11 Of Literature's Fiercest Dragons, From Baby Norbert To Drogon

Courtesy of HBO

Dragons have always lurked somewhere in the back of the human subconscious. Maybe it's our lizard-brain memory of the dinosaurs (or the fact that ancient people were always finding funky fossils that they couldn't explain), but dragons dominate folktales and fantasy novels. They've been around since long before the Triwizard Tournament or Daenerys Targaryen, and between fantastical YA adventures and the sudden resurgence of "Dungeons and Dragons," it doesn't seem like they're going anywhere anytime soon. But of all the fire-breathing monstrosities who rule the literary skies, who is the fiercest? Or at least, the most memorable? Here are some of the biggest and baddest (and cuddliest) dragons in the book world, for your reading/slaying pleasure.

Of course, as humankind has evolved, the "dragon" has changed from a straight up monster to a slightly more complex literary archetype. They haven't quite undergone the monster-to-sexy-dude transformation like vampires or werewolves (with the obvious exception of Sean Connery in Dragonheart). But the modern dragon does tend to be more of a friend, or a complicated-yet-noble steed than a slavering beast who runs about eating princesses. Or they're evil in more of a conniving, complex way. So here are a few leathery-winged reptiles, both villainous and friendly, to add to your literary horde:

1. Smaug

As far as standard, evil, treasure-hoarding dragons go, Smaug from The Hobbit is easily the best of the best. Sure, his whole "get treasure, kill dwarves" thing is a little played out, but he's also got that whole "I'm a dragon, DEAL WITH IT," attitude, which is very good. He also makes a ferocious foil to Bilbo "Please Don't Make Me Go on an Adventure" Baggins. A+ dragon if you're looking for a traditional model: good ferocity, classic weak spot, plenty of ill-gotten treasure.

2. The Hungarian Horntail

Dragons in the Wizarding World seem to be pretty straight up and down regular animals. They're not good or evil, they just want to breathe fire and guard their lil' baby dragon eggs. But the Hungarian Horntail was especially protective and stressed out about our Harry messing with her nursery (doesn't the Triwizard Tournament violate some wizarding animal rights laws or something?). As far as "dragons are big wild animals" interpretations go, she's top of the line. I look forward to the future Pottermore exclusive that explains how the Hungarian Horntail was secretly a cursed human woman in disguise the whole time.

3. Drogon

Yeah, Dany from Game of Thrones has three dragons, but Drogon's the cool one. He's the biggest, he's the one she rides around, and he's also the one who maybe killed a child that one time? The dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire are a little more intelligent and mysterious than the dragons in the Harry Potter books, but at the end of the day, they're still very large and magical cats who feel no remorse for any civilians they might accidentally (or not so accidentally) roast to death. Drogon gets a solid A as a morally ambiguous monster pet, and a B- for his ability to follow directions.

4. Temeraire

What if the Napoleonic Wars... but with dragons? That's the basic conceit for the excellent Temeraire novels, starring the dragon Temeraire himself. Like most dragons in this universe, he's as intelligent as a human. He's also one of the few Chinese dragons fighting in the European wars, which makes him extra sensitive and possessive of his bestie, Captain William Laurence. He still likes shiny things, but Temeraire is much more of a full character than any of the previous dragons on this list, with wants and fears and not so much tact.

5. Falkor the Luckdragon

Falkor the Luckdragon is less of a terrifying monster and more of a friendly, dignified mentor who helps Bastian fight the existential horror facing the magical land of Fantastica in The Neverending Story. He's kind of like a very large and helpful upscale dog. He gets full marks for being optimistic and lovely and flying people around, and a D- for ferocity because just look at that sweet fuzzy face.

6. Saphira

Let's get one thing out of the way first: yes, Eragon is just the word "dragon" with an "e" isn't of "d." But Eragon is not the dragon in Eragon; Eragon is the boy and Saphira is his dragon/best friend/life coach. She's wise, like Falkor, but she's also far more vain, proud, and all about killing it as the fiercest, shiniest dragon in Alagaësia.

7. Kazul

Kazul from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles takes all the typical dragon nonsense and turns it on its head: she has a princess, yes, but the princess chose to be her "captive" (and/or her Chief Cook and Librarian). Kazul is also the female King of the Dragons, because being the Queen of the Dragons is a boring job, and why shouldn't a lady dragon be king anyway? 10/10 for dragons succeeding in non-traditional gender roles.

8. Ruth the White Dragon

It's hardly a list of literary dragons without at least one dragon from Pern. Ruth the White Dragon starts out as a weird lil' runt, and the only white dragon in the entire series. But as he grows up, Ruth proves to be an unusually smart dragon. He may still be small, but he's a smart, impulsive nerd with no interest in lady dragons. Five stars for marching to the beat of his own dragon drum (and also he and Kazul should be platonic buds for life).

9. Toothless

In the How to Train Your Dragon books, Toothless is a small, cute, and outrageously selfish dragon. He's entirely disobedient to his human, Hiccup, and he appears to be an entirely ordinary Common or Garden Dragon. He turns out to be more special than that, naturally, but lil' Toothless never lets his classification get in the way of being a huge self-obsessed jerk (who secretly loves Hiccup in his own snarky way).

10. Beowulf’s Dragon

This one's a real throw-back, because the epic poem Beowulf established a lot of our classic dragon lore. This dragon is evil, pointless, and rolls up at the end for a big final boss battle because someone stole a cup from him. He gets some extra points for being one of the first dragons in literature who hordes treasure and breathes fire, but he doesn't have all that much in the way of verve and pizzazz. And he's entirely upstaged by the lake troll lady who Beowulf fights earlier in the poem, C+ all around.

11. Norbert

Of course, all of these other dragons are, ultimately, total garbage in the face of Baby Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback, the only literary dragon who matters. Hagrid's sweet baby boy is the first dragon to appear in the Harry Potter books, and the fiercest dragon in the literary dragon once you take size into consideration. 11/10, you keep doing your thing, Norbert.