Created By: Koveras on August 29, 2012 Last Edited By: Koveras on October 26, 2012
Troped

The Dragons Come Back

A (sub)plot revolving around dragons returning from extinction/exile.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Here There Were Dragons... and now they are coming back, for better or for worse. As the natural apex predator species, their return inevitably upsets the status quo of the setting, kicking off a variety of conflicts, such as:

  • The dragons are here and proceed to carve out a place for themselves in the setting, waging war on the other species.
  • The dragons' return is imminent and one camp aims to assist it, while the other prepares to fight them and their supporters.
  • The returning dragons are non-sentient and one faction tries to control them and conquer all the others.
  • The dragons are benevolent and return because a conflict is afoot that requires their near-divine intervention.
  • The dragons' return is just the first, symbolic portent of other calamities that are about to befall the world.

Also included are mythical species that occupy similar position in their respective settings' supernatural food chain (e.g. some types of gryphons). If they are present, a conspicuous absence of actual dragons in the setting may be expected.

Contrast Last of His Kind (a single specimen is more of an oddity than an existential threat to other species). Subtrope of The Magic Comes Back and Not So Extinct. May or may not involve Fossil Revival.

Examples:

Film
  • In Reign of Fire, dragons come back from extinction in the modern day and begin causing all kinds of chaos and havoc.
  • In Dragonheart: A New Beginning, the dragons are extinct since the last movie but then some monks find a dragon egg that hatches.

Literature
  • A Song of Ice and Fire sees the supposedly extinct dragons reemerge at the end of book one and are used as a banner to gather The Horde.
  • In Guards! Guards!, the draco noblis is believed to be extinct... until someone summons one right into Ankh Morpork. It then proceeds to take over the city by fear and fire breathing.
  • In Wrong Time For The Dragons by Sergey Lukyanenko and Nick Perumov, the last dragons (who also double as Royal Blood) of a parallel universe have been exterminated a few decades ago, but now several factions are trying to bring them back.
  • Dragons in The Elric Saga tend to spend almost all of their time sleeping (they have to, so as to recharge their energies, as in 1 day requires something like 10 years of sleep), only coming out of their caves during extreme crises.
  • Almost happened in Dragonriders of Pern: the dragon population shrunk to a (probably unsustainable) size where they couldn't protect humanity from the Thread, so the protagonists have to find a way to bring back hundreds more.
  • Not dragons but in the Heralds of Valdemar series, no one living has ever seen a gryphon, although most cultures have legends or accounts of them being a friendly species. A mated pair showing up as advance scouts/diplomats, then, is a great shock to everyone.
  • At the beginning of The Inheritance Cycle, it's generally thought that dragons are extinct, but the protagonist happens to accidentally steal and hatch the one dragon egg left. Then later it turns out that the evil emperor also has a dragon, and the king had two eggs left over, and both eventually hatched. In the final book, it was revealed that there was a whole cache of secret dragon eggs, which were re-claimed once Galbatorix was defeated.
  • Inverted in Tamora Pierce's The Immortals series: all sorts of magical species come back from exile in the Divine Realms where they had been locked by human mages long ago... except the dragons who choose not to return. Needless to say, the impact of the return is comparable with if not bigger than in other examples.
  • In The Dragons Of Noor by Janet Lee Carey, this is pretty much the main plot.
  • In the Deltora Quest series, the plot of the third set of books revolves around awakening the last of Deltora's questions who went to slumber because their kind was getting killed of by the Shadow Lord to destroy the Four Sisters which were planted by the Shadow Lord.

Tabletop Games
  • The Dragon Lance setting of Dungeons & Dragons. The events of the War of the Lance include the return of both Good and Evil dragons.
  • It's a part of the background of Shadowrun, one of the first sign that the sixth world has arrived and magic has returned is when the dragons return. The first is the Great Dragon Ryumyo, seen by 250 people aboard a Japanese bullet train.

Video Games
  • Drakan: The Ancients' Gates sees Rynn and Arokh bringing back the dragons Trapped in Another World in order to re-establish the ancient Order of the Flame, pushing back the forces of evil that have almost subjugated humanity in the meanwhile.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim revolves around the dragons, thought to have been defeated and driven out for good long ago, invading Tamriel in force, bringing chaos to the land.
  • The Dragon Age series takes it name from the current in-universe age, named thus because dragons, believed extinct for centuries in the setting, suddenly began appearing sporadically. Their return is taken as an omen of violence and upheaval in the new age--and, indeed, the first few decades of it were marked by a Blight (unseen in centuries) and the collapse of centuries-old Circle of Magi system, leading to a civil war.
    • Furthermore, the supplemental comic The Silent Grove hints at an underground refuge for dragons, waiting to come back.
  • Guild Wars 2 has the dragons coming back in the 250 year gap from the first game and spawning an entire Fantasy Axis of Evil with their mere presence. In the response, the five major races have banded together and defeating them is the overarching plot of the game.
  • Dragon's Dogma begins your village being attacked by a dragon. The return of the dragon symbolizes a period of strife after the long peace that the world has enjoyed for generations.
  • The backstory of Fire Emblem Elibe is that dragons and men used to live in peace, but then a war broke out 1000 years ago, and mankind sealed dragons away. In Eliwood's game, the plot eventually grows to the point where they have to stop Nergal from bringing dragons back into the world, because that would bring about another war between species that humanity isn't prepared for and, thus, the extinction of mankind.

Will go under Dragon Tropes and Plots.
Community Feedback Replies: 64
  • August 29, 2012
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
  • August 29, 2012
    animeg3282
    In Guards Guards the draco noblis is believed to be extinct...until someone summons one right into Ankh Morpork.

  • August 29, 2012
    CobraPrime
    It's a part of the background of Shadowrun, one of the first sign that the sixth world as arrived and magic as returned is when the dragons return. The first being when the Great Dragon Ryumyo is seen by 250 people aboard a Japanese bullet train.
  • August 29, 2012
    Shnakepup
    Film
    • In Reign Of Fire, dragons come back from extinction in the modern day and begin causing all kinds of chaos and havoc.
  • August 29, 2012
    StarSword
    Never mind the supplemental comic. The entire Dragon Age setting takes its name from this trope: dragons were believed extinct for centuries until the start of the current age.

    Also, I might suggest Not So Extinct as a related trope.
  • August 29, 2012
    StarSword
    Oh, and there's an episode of Supernatural where all the evidence (flying creatures, kidnapped virgins) points to dragons being the Monster Of The Week, but dragons are believed to be extinct.
  • August 29, 2012
    JohnDiFool
    Literature: Dragons in the Elric Mythos tend to spend almost all of their time sleeping (they have to, so as to recharge their energies, as in 1 day requires something like 10 years of sleep), only coming out of their caves during extreme crises.
  • August 29, 2012
    NimmerStill
    Isn't this a bit specific? Would other actually fictional monsters/animals coming back in the same way be under a separate trope? Like yetis or griffins or Godzilla or something?
  • August 29, 2012
    HonestGent
    Seconding the idea that we should broaden it out to include any fictional creatures returning after a long period of exile/extiction whatever. Dragons just seems so... specific. Tropes Are Flexible, after all.
  • August 29, 2012
    ccoa
    How is The Dragonriders Of Pern an example? It's Zero Context, so I can't see the reasoning. Dragons were never extinct or believed to be extinct in Pern's history. They did go down to one queen and one weyr once, but this trope implies that they have to actually be gone.
  • August 29, 2012
    Koveras
    @StarSword: So is this a straight example, a subversion, or what? We have spoiler tags...

    @NimmerStill, HonestGent: Give me examples. :) I picked dragons because I only ever saw the dragons returning plots, and because dragons are natural apex predator species, so their return always upsets the status quo of the setting, making for interesting plots.

    @ccoa: Huh. I was sure I read somewhere that they were extinct but the protagonists brought them back somehow... Truth be told, I have only ever started the first book but never got far, so thanks for correcting that example.
  • August 29, 2012
    ccoa
    The dragons numbers dwindled down to what was probably not a sustainable population, and the protagonists then bring back hundreds more in order to save the human race, but never extinct, no.

    I can think of a possible example involving gryphons. In the Heralds Of Valdemar series, no one living has ever seen a gryphon, although most cultures have legends or accounts of them being a friendly species. A mated pair showing up as advance scouts/diplomats, then, is a great shock to everyone.
  • August 29, 2012
    NimmerStill
    ^Maybe the Pern example is a Downplayed example then?
  • August 29, 2012
    HonestGent
    @Koveras Fair point, and I can't fault your logic, but I've seen a science fiction tv series (Primeval) about these rifts opening in time, which result in dinosaurs making a (frankly overdue :D) comeback. The plot then focuses on combating these events. Would that count as an example? I'm iffy on details, as I only had a passing interest in the show, but it reminds me of this.
  • August 29, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    I third the idea of expanding it to all mythical creatures returning.

    Tamora Pierce's The Immortals series is all about all sorts of species of magical creatures coming back from exile in the Divine Realms where they had been locked by human mages so long ago that people had started to think they were just myths.
  • August 29, 2012
    Jallen
    • I haven't seen it but isn't this the plot of; Dragonheart A New Beginning. In the previous title all the dragons where dead but some monks find a dragon egg and it hatches.

    • In The Legend Of Zelda Ocarina Of Time the ancient dragon Volvagia is revived by Gannondorf and generally causes problems for the inhabitants of unfortunately (but aptly) named Death Mountain. The official manga also adds more of a back story to this.
  • August 29, 2012
    KZN02
  • August 29, 2012
    randomsurfer
    At the beginning of The Inheritance Cycle it's generally thought that dragons are extinct, but the protagonist happens to accidentally steal and hatch the one dragon egg left. Then later it turns out that the evil emperor also has a dragon. I never got past the 2nd book so I don't know if they get together and make any more dragon babies.
  • August 30, 2012
    Rognik
    Guild Wars 2 has the dragons coming back in the 250 year gap from the first game. Defeating them is the overarching plot of the game.
  • August 30, 2012
    Koveras
    We already have a trope for "all mythical creatures returning". It's called The Magic Comes Back. The key part of this trope suggestion is the special place the dragons occupy in the supernatural food chain. That said, I am not opposed to including non-dragon species in the definition, as long as they occupy a position of the same cultural significance. For instance, the gryphons in the Valdemar example seem to fit (I can only judge from the write-up), while Ocarina of Time doesn't (from the write-up) because it appears to be about a single dragon (whose species may still be alive elsewhere).
  • August 30, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^I think this would be a subtrope of The Magic Comes Back because that's not explicitly mythical creatures and most of the stories listed as examples here always had magic - it's just the mythical creatures coming back which isn't quite the same thing.
  • August 30, 2012
    NimmerStill
    ^Yeah, and in theory you can have dragons, or other "mythical" creatures, but no magic. That is, mythical in Real Life but real (but formerly extinct, or whatever) in the fictional world, but not supernatural, just a different species that evolved in that universe to be terrifying. Like in Reign Of Fire.
  • August 30, 2012
    zennyrpg
    • Dragons Dogma begins your village being attacked by a dragon. The return of the dragon symbolizes a period of strife after the long peace that the world has enjoyed for generations.
  • August 30, 2012
    Koveras
    Pretty sure that the write-up already says it's a subtrope of The Magic Comes Back...
  • August 30, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ Yes and I agree with you on that, but I think the reason isn't because its the biggest and best mythical creatures coming back (I don't think that's a necessary distinction), just that the creatures have all gone away and then come back [which would still be distinct from The Magic Comes Back because the creatures can go away and come back without magic doing the same]. Sorry if that was unclear.
  • August 30, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ I am still confused... Are you still proposing that I expand the definition to any kind of extinct creatures rather than ones with considerable impact on status quo, like dragons and comparable apex predators?
  • August 31, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ I still think it should be any kind of extinct magical creature (but as a subtrope of The Magic Comes Back, not any kind of extinct creature, such as dinosaurs), however I just looked at Not So Extinct and it doesn't have many examples and some of them would end up here instead. Can you explain in what ways you had intended this trope to be different from Not So Extinct?
  • August 31, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Not So Extinct is exactly what you were describing: any kind of extinct creature (not necessarily magical or mythical) revealed to be still kicking. This is specifically about dragons and comparable apex predators whose reappearance carries not just academic significance but a major political and, often, existential impact on the society.

    For instance, in Skyrim, the dragons' return is a major disaster for the eponymous province; in Drakan, on the other hand, it spells the return of the ancient force for justice and peace; in A Song of Ice and Fire, they are used as a banner to gather The Horde. This kind of influence and power sets the dragons aside from chupacabras, black puddings, and comparable creatures from the Not So Extinct list.
  • August 31, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ "dragons and comparable apex predators whose reappearance carries not just academic significance but a major political and, often, existential impact on the society." - see I think that's a false distinction. When do dragons reappear and its only academic significance? What about the appearance of non-apex predators can't cause major political and existential impact?

    I see what you're saying about Not So Extinct. But now that just makes me think this is a case of The Same But More Specific.
  • August 31, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    From that page: "This is generally not a very good idea, since it can easily clutter the wiki with nigh-undistinguishable trope variations. On the other hand, if the added qualification is clear enough that the result is noticeably distinct from the original, then it becomes a Sub Trope." (emphasis added)

    It is, in fact, a case of TSBMS; but that isn't an automatic death sentence. Look at all the dragon-specific examples.
  • August 31, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ Yes, but look at how sparse Not So Extinct is already and then check how many of those examples are dragons.
  • August 31, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    They overlap a lot. Seems like dragons specifically can mean something different.
  • September 1, 2012
    Koveras
    "When do dragons reappear and its only academic significance?" Rarely. Hence this trope: "Instant epic plot, just add dragons!" You see, just "Dragons return" is Not So Extinct, but "Dragons return -> major power shifts occur" is this trope. It's not my fault whoever launched Not So Extinct didn't bother to gather all the dragon-specific examples beforehand. Now I did and I plan to launch it as a noticeably distinct subtrope, while Not So Extinct is to be populated with all the more general examples.

    "What about the appearance of non-apex predators can't cause major political and existential impact?" It can't, indeed. There are no examples on the contrary here.
  • September 1, 2012
    Rognik
    ^^^^I would be more concerned if there were more examples of dragons actually listed on that page, but most of the examples are not dragons. Whether they should be or not, I don't know. Still, there is something to be said about how iconic dragons are. Both eastern and western cultures have dragons, while there are few other mythological creatures shared before the two societies met. Plus, mentioning dragons has generated this many replies whereas that page has painfully few entries at all.
  • September 1, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^^""What about the appearance of non-apex predators can't cause major political and existential impact?" It can't, indeed. There are no examples on the contrary here." - The Tamora Pierce example does. All sorts of immortal creatures return causing major political and social upheaval and questions about whether humans were stepping on the gods' toes by locking them away in the first place. In fact the only mythical creatures who don't cause political and social upheaval are the dragons who despite being able to cross into the mortal realms again, choose not to.
  • September 2, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Inversion, then.
  • September 2, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ You're trying to make 2 really ridiculous assertions, without which, you have no definition for this trope that isn't just Not So Extinct: 1) that dragons are unique because only they can have major political and existential impact, and 2) that dragons, when they appear, will always be the apex predator.
  • September 2, 2012
    HonestGent
    ^To be fair, any large predator that reappears after a long period of extiction should be at the top of the food chain, as their absence would mean they have no natural predator. The "Dragon" (using Dragon as a placeholder title for the returning animal) could then just live off existing food chains.
  • September 2, 2012
    Koveras
    ^^ I am making these "ridiculous assertions" on the basis of fifteen examples taken straight out of fiction. We are discussing fiction here, not fantasy ecology and biology, remember?

    ^ You are correct, but the time span the newcomer species remains on top of the food chain depends on how large the specimen are and how good they are adapted to hunting. Dragons are usually larger than most land-based mammals and possess a number of traits that make them dangerous hunters, like flight, fire breath, and often intelligence (and thus magical abilities) on par or higher than that of humans. If that doesn't make them the biggest and baddest beasts of the setting who can wipe out entire cities and countries if they so desire, it places them very damn close to that.
  • September 2, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ I am perfectly aware that TV Tropes is about fiction. I am also aware that only 3 of the examples you claim support your assertions state anything about the impact of the creatures' return (and one of those, you've listed as an inversion) - the rest are all just "In X, the dragons come back," which isn't distinct from Not So Extinct.
  • September 2, 2012
    animeg3282
    Uh...in Guards Guards the dragon is named king of Anhk Morpork under the THEY WILL GIVE GOLD OR I'LL FLAME rule...
  • September 2, 2012
    Koveras
    ^^ Those three are the only examples I am familiar with myself. For the rest, I would ask other tropers to expand their original examples, kinda like animeg3282 just did, and I will add them to the write-up.
  • September 2, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ Okay, but you can't list examples that, as they are, would be misuse of the trope otherwise this would need a TRS thread from the moment it launched. Maybe you can find enough examples of dragons used exactly as you claim for it to qualify as its own trope, but you can't do that by listing examples that apparently are plain Not So Extinct - both because they belong on that page, and because other tropers are much more likely to emulate the bad examples than fill them in to make them good examples.
  • September 2, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Thank you, mom.

    @All: You heard him, tropers! Please give me more details on the impact that the return of the dragons has on the society of the respective settings in the already listed examples.

    Or, if you give me three more hats, I shall launch it as it is. :)
  • September 2, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    I think that is a good point. Examples that don't say why they're different from Not So Extinct don't count towards "this is something different" credibility just because they're dragons.
  • September 3, 2012
    Rognik
    You want me to expand on mine? I can do that. I thought I made mine pretty clear (and as such hopefully am one of "the three" that are valid), but I can make it clear.

    • In Guild Wars 2, elder dragons have awoken in the 250 Time Skip from the original Guild Wars and made the world more dangerous. Their mere existence have transformed the landscape and usually generated dangerous creatures in the area. Jormag, the ice giant, is guarded by living ice creatures, many of which were once humanoid. When Kralkatorrik awoke, the land beneath him got scarred and turned the living beasts caught in its wake into horrible crystalline beasts; his current roost in the Crystal Desert is now green once more. Zhaitan, the Big Bad of the first chapter, raised the continent of Orr, previously sunk in the backstory of GW 1, and sends out undead minions to destroy all living beings. As such, the five major races have banded together to fight and destroy the dragons and have peace return to the land.

    Detailed enough for you? I'm sure you don't need all of it, so pick and choose the parts to give it sufficient detail.
  • September 3, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Thank you, Rognik, your example was one of the better ones. :)
  • September 11, 2012
    Koveras
    Bump. Hats or example expansions, please?
  • September 11, 2012
    acrobox
    Fire Emblem Elibe: The basic backstory is that dragons and man used to live in peace, but then a war broke out between the two species 1000 years ago, and mankind sealed dragons away. In Eliwood's game the plot eventually grew to the point where they had to stop Nergal from bringing dragons back into the world.
  • September 11, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Because, presumably, that would bring about another species-wide war?
  • September 11, 2012
    acrobox
    because it would bring about a species wide war that the humans weren't prepared for. So essentially it would be the extinction of mankind. Of course the Big Bad had it worked out that he would be on the dragons side.
  • October 10, 2012
    Koveras
    Well, instead of expanding the examples, I have expanded the write-up to include the most common plots/conflicts associated with the dragons' return, as evident from said examples.
  • October 10, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    Slightly different; in Merlin, the Dragon Lords were believed extinct, until Emiris (Merlin) was discovered to be a really, really, powerful one. There's also a hidden dragon because they were all killed when magic was banned.
  • October 10, 2012
    lilliterra
    In The Dragons of Noor by Janet Lee Carey, this is pretty much the main plot.
  • October 11, 2012
    partner555
    In the book series Deltora Quest, the plot of the third set of books revolves around awakening the last of Deltora's questions who went to slumber because their kind was getting killed of by the Shadow Lord to destroy the Four Sisters which were planted by the Shadow Lord.
  • October 11, 2012
    Koveras
    ^^^ That would be more of a Last Of His Kind example IMO.

    ^^ Can you elaborate a bit on which exactly plot it is? Is it one that I listed in the write-up?

    ^ Added.
  • October 11, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    ^^^^ And that's basically series 2 (I think), with it contributing to other plots and elements of the episodes in the more recent seasons.
  • October 24, 2012
    Koveras
    @Whoever removed their hat: Can you explain your concern?
  • October 24, 2012
    SonofRojBlake

    Seriously? Nobody mentioned Game of Thrones yet?
  • October 24, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ It's an adaptation of A Song Of Ice And Fire, which has been included as far back as my original write-up.
  • October 24, 2012
    JMQwilleran
    Re: Inheritance Cycle - there are many more dragons. The king had two eggs left over, and both eventually hatched, and in the final book it was revealed that there was a whole cache of secret dragon eggs, which were re-claimed once Galbatorix was defeated.
  • October 25, 2012
    StarSword
    EDIT: Never mind.
  • October 25, 2012
    JMQwilleran
    I give you a hat, and I say launch it - seems to me it's ready for primetime.
  • October 26, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ Thank you.
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