Between the Shelves- Folks Used to Believe: The Dragon and his Kinsmen (Alvin F. Harlow)

Between the Shelves is a showcase of public domain stories of the type that Archive of the Odd publishes. We are not associated with the authors in any manner, and they are most likely dead.

This Between the Shelves is an example of the type of bestiary page we’re looking for for our second issue, which is themed around monsters. It was part of a series from Weird Tales called Folks Used to Believe, in which Alvin F. Harlow would describe the history of some classic monsters. This particular article is from 1927. The original can be found here. Hope you like semicolons!

For 2,000 years and more no fabulous animal was more universally accepted as really existing than the dragon in its various forms. The dragon which St. George, an early Christian hero, slew, was of the usual type—a thick, scaly body somewhat resembling a lizard’s, bat-like wings, four legs with clawed feet like an eagle’s, the body tapering into a tail which, like the tongue, had a sting in the end of it.

Even after 1700, a nature writer, though admitting that some doubted the existence of the dragon, said that there were “in Arabia Serpents called Sirenae, which have Wings; being very swift, running or flying, at Pleasure; and when they wound a Man, he dieth instantly. These are supposed to be a kind of Dragon… Dragons are also said to be bred in India and Africa; those of India are much the largest, being of incredible Length; and of these there are two Kinds, one living in the Marshes, which are slow of Pace and without Combs on their Heads; the other in the Mountains, which are bigger and have Combs. Some are of a yellow, fiery Colour; having sharp Backs, like Saws. These also have Beards. When they set up their Scales, they shine like Silver. The Apples of their Eyes are (as it is said) precious Stones, and bright as Fire, in which, it is affirmed, there is great Virtue against many Diseases. Their Aspect is very fierce and terrible… Some do affirm that the Dragon is a black Colour; the Belly somewhat green and very beautiful; that it has a triple Row of Teeth in each Jaw, and very bright, shining Eyes; that it has also two Dewlaps under the Chin, which hang down, of a red Colour.”

Pliny, the old Roman writer, tells of how dragons in India concealed themselves in trees and sprang down on elephants, fixing their teeth in the elephant’s neck and sucking its blood. The elephant’s blood, Pliny declared, is very cold, and was therefore much sought by the dragon in hot weather. One dragon could drink all the blood in an elephant’s body, but was made so stupid by it that when the elephant finally fell from weakness, the dragon was frequently crushed beneath its body.

Closely akin to the dragon was the griffin, whose head, shoulders, wings and forefeet resembled an eagle’s, while the body, hind legs and tail were a lion’s. Griffins were the monsters who guarded the deposits of gold in the mountains of Scythia in ancient times. The wyvern had a body and feet (only two) somewhat like an eagle’s, save with scales instead of feathers, bat wings, and the head and tail of a dragon. The hippogriff had four legs; the forepart and wings were those of a griffin, the rear half of the body was that of a horse. A famous magician named Atlantes did his traveling on the back of a hippogriff.

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