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Literature / Dracopedia

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Dracopedia is a book series by the late William O'Connor, which includes a number of art books and in-universe field guides depicting a world in which dragons and other fantasy creatures exist on Earth alongside more mundane wildlife as relatively natural organisms. The art books serve as much as collections of O'Connor's work and the fictional taxonomy of fantasy creatures as they do as how-to guides for drawing them.

The books in this series are:

  • The first book, titled Dracopedia: A Guide to Drawing the Dragons of the World (2009), takes a cladistic approach to dragons, dividing them into a number of families and species based on various incarnations of dragons in mythology and modern culture, such as the archetypal great dragons, the wingless drakes, the diminutive feydragons, the legless amphipteres, and the vicious wyverns.
  • The second book, Dracopedia: The Great Dragons (2012), goes into more detail about the eight different species of great dragons defined by the series, along with their cultural impact, lifestyles, and design inspirations.
  • The third book is Dracopedia: The Bestiary (2013), which contains O'Connor's takes on a variety of non-dragon mythical creatures like griffins and unicorns, though unlike the previous two books, it does not give any evolutionary history for them, with some of them remaining as Mix-and-Match Critters rather than being interpreted as more natural life forms.
  • A fourth book, Dracopedia: Legends, was published in 2018. It presents a variety of different dragon myths and stories from around the world, with a custom art piece for each of them alongside supporting material like sketch studies and the creation process for the final illustrations.
  • The fifth and final book in the series, Dracopedia Field Guide, was published in 2019 following O'Connor's passing. It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin, though it also includes information and illustrations of new species and varieties of dragons not mentioned in the previous books.

More information on the book series and its creator can be found on the official website.

This work contains examples of:

  • Basilisk and Cockatrice:
    • Basilisks are eight-legged, flightless dragons that mostly inhabit deserts. They can squirt a powerful neurotoxin from glands next to their eyes, which can induce total paralysis in most other animals, which has given rise to myths about their ability to petrify others with a glance. Their bite is also highly poisonous, and contains the same neurotoxin. Salamanders are a subgroup of basilisks which mostly live around volcanoes.
    • Cockatrices are entirely unrelated animals, and are instead crossbreeds of domestic chickens and amphipteres. They can't turn people to stone; the myth just got started as a result of their being very ugly.
    • Dracopedia: The Bestiary also details the Tarrasque, which it speculates to be in fact a gargantuan species of Basilisk that somehow crossed the Mediterranean to southern France from the Sahara. Only one has ever been recorded, that being the one subdued by St. Martha, depicted here as an enormous six-legged, club-tailed turtle-like creature that slowly meanders through the landscape consuming everything in its path.
  • Beast of Battle: Siege drakes are a large — five meters long — drake species originally bred for use in battle, where their primarily role was pulling cannons, siege engines and chariots.
  • Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: The Yeti is included in Dracopedia: The Bestiary, depicted as a white shaggy-furred ape with horns and tusks.
  • Breath Weapon:
    • Great dragons possess the unique ability to "breathe" fire (as the books note, it would be more appropriate to describe them as spitting fire) by producing a very volatile compound in glands at the sides of their mouths, which bursts into fire on contact with oxygen and which they can spit at a distance of thirty meters. They don't have infinite supplies of this stuff, however, and can typically only manage a single gout per day.
    • Wyrms can exhale clouds of toxic gas.
  • Catlike Dragons: The Alphyn from Dracopedia: The Bestiary, an extinct cousin of the Drakes from Europe resembling a wingless dragon mixed with a wolf and a lion. Popularly depicted in heraldry, it was a swift-moving grasslands predator that ultimately vanished due to competition with drakes and wolves.
  • Classical Chimera: Appears in Dracopedia: The Bestiary, depicted with a dragon's wings and body, a snake for a tail, and two heads - one of a fire-breathing lion and the other of a red-eyed goat.
  • Doing In the Wizard: The books attempt to remain fairly grounded in real-life biology, so a lot of the more magical powers of dragons and similar creatures are explained as more mundane biological quirks or simply in-universe myths. Additionally, in Dracopedia: The Bestiary, monsters that have human-like features in the original legends are made more animal-like; for instance, the Jorogumo is changed from a half-human, half-spider to a Giant Spider with a pattern resembling a human face on its abdomen (which itself is approximately the size of a human head).
  • Dragon Hoard: Most dragons will instinctively gather shiny objects with which to line their nests or dens.
  • Dragon Rider: While most dragon species can't be tamed by people, dragonettes — a family of smaller winged dragons with a bipedal, theropod-like stance — are more easily domesticated thanks to their social habits, herbivorous diet and low intelligence, and many species have been tamed to serve as flying steeds, with distinct breeds being specialized as racers, airborne cavalry, couriers and draft animals. Dragonette riding was once very widespread, but has largely faded from prominence due to the invention of airplanes and mostly survives among racers and private enthusiasts.
  • Dragon Variety Pack: Dragons are divided into thirteen groups, each containing several species.
    • The classic western dragons are referred to as great dragons, with the iconic fire-breathing red dragon being the Welsh species. Similar to them are the dragonettes, which stand on their hind legs and are usually domesticated as mounts. There are also the bipedal wyverns, which unlike dragonettes lack forearms altogether, the serpentine wyrms, and the wingless drakes, which are another group of domesticated dragons.
    • Eastern dragons are divided into the scaly, serpentine Asian dragons and the furry, wingless arctic dragons. The latter are stated to have been historically confused with the former.
    • Amphipteres are serpentine dragons that possess wings but no limbs, while coatls are a feathered offshoot of the group originating from the Americas. There are also the tiny feydragons, which possess butterfly-like wings.
    • Rounding off the dragon types are the wingless, multi-limbed basilisks, the sea serpent-inspired sea orcsnote , and the multi-headed hydras.
    • Cockatrices are also mentioned as a crossbreed of a rooster and a dragonette, while salamanders are considered a species of basilisk. The Tarasque is in ''Dracopedia: The Bestiary", where it is depicted as a turtle-like beast that eats everything in its path and speculated to have possibly been a giant basilisk.
  • Endangered Species: Many dragon species are endangered, often critically so, or outright extinct in the wild, due to overhunting, drops in the populations of their prey species, or habitat loss.
  • Fairy Dragons: Feydragons are tiny insect-like dragons with four turreted wings, giving them high mobility in flight, and bioluminescent tail tips. Since the books heavily focus on Mundane Fantastic, it is noted to be popular for boy scout troops and garden clubs to make little birdhouses for them.
  • Feathered Dragons: Acadian green dragons grow thick feathered ruffs over their heads and necks, which grow especially long and colored in males for mating displays.
  • Feathered Serpent: Feathered serpents are a species of dragon known as coatyls. They're subjected to Doing In the Wizard, as they weren't gods, but rather relatively normal animals that had a symbiotic relationship with the Aztec people — the coatyls took up residence in Aztec temples, wherein they ate vermin such as rats and bugs. The Aztecs, in turn, protected, housed and fed the serpents, holding them sacred and worshiping them, similar to cats in Ancient Egypt. Two other feathered serpent species are mentioned, namely a four-winged Egyptian variant (based on heiroglyphics that depicted winged serpents) and, unusually, The Phoenix. Unfortunately, the Aztec and Egyptian coatyls are critically endangered due to the destruction of their habitats, while the phoenix is so rare that it's thought to be extinct. The book mentions the "International Coatyl Fund" as an organization fighting to bring them back from the brink of extinction.
  • Fiery Salamander: Salamanders are a subgroup of basilisks that possess ten legs instead of the basilisks' usual eight. They live around volcanoes and tend to be very localized, with distinct species inhabited the areas around Mounts Aetna, Vesuvius, Fuji and Kilauea. They can withstand intense heat, and often lair within steam vents and geothermal springs to avoid predators.
  • Food Chain of Evil: Some dragon species habitually hunt other dragons. Zmey, for instance, often prey on the closely related Kirin, while wyverns prefer dragonettes to all other prey.
  • Hellhound: Dracopedia: The Bestiary includes them as "Freybug", noting "hellhound" and "warg" to be alternate names for the creature. The art depicts a scaly wolf with glowing eyes and fiery breath.
  • Kirin: Kilin are a species of arctic dragon, a group of dragons distinguished by thick coats of fur, which possess shorter bodies and tails and longer legs than other arctic dragon species. Two main species exist, both native to Siberia; the common kilin (also called kirin, kylin, quilin, quirin and Chinese unicorn), which have a single, backward-pointing, two-branched antler and live in large herds; and the much larger and rarer great white kilin, which possess a large crown of antlers and has been hunted into near-extinction for its horns.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: Both are present in Dracopedia: The Bestiary.
    • The Kraken, also known as the titanic squid, is a fearsome 200 feet-long predator capable of feeding on whales and sea orcs and infamous for taking down ships. Its body is covered in crab-like armor to protect it from sperm whales during its juvenile stages. However, the development of mechanized ships and industrialized whaling in the 19th century led to its extinction as humans deprived the Kraken of its main food and were no longer threatened by the possibility of being pulled into the ocean.
    • The Leviathan is depicted as a colossal mosasaur-like animal so vast that whole ecosystems of kelp-like material grow on its back and pods of whales accompany it in the same way remoras accompany sharks. As it rarely ever comes to the surface, very little is known about it, and it is speculated to be either a relative of plesiosaurs or extinct whales like Basilosaurus.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The Zburator of Dracopedia: The Bestiary, a creature from Romania with the upper body of a wolf and the lower body of a dragon.
  • Orochi: The Yamato no Orochi, or Japanese hydra, is a species of hydra native to Japan, South Korea, Sakhalin and Kamchatka. They resemble giant salamanders with necks branching into many small heads, and grow to around three meters long. They mostly hunt by hiding near riverbanks and snatching small animals as they pass by, and have become critically endangered due to habitat loss as a result of heavy industrial development in their natural habitats.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons are a widespread clade of reptilian animals, aren't sapient, and are extremely diverse, coming in a great variety of sizes, body plans and niches.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: Featured in Dracopedia: The Bestiary.
    • Griffins are pretty much what you'd expect. They're large predators that dwell in the mountains of Europe hunting fish and game, only to have gone extinct in the Renaissance period for unknown reasons. There is also speculation of the existence of an American species due to the prominence of eagle-like deities in American mythologies.
    • Hippogriffs are described as herbivorous cousins of the Griffin, with their equine body being more like a wild mustang in contrast to the more elegant purebred form of the Pegasus.
  • Our Hippocamps Are Different: Or as Dracopedia: The Bestiary calls them, "Waterhorses", elusive herbivorous denizens of Scottish lochs with horse-like heads, powerful front flippers, eel-like lower bodies, and crests on their heads similar to those of dinosaurs like Parasaurolophus. They also have phosphorescent spots along their backs, giving rise to the legend of waterhorses that cooperate with will-o'-the-wisps to lure humans to their doom.
  • Our Hydras Are Different: Hydras are a family of dragons distinguished by possessing multiple heads per body. Typically, hydras are born with two and grow more as they age and become larger; they can regrow severed heads, but this takes them about a year and thus isn't very useful during combat. Their multiple heads allow the animal to remain constantly aware of its environment by taking turns sleeping, but their small size compared to the rest of the body mean that hydras are notoriously small-brained and unintelligent. They mostly live around bodies of water, such as swamps, rivers and the sea, and use their long necks to fish for prey. Most possess stout, dinosaur-like bodies, but others are snakelike and limbless. Notable species include the European bull hydra, considered the archetypal hydra in-universe; the salamander-like Japanese orochi; the three-headed, short-necked cerebrus [sic] hydra, often kept as a guard animal, which unlike other hydras never grows additional heads; the stout-bodied medusan hydra; the winged hydra; the Indiana hydra or naga; the snake-bodied Lernaean hydra, which ambushes prey by hanging from tree branches; and the marine hydra of Melanesia, which spends most of its life in the sea.
  • Our Manticores Are Spinier: Dracopedia: The Bestiary depicts them as having the front bodies of tigers, the hind bodies and wings of dragons, and scorpion-like tails, as well as human-like ears and noses. They are described as fierce predators from the Middle East that developed a taste for human flesh as a result of frequently coming into contact with human settlements to hunt livestock, resulting in them going extinct during Roman times when humans hunted them all down.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: According to Dracopedia: The Bestiary, the vampires of Gothic literature are not accurate depictions of true vampires. Rather, real vampires are hairless, dog-sized bat-like monstrosities with 10-foot wingspans whose forms are more accurately captured by gargoyle statues. Despite their size, they are powerful enough to lift off with children and small animals, while also feeding on the blood of larger creatures like cattle.
  • Our Wyverns Are Different: Wyverns are bipedal, winged, armless dragons with tails ending in poisonous stingers — the North American species can kill an ox with a single sting. They're highly aggressive predators, and considered to be the most dangerous dragons to common people; this, combined with their tendency to live in packs, has led to them being referred to as dragon wolves. Wyvern packs are capable of successfully competing with the much larger and stronger, but solitary, great dragons, and wyverns often prey on smaller dragon species. Most are bipedal, but the Asian species moves on all fours like a bat.
  • Pegasus: Included in Dracopedia: The Bestiary, notably having feathers on its tail, mane, and legs to complement the wings.
  • The Phoenix: Phoenixes are a species of coatyl, and consequently resemble winged, feathered serpents with avian heads and scarlet plumage. They don't rise from the dead as in myth; rather, phoenix shells are very thick to ward off predators, and the chick breaks free by burning them open from inside and thus appears to rise from a pyre. The parent phoenix often refuses to leave the nest during this and burns alive, giving rise to the myth that phoenixes immolate themselves and rise again as newborn chicks.
  • Roc Birds: Rather than simply an oversized eagle, Dracopedia: The Bestiary portrays them as much more dinosaur-like, with winged arms and a smaller pair of wings on their legs. They are speculated to be related to feathered dinosaurs like Microraptor or possible a feathered species of dragon.
  • Sea Serpents: Sea orcs (in archaic English, "orc" was a general word for "sea monster", and is derived from the Latin "orca") are marine dragons that typically grow very long and serpentine, with legs adapted into fishlike fins. They spend most of their lives in the sea, only returning to shore to lay eggs, and can grow to immense sizes. Notable species include the jormungander, which at over 150 meters is the largest sea orc species around and spends most of its life in the deep ocean; the much smaller frilled sea orc, which is a popular target for sport fishing; and the electric sea orc, which lives in the Amazon river and can channel electricity to kill prey. A subfamily, the Cetusidae, posses more compact torsos and well-developed limbs; named species include the Scottish sea dragon, which mostly inhabits Northern European lakes, and the sea lion, which possess a large mane and a single pair of muscular limbs.
  • Shedu and Lammasu: Dracopedia: The Bestiary describes them as being two related creatures from the Middle East that have historically been confused together. The Shedu resmebles a lion with shimmering wings and draconic hindquarters, lacking any of the human-like features of its mythological counterpart, while the Lamassu is more properly referred to as the Buraq and is instead shown as a winged bull with a feathery tail.
  • Shoulder-Sized Dragon: Some dragon species are fairly small — some amphipteres don't grow much past thirty centimeters in wingspan, and feydragons are usually in the same size range as medium-sized birds.
  • Shout-Out: Dracopedia: The Bestiary includes two creatures from pop culture that have integrated themselves well into fantasy among actual mythical creatures: the winged monkeys from The Wizard of Oz (known as "imps") and the owlbear from Dungeons & Dragons (as "owlursus").
  • Snake People: Subverted. Nagas are shown in Dracopedia: The Bestiary to have humanoid torsos and arms (four arms, in fact), but distinctly snake-like heads.
  • Taxonomic Term Confusion: The books' use of taxonomic terms is rather messy. Primarily, they confuse genuses and families and assign binomial names to both individual species and individual genuses/families.
    • Firstly, the books sort dragons into broad groups, such as amphipteres, great dragons, hydras and so on, that they call "families", and then within each family describes specific types that they call "species". In taxonomy, a "family" is rank used to group together genuses; genuses, in turn, group together species. However, all species within each of the book's families share the first part of their binomial names, which in biology identifies the genus — all amphipteres are Amphipterus [something], all great dragons are Dracorex [something], and so on. Most real families consist of separate genusesnote . Some families do only include a single genus, but this is typically the exception and it stretches credibility that every individual family in the book would be a single-genus one.
    • Secondly, each family/genus is given an italicized, binomial name in the form of Draco [name], and each individual species within it is then [Name] [other name]. For instance, the great dragon "family" as a whole is referred to as Draco dracorexus, while the Welsh red, a specific species of great dragon, is Dracorexus idraigoxus. In real taxonomies, families do not receive binomial names — family names are not italicized, end in -idaenote  and are not included in the names of the genuses and species within them. Anything above the genus level would just be referred to as "[species x], in family y, in order z, etc." Assuming that the great dragon family does happen to include a single genus, correct nomenclature would be to call it something like Dracorexidae and then name its individual species Dracorex [species name].
  • Tsuchigumo and Jorogumo: The Jorogumo in Dracopedia: The Bestiary, here depicted as an armored orb weaver spider with an abdomen the size of a human head and decorated with a pattern resembling a woman's face, which is described as the origin of the legend that they transform into beautiful women to seduce prey.
  • Unicorn: Featured in Dracopedia: The Bestiary. While pretty standard in appearance, these denizens of European woodlands are highly territorial and extremely ferocious when cornered or provoked. Hunters frequently pursued them for their horns, believing they had magical properties.
  • Will-o'-the-Wisp: Willowisps are a species of feydragons native to marshes, with bioluminescent tail tips and throat sacks. They feature in many folktales and legends, but hunting for their luminous glands has devastated their populations and they're believed to be extinct.