to bond another dragon after Balerion died of old age.
Balerion The Black (Ryan Barger)
Drogon (A Song of Ice and Fire – George R. R. Martin)
Drogon is the largest and most aggressive dragon of Daenerys Targaryen. He has black scales, but his neck and spine are blood red. His fire is black with some red, and he has a wingspan of twenty feet. Drogon is barely a year when Daenerys rode him for the first time, and since he is still a very young dragon, it is expected that he will reach a much larger size considering that dragons grown until they die.
Drogon hatched from one of the three dragon eggs Daenerys was given as part of her wedding gift when she married Khal Drogo, which time had supposedly petrified. Drogon and her other two dragons were born at the funerary pyre of Khal Drogo; Daenerys and her three eggs were engulfed by the flames. Even as a small dragon hatchling, Drogon protected Daenerys when she was about to be captured inside the House of the Undying in Qarth, burning a beating heart that was in the middle of one of its rooms, which in turn damaged the very structure of the House, thus setting Daenerys free. Later, he is exchanged for all the Unsulied of Astapor, who accounted almost ten thousand men (including those who were in training), though it was part of her own plan, since her dragon would obey no one but her. Once the deal was made, she commanded Drogon to attack the former masters of the Unsullied, and she used her newly acquired army (the Unsully are strictly trained to serve their current master alone) to put an end to the slavers’ reign in Astapor.
However, when a Meereen farmer claimed that his daughter had been killed by the black dragon, Daenerys was forced to lock his dragons in one of Meereen’s ancient pyramids, with the exception of Drogon, who fled from the city after several failed attempts to capture him. He reappeared when the fighting pits of Meereen were reopened; attracted by the noise and the scent of blood, he descended onto an arena in order to devour a boar that was at its center, but then he was attacked by its owner and several soldiers. Daenerys was filled with horror when she realized those men intended to kill her dragon, so she ran towards Drogon and she climbed onto his back. With his wings spread open, Dragon rose to the sky together with his rider, and so they were able to run away from that city. Despite these unfortunate events, it is believed that their destiny is closely tied to the future of the people of Slaver’s Bay and the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
Daenerys and Drogon from the Game of Thrones TV series
Temeraire (Temeraire Saga – Naomi Novik)
Temeraire is a celestial black dragon that lives in an alternative world very much like our own during the agitated Napoleonic wars, with the difference that dragons are part of both the commercial and military apparatus of several nations. His parents were two Chinese dragons, Lung Qin Gao and Lung Tien Qian. The egg from which Temeraire would hatch had originally been offered to Napoleon Bonaparte by the Chinese imperial family as a gift since he had recently been crowned Emperor of France, yet the course of events did not go according to their plans. Temeraire was born during the trip to France right after his ship was taken by the English captain William Laurence, and due to the fact that dragons bond with the first person that feeds them, he ended up becoming William’s dragon, who gave him his name.
As with most celestials, Temeraire is a very intelligent dragon. He is able to speak several languages fluently (English, French, Chinese), and he is a very fast learner. He also loves to read, especially science and mathematics books. Temeraire would eventually learn an ability that is unique to celestial dragons, the Divine Wind, a powerful sonic roar that can destroy wood, bones and rocks, cause a tsunami and even sink ships. He used the Divine Wind for the first time against a French fleet of ships that had tried to invade Britain.
Temeraire is a dragon of a kind and loyal nature. When he was given the chance to remain in China, where he felt very comfortable among dragons of his own kind, he chose to follow Laurence instead so that they could work to improve the living conditions of the British dragons. He was also sent on a mission to search for the cure of a terrible disease that had started to affect the European dragons. Yet he was not satisfied to help just the British dragons; Temeraire also helped the dragons of many European regions, including those of the enemy (France), an action that would bring him unfortunate consequences. Nevertheless, his sense of justice has always prevailed over all adversities, even when it would usually lead him to share his partners’ fate.
Temeraire (Todd Lockwood)
Khisanth (Dragonlance Saga)
In the fantastic saga Dragonlance, Khisanth was a fierce dragoness whose huge wings and serpentine body was covered with black scales. Her eyes were red, her claws and teeth white, and her belly was of a dark yellow tone. She was just a hatchling when the bakali, a reptilian race whose purpose was to serve the dragons, told her to enter a long period of hibernation called “the Sleep” so that she could grow as they looked after her. When she woke from the Sleep, she befriended two nyphids, Kadagan and Joan, a pair of fairy-like creatures. They taught her how to shapeshift, and thus she was able to roam the lands of Ansalon under the form of a beautiful young woman named Onyx. Unfortunately, both of her friends died due to the actions of a group of human bandits. Filled with rage, she killed the bandits and left those lands. For a while, she traveled together with another black dragon called Pteros until she killed him when she learned that he was actually trying to offer her to other dragons.
She eventually joined the armies of the High Lord Maldeev, one of the leaders of the vast Dark Queen armies. Under his service, she became the friend of Jahet, the dragon that held the highest rank in the Black Wing, Maldeev’s black dragon regiment. Khisanth participated in several of the battles of the war for the conquest of Ansalon until the day she witnessed the death of Jahet. Khisanth was very suspicious of the High Lord himself, who was the responsible of her friend’s death to a long extent. In spite of her own feelings, she was force to bond with Maldeev in a ritual, and he became her rider over the next two years. However, when Maldeev chose to ride a different dragon during a training drill, she felt so insulted that she threw herself onto Maldeev and tore him limb from limb.
As a punishment, she was expelled from the Black Wing, and she was given the command to watch over the Disks of Mishakal in Xak Tsaroth. She guarded that place for several years, until the Heroes of the Lance led them to her lair, where they had to face the black dragoness.
Captured by the Black Dragon Khisanth (Clyde Caldwell)
Deathwing the Destroyer is one of the five Dragon Aspects and the leader of the Black Dragonflight, a group of black dragons that used to keep watch over the deep places of Azeroth. He was driven mad by the whispers of the Old Gods, who told him to seal part of his soul in a magical artifact conveniently called Dragon Soul, an action that turned him and his dragons against the creatures he had protected before the War of the Ancients. Deathwing is usually described as a huge monstrosity that rises tall as a mountain covered by scales, with torrents of lava and magma running underneath them.
He revealed his evil intentions when, in the company of the other four Dragonflights, he was supposed to led his forces as to assist the night elves while they were waging war against the demons of the Burning Legion in Zin-Azhari, a place located on the banks of the Well of Eternity. During the battle, Deathwing used his artifact not only against the Burning Legion, but also against hundreds of night elves. His betrayal greatly upset the other Dragonflights, who launched an attack onto the Black Dragonflight. Therefore, Deathwing used his artifact against them, obliterating almost all of the blue dragons. After this foul tragedy, Malfurion Stormrage managed to discover the location of Deathwing’s lair, and we took the Dragon Soul while he was sleeping. Unfortunately, this artifact would eventually be used to open the portal that would allow the dark titan Sargeras to enter Azeroth.
Deathwing possesses a vast power over the earth, an ability that allows him to rise volcanoes from the ground and caused multiple disasters that threatened the life of the creatures of Azeroth for a long time. He would eventually persuade the orcs to capture Alexstrasza, the leader of the Red Dragonflight, who then used her and her consorts to provide the Horde with dragons after rediscovering the Dragon Soul. She was their slave for several years until the young mage Rhonin was sent to release her with the aid of the remaining three Dragon Aspects, Malygos, Ysera and Nozdormu. Weakened by the power of the Dragon Soul, they were no match for Deathwing at first, but once Rhonin managed to steal the artifact and used it to release the red dragoness, he discovered its weaknesses and therefore was able to destroy it. Right after that, the strength of the dragons was restored. Unable to defeat all of the Dragon Aspects, the huge black dragon was force to escape and hide from them.
Deathwing rose once more in Azeroth during the Cataclysm, a worldwide disaster that he caused himself as part of his vengeance against the Dragon Aspects. Deathwing launched several attacks on different locations throughout the lands of Azeroth, and the four Aspects must now join forces with the Heroes of Azeroth if they want to prevent Deathwing and the Old Gods from enslaving all the creatures of their world.
Deathwing, Dragonlord (Alex Horley)
Alduin (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)
Alduien the World Eater is the firstborn of Akatosh, the main deity of the Nine Divines. He has black scales, red eyes and two long horns, and black thick spikes grow from his spine. Alduin was the first dragon to ever rule over the mortals and the mer in ancient times until these rose against their masters in the Dragon War, in which they were able to defeat the dragons thank to the help of the goddess Kynareth, one of the Nine Divines, and the dragon Paarthunax, who taught them how to use the Thu’um, and ancient kind of magic that uses the language of the dragons to cause shouts of great power. However, Alduin could not be killed, so it was necessary to use an Elder Scroll in the Throat of the World to cast a spell on him which sent him forward in time.
The pride and power of Alduin led him to conquer Nirn (the corporeal world) and assume his self-imposed role of World Eater. Nevertheless, after he was expelled from his original timeline, he reappeared only to realize that almost all dragons were dead. Therefore, he started to resurrect them in order to fulfill his goal. His arrival coincided with a large internal conflict in the land of Skyrim that spread after the death of its king, which has divided most of its inhabitants into two opposed factions (the Imperials and the Stormcloaks), an advantageous situation for the dragons since the mortal races are not well-organized. Despite these events, Alduin’s plans are not free from risk. According to an ancient prophecy, the last of the Dovahkiin (the Dragonborn) is the only one who could be able to defeat the black dragon if he could gather enough power from the dragons in the form of a formidable Thu’um, and so the final fight between him and Alduin would determine the fate of the mortal plane.
Alduin in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim videogame