, Alternative names: Dragon Gold
, Dragons Guard Treasure
, Treasure Guarding Dragon
, Dragons Are Rich
[The dragon] is driven to hunt out In some settings
hoards underground, to guard heathen gold
throug age-long vigils, though to little avail.
, dragons tend to guard hoards of treasure – typically by lying on top of it.
This trope seems to be especially ingrained in Germanic Mythology -- in fact it is hard to find a dragon in ancient Anglo-Saxon, German or Norse legends
guard gold. Curiously, there is no consensus as to why
dragons do this. Justifications
in-story for why a dragon sits on a hoard, including backstories of how hoard and dragon came together, vary considerably.
In some ways, hoard-guarding dragons are no different from other treasure guardians: They make sure it isn't too easy for the hero to get at a desired MacGuffin
, and a heap of treasure in itself provides a convincing motivation
for a hero to engage in an exciting monster-fight.
Dragons have a peculiarity, though, in that they are especially attached to gold
: dragon-hoards almost always contain at least a substantial share of gold. Whatever the reasons, on average dragons show noticeably less interest in other treasures, like silver or even jewels.
People have also long noticed that dragons have no apparent use for treasure: they cannot spend, wear or process it. Dragons, it was concluded, must be pathologically avaricious and stingy (kinda like a species of compulsive hoarders with a Money Fetish
). In fact, up to the 17th century, dragons were considered the emblematic representation of Greed
The symbolic association of dragons with avarice, combined with their preference for gold, causes that dragon hoards coincide in a certain number of cases with outbreaks of Gold Fever
Treasure-hoarding dragons, once common, became increasingly forgotten
in the age of Chivalric Romance
: For a Knight in Shining Armor
, fighting for so mundane a reward as treasure was no longer deemed noble enough. Hence gold-hoarding dragons were largely superseded by the princess-stealing ones, until the trope was revived by Fantasy
literature, especially through the influence of The Hobbit
In more realistic settings where dragons don't exist, large reptiles
may sometimes be encountered guarding treasures.
May involve a Treasure Room
- Dragon from Shrek sleeps on-top of a mountain of treasure. She doesn't seem that bothered by the collection of treasure in the sequels, though.
- The Jungle Book (1994): When the ruthless Captain Boone tries to loot the treasure chamber of a lost city, he is eaten by a giant python.
- Saga of the Jomsvikings speculates that a sea-serpent seen at the Norwegian coast is the ghost of the Jomsviking captain Bui, guarding two chests of gold he took with him to his watery grave.
- In the chapter "The King's Ankus" from Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, a maharajah's forgotten treasure vault in a lost city is guarded by an unusually large cobra.
- In the works of J. R. R. Tolkien:
- Smaug of The Hobbit destroyed the Kingdoms of Lonely Mountain and Dale to rob the kings' treasures. He heaped them up in a vault where he spends most of his time just sleeping on it. This habit also has the advantage that the coins and gems grow into his sticky, glowing hot skin, thus providing him with additional armor.
- The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin: After Glaurung has destroyed the city of Nargothrond, he sweeps all the gold together into a heap and lies down on it to rest for a while.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Éowyn mentions that her ancestor Fram killed "Scatha the Worm" and thus won a hoard which the dragon had robbed from dwarves.
- Farmer Giles of Ham has the dragon Chrysophylax Dives ("Gold-watcher the Rich"), whose cave contains fantastical riches of all sorts. How the got all that stuff is never explained, nor does anyone ever ask.
- In the works of C. S. Lewis:
- In The Pilgrims Regress, "the Northern dragon is so greedy that his anxiety for his gold hardly lets him sleep".
- In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace stumbles upon a dragon's hoard while the dragon is absent. He gets greedy, falls asleep on top of it, and is transformed into a dragon himself.
- In the Earthsea Trilogy, the dragons are obsessed with hoarding jewelry ... at least at first.
- In Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane series, dragons love gold because dragon magic resonates with it to produce a narcotic-like effect that dragons easily become addicted to. Some dragons manage to break this addiction, however.
- Dragonology explains that dragons hoard treasure to use as armor for their soft underbelly.
- In Guards! Guards!, the dragon that takes over the palace of Ankh-Morpork demands all the gold for its hoard. Since Ankh-Morpork is a Vestigial Empire of gilded treasures and heavily diluted coinage, there's a lot of ugliness before the dragon is satisfied.
- In the J.W. Wells & Co. series, dragons often appear in the vaults of banks, which is why companies like J.W. Wells find it useful to keep a "pest control specialist" in their employ.
- In the Myth Adventures novels, Gleep explains that dragons hoard gold because it's so soft and corrosion-proof that it's ideal for baby dragons to teethe on. Dragons with offspring collect it for their young, and grown-up dragons keep it as a sentimental reminder of childhood.
- In Heir Apparent, the protagonist needs to sneak into a dragon's lair to steal its treasure.
- In Age of Fire, dragons hoard because they need metal to make scales.
- Classical Mythology:
- The dragon Ladon was set by Hera to guard the Golden Apples that grow in the Garden of the Hesperides.
- King Aeëtes of Colchis employed a large serpentine dragon to guard the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts.
- Chinese Mythology: A few types of dragon dwell underground, guarding treasures.
- Beowulf: The dragon is attracted by gold and makes his home on a treasure hidden in a barrow -- because that is how dragons roll.
- The dragon in Nibelungenlied guards a dwarfs' hoard on behalf of the dwarf kings -- it's essentially a watchdog.
- Norse Mythology:
- The dragon Fafnir (Poetic Edda, Prose Edda, Saga of the Volsungs) was originally a humanoid (the race varies) who killed his father for a heap of gold, then permanently shapeshifted into a dragon to guard it.
- In Ragnar Lodbrok and His Sons, a princess raises a tiny little baby dragon by letting it breed on a gold coin. The dragon grows to enormous proportions, in the process hatching a massive pile of gold.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, all dragons have hoards, although their content varies from species to species. This is reflected by the rules giving them a much larger amount of loot.
- In Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung tetralogy (as adapted, with liberties, from Norse Mythology), the giant Fafner kills his hitherto-bro Fasolt for a hoard of gold (The Rhine-Gold) and is later found transformed into a dragon lying on the gold (The Valkyrie), until he is killed by Siegfried (Siegfried).
- Loom has a dragon living in a volcano, sitting on a heap of gold.
- In Dungeon Assault, you play as a dragon who has to create a labyrinth of guards and traps to protect your hoard while sending out raiders to steal treasure from other players.
- In Choice of the Dragon, you play as a dragon and one of your objectives is to acquire and protect a pile of treasure.
- In Neverwinter Nights 2, if you manage to kill the red dragon Tholapsyx you get to loot her hoard.
- In the aptly-named Hoard, you play as a dragon and get points for collecting treasure.
- In The Flight of Dragons, dragons nest on top of gold because they find it comfortable to sleep on.
- It's explained in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic that dragons are greedy by nature and will hoard things as an instinctive behavior. They also eat gems.
- In "Dragonshy", the mane six are sent on a diplomatic mission to a dragon who's taken up residence near Ponyville. Rarity speaks to the dragon and appeals his ego, a strategy that appears to work--until the dragon realizes she's helping herself to his treasure hoard, and he kicks her out.
- "Owl's Well That Ends Well" features another full-grown dragon who gets angry and attacks Spike for stealing from said dragon's hoard of gold and gems.
- In "Secret of My Excess", it's shown that hoarding behavior can cause dragons to undergo rapid growth--which can lead to a nasty feedback loop, as this growth also decreases their mental faculties and makes them hoard more.
- In "Dragon Quest", adolescent dragons are shown playing "King of the Hoard", a game which requires dragons to fight one another over a pile of treasure.