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Princess and dragon

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Title: Princess and dragon  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Damsel in distress, Featured picture candidates/Orlando Furioso, List of stock characters, The Crystal Ball (fairy tale), Shippeitaro
Collection: Clichés, Fairy Tale Stock Characters, Folklore, Legends, Princesses
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Princess and dragon

"Andromeda chained to a rock" by Gustave Doré.

Princess and dragon is a generic premise common to many legends, fairy tales, and chivalric romances.[1] Northrop Frye identified it as a central form of the quest romance.

The story involves an upper class woman, generally a princess or similar high-ranking nobility, saved from a dragon, either a literal dragon or a similar danger, by the virtuous hero (see Damsel in distress). She may be the first woman endangered by the peril, or may be the end of a long succession of women who were not of as high birth as she is, nor as fortunate.[2] Normally the princess ends up married to the dragon-slayer, though sometimes after an imposter has by threats intimidated her into silence, and the dragon-slayer has had to demonstrate the truth.

The motifs of the hero who finds the princess about to be sacrificed to the dragon and saves her, the false hero who takes his place, and the final revelation of the true hero, are the identifying marks of the Aarne-Thompson folktale type 300, the Dragon-Slayer, and appear, with other elements before and after in type 303, the Two Brothers.[3] These two tales have been found, in different variants, in countries all over the world.[4]

The "princess and dragon" scenario is given even more weight in popular imagination than it is in the original tales; the stereotypical hero is envisioned as slaying dragons even though, for instance, the Brothers Grimm had only a few tales of dragon and giant slayers among hundreds of tales.[5]


  • History 1
  • Modern versions 2
  • Diversions 3
  • Tales with princess and dragons 4
  • Tales with princesses and similar perils 5
  • References 6


One of the earliest example of the motif comes from the Ancient Greek tale of Perseus, who rescued the princess Andromeda from Cetus, a sea monster often described as resembling a serpent or dragon. This was taken up into other Greek myths, such as Heracles, who rescued the princess Hesione of Troy from a similar sea monster. Most ancient versions depicted the dragon as the expression of a god's wrath: in Andromeda's case, because her mother Cassiopeia had compared her beauty to that of the sea nymphs, and in Hesione's, because her father had reneged on a bargain with Poseidon. This is less common in fairy tales and other, later versions, where the dragon is frequently acting out of malice.

Susanoo slaying the Yamata no Orochi, by Yoshitoshi

The Japanese legend of Yamata no Orochi also invokes this motif. The god Susanoo encounters two "Earthly Deities" who have been forced to sacrifice their seven daughters to the many-headed monster. Susanoo is able to kill the dragon after getting it drunk on sake (rice wine).

Another variation is from the tale of paganism and convert to Christianity.

When the tale is not about a dragon but a troll, giant, or ogre, the princess is often a captive rather than about to be eaten, as in The Three Princesses of Whiteland. These princesses are often a vital source of information to their rescuers, telling them how to perform tasks that the captor sets to them, or how to kill the monster, and when she does not know, as in The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body, she frequently can pry the information from the giant. Despite the hero's helplessness without this information, the princess is incapable of using the knowledge herself.

Ruggiero Rescuing Angelica, an illustration for Orlando Furioso by Gustave Doré

Again, if a The Sea-Maiden—and so separate him from the false hero.

This dragon-slaying hero appears in Child ballad 34, Kemp Owyne, where the dragon is the maiden; the hero, based on Ywain from Arthurian legend, rescues her from the transformation with three kisses.[9]

Modern versions

Russian civil war propaganda poster:
White Russian knight is fighting the
Red Russian dragon

In Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney concluded the tale by having the wicked fairy godmother Maleficent transform herself into a dragon to withstand the prince, converting the fairy tale of the princess and the dragon.[10]

In Ian Fleming's Dr. No, both the book and film versions feature a tank in the shape of a dragon that protects Dr. No's island from superstitious intruders. James Bond and Honeychile Rider are menaced by the dragon, do battle with it, have their friend Quarrel killed and are captured by the crew of the Dragon tank. Ann Boyd's 1967 book The Devil with James Bond explores the theory of the updating of the Princess and dragon genre.

In modern fantasy works, the dragon may hold the princess captive instead of eating her. Patricia Wrede spoofed this concept in Dealing with Dragons.

A subversion of the concept for young readers is Robert Munsch's The Paper Bag Princess, in which a princess outwits a dragon to save a prince (her betrothed, whom she proceeds not to marry upon him insulting her makeshift clothing instead of thanking her).

In Jay Williams's tale The Practical Princess, a dragon demands that a king should sacrifice his daughter to him so that he will leave the rest of the kingdom alone. But the princess saves herself by making a "princess dummy" out of straw, and filling it with boiling pitch and tar. The princess dresses the dummy in one of her own gowns, then goes to the dragon's cave where she offers herself as a sacrifice. The unwitting dragon swallows the straw dummy whole, and the pitch and tar explodes inside the dragon's stomach, killing him. Afterwards, the princess observes, "Dragons are not very smart."

In the Isaac Asimov short story Prince Delightful and the Flameless Dragon, it is revealed that Dragons used to be slain as part of a passage from princehood to adulthood, though after a while, they became a protected species. Contrary to popular myth, they don't eat princesses as they tend to smell of cheap perfume and give indigestion.


In some stories, mostly in more recent literary works, the cliche involving princesses and dragons is somehow twisted to create a more exciting or humorous effect. For example, in The Paper Bag Princess, the princess came to realize that her prince was even more obnoxious than the dragon, and refused to go with him, preferring to skip off into the setting sun alone instead. In some versions, the princess may also befriend, tame, personally defeat, or even be turned into a dragon herself. Indeed, there are a few examples when a curse or spell transforms a princess into a dragon or similar creature (e.g. an alligator, giant bird, or fictional reptile species). In such stories, the transformed princess usually aids her sweetheart in a battle against a force of evil. In The Swan Princess, for example, Princess Odette is transformed into a swan, and she helps her lover triumph in a battle against the sorcerer Rothbart, who has the power to transform himself into a hideous beast (a manifestation of a lion, wolf, and bear).

Tales with princess and dragons

Tales with princesses and similar perils


  1. ^ Johan Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages p 83 ISBN 0-226-35992-1
  2. ^ Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p 189, ISBN 0-691-01298-9
  3. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p 24-5, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977
  4. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p 27, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977
  5. ^ Maria Tatar, p 282, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, ISBN 0-393-05163-3
  6. ^ Max Lüthi, Once Upon A Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales, p 54, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., New York, 1970
  7. ^ Johan Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages p 84 ISBN 0-226-35992-1
  8. ^ Anne Wilson, Traditional Romance and Tale, p 46, D.S. Brewer, Rowman & Littlefield, Ipswitch, 1976, ISBN 0-87471-905-4
  9. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 306, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  10. ^ John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Sleeping Beauty" p 874 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
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