"I'd rather be eaten by a dragon," she muttered.
"That can be arranged," said a voice from beside her left slipper.
This is one of the older tropes. Everyone knows how the typical Dragon myth goes. Either a dragon steals a princess or a princess is given to that dragon as an offering. Where the story goes from there is not always so clear, but the beginning is where the trope lies.
For some reason, dragons just have an attraction to princesses. Maybe royal blood tastes better. Maybe virgins taste better. Maybe they want someone to talk to. Maybe it's just a status symbol. Whatever the reason, they tend to show up in each other's company.note
In some cases, the sacrifice of princesses to a dragon may be a periodic thing, and several will have been fed to the beast before a hero comes along and saves the latest.
In medieval stories, this often goes hand in hand with Dragons Versus Knights.
This trope is often a setup for the Standard Hero Reward to whoever saves the princess.
- In Fairy Tail the dragon Zirconis states that men taste horrible when he chooses to disrobe (clothes also taste bad) Lucy so he can eat her. He also listens to Princess Hisui and takes the title she offers him later on.
- Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: Tohru complains about this stereotype when she first meets Kobayashi.
Tohru: Yesh! Don't think that all dragons are lolicons who ask for little girl sacrifices!! Princess moe my ass!!
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In one story, there's a school play about a princess who was captured by a dragon. Several accidents with the scenery force the students to rewrite the story so that a whirlwind carries the princess to the dragon's lair.
- In The Brothers Grimm's "The Two Brothers", one brother wins a princess by rescuing her from the dragon. She's the last of a long line of maidens sacrificed, a common element in this sort of story.
- In The Three Dogs, the hero fights a dragon and saves a princess.
- In The Three Princes and their Beasts, the oldest prince kills a dragon and saves a princess.
- In The Nine Pea-Hens and the Golden Apples, the prince rescues a princess from a dragon. When it chases after them, their horses talk, and the dragon's horse is persuaded to throw and kill it.
- In The Little Bull-Calf, a boy runs away from his wicked stepfather with the calf, because his father gave it to him, and with its advice succeeds in killing the dragon.
- In The Flower Queen's Daughter, a prince enters the service of a three-headed female dragon with the intent of rescuing the princess that she's holding captive. Unlike most fairy tale examples of this trope, the hero does not kill any dragons. Instead, he flees with her on horseback and returns her to her mother the Flower Queen, who helps repel the dragon.
- Rescue: Hilariously subverted: the knight has to save the dragoness from the princess she's holding captive... and this somehow winds up with them becoming two of Discord's grandparents.
- Dungeon Keeper Ami: Princess Julia is saved from a dragon by Jadeite, and wants to be returned there for some reason.
- Dragonslayer (1981). A kingdom chooses which virginal young woman will be sacrificed to a dragon by drawing lots. When Princess Elspeth learns that the King has made sure her name is never included in the lottery, she rigs it so that her name is chosen, and voluntarily goes to the dragon. Unfortunately she pays the price for her honesty and is eaten by the dragon's babies.
- Merlin (1998):
- Invoked by Queen Mab, who convinces King Vortigern that the only way to keep his tower from collapsing is by sacrificing his hostage Nimue — who while not technically a princess, is the daughter of a high-ranking lord — to the Great Dragon.
- Played with (and arguably subverted) in that, while the dragon certainly seems to enjoy barbecuing Nimue, the sacrifice itself was merely a ploy to bait Merlin into breaking his oath and use magic - particularly since it's later revealed that the reason behind the tower's inability to stand is purely mundane in nature.
- Enchanted Forest Chronicles: Played with. While dragons do traditionally kidnap princesses, Cimorene fled to the dragons in Dealing with Dragons to escape traditional life as a princess and forge her own path. Most of the princesses are in fact captives and rather silly. A later book in the series also establishes that the stereotype of dragons eating princesses is untrue (which makes sense, given that the first book explains that there aren't enough princesses to go around). The first book also lampshades the Standard Hero Reward aspect with one character speculating that it's surprising that more princesses aren't voluntarily working for dragons, since it pretty much guarantees a good marriage, although another surmises that part of the reason most don't is that their life expectancy drops significantly if the dragon happens to lose its temper.
- Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms: As the books are based on traditional myths and fairy tales, most evil dragons find themselves forced to capture a maiden, preferably a princess, at some point. This forms a major plot point in the second book, One Good Knight, which is 1/3 the myth of Andromeda, 1/3 George and the Dragon (although the dragon didn't actually have much choice in the matter, being under a compulsion at the time) and 1/3 trying very hard NOT to have the endings of either of those legends happen.
- The Dragon Hoard has a Story Within a Story about a princess who is kidnapped by a dragon. She inadvertently wins her freedom when she tries to mollify it by spinning straw into gold; it turns out the dragon is allergic to gold, and it lets her go before she can do any more damage.
- The Paper Bag Princess: Gender-inverted. A dragon carries off Prince Ronald, and Princess Elizabeth sets out to rescue him.
- In Guards! Guards!, it's mentioned that noble dragons prefer to eat females of noble blood because they taste better. (On the other hand, this being a Discworld book, there has to be a little bit of parody. There are no actual princesses in Ankh-Morpork; the closest is its richest woman, Lady Sybil. And people who want to offer Lady Sybil to a dragon are not going to have an easy time of it. Nor are the poor souls whose idea was to ask Vetinaris aunt.)
- In John Moore's Slay and Rescue, dragons capturing princesses is such a common problem that Prince Charming has rescues down to a fine art, even though he's still too young (and too polite) to ask any of the princesses for the reward he'd really like.
- In Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, one figure on the clock is a princess, a dragon's prisoner — no sign of the knight yet.
- In Backyard Dragon by Betsy Sterman, the generally nice dragon Wyrdryn, who comes from the past, admits that in his time it's simply expected for kings to occasionally offer up their daughters for him to eat. When the protagonist introduces Wyrdryn to his friends he specifically notes that the group's one girl is not a princess.
- An inversion in Dragon In Distress: The dragon doesn't want a princess, it's Princess Florinara Tansimasa Qasilava Delagordune who wants the dragon.
- In Zog by Julia Donaldson, kidnapping princesses is an essential part of dragon education. The dragon of the title, who has failed everything so far and been bandaged up by a Rebellious Princess who wants to be a doctor, becomes her flying ambulance instead.
- In Gene Wolfe's Wizard Knight, the dragon Grengarm from Muspel is offered the life of Princess Morgaine by the Aelf from Aelfrice. As per normal Gene Wolfe, the trope's form is utilized but nothing about the circumstances is normal. The dragon has a reason for wanting the princess (access to Mythgarthr), the offerers have a real reason for offering her (favour from their god), and Sir Able has a reason for trying to rescue her (to keep the sword his love has promised him). Morgaine is a very unconventional princess, not in the least virginal or needing protection, and Able is really a boy and not interested in Morgaine.
- The speculative-science book The Flight of Dragons by Peter Dickinson (quite different from, though related to, the film of that name) offers an explanation of why Dragons Prefer Princesses: it's the diamonds. The real-world dragons he theorizes used hydrogen gas for lift, which they got by breaking down large quantities of limestone in special acidic stomachs. To break the limestone into chunks for easier digestion, they had a crop like a bird's, but where birds have gravel in their crops to grind their food, the dragons needed something harder: yep, diamonds. When humans tried offering them tribute to get them to stop raiding their towns, they figured out that a pretty girl bedecked in diamonds was the ticket. Too bad they didn't figure out they could have offered the diamonds without the girl. (This also explains the dragon's hoard of gold: it's the discards, after the diamonds have been pried out.)
- In The Two Princesses of Bamarre, Princess Addie allows herself to be kidnapped by and kept as a pet/companion by the dragon Vollys, intending to stay long enough to learn a cure for the plague sweeping the land but escape before Vollys decides to eat her. Like with the St. George example below, Vollys doesn't prey exclusively on princesses (the previous humans she kept with her were pretty much anyone she managed to kidnap, starting with a chair maker). Addie just happened to be the latest she caught.
- The InCryptid series takes this in a new direction. The women found around dragon lairs, commonly known as Dragon Princesses, are a species of Cryptid that happen to look human, and have a symbiotic relationship with dragons. Both require gold to maintain their health for unknown reasons, so the princesses gather the gold, and the dragons protect it. Later investigations reveal that the dragon princesses are actually female dragons.
- In Jonathan Coulton's "The Princess Who Saved Herself", the princess responds by tying the dragon's tail to a tree and giving him a good talking to.
- This is apparently Older Than Dirt: in Mesopotamian Mythology, a dragon named Kur kidnaps the beautiful goddess Ereshkigal and takes her to the Netherworld, forcing her to become the queen of the plane for eternity. In a twist, although the dragon is defeated by Enki and she later gains some sympathetic moments in her interactions with Nergal, she is technically never rescued from her prison. Though given that she has turned it into a full fledged kingdom, it's easy to guess why she doesn't want to go anymore.
- In Greek Mythology:
- Andromeda was nearly fed to the sea dragon Cetus to punish her mother, who had bragged that Andromeda was more beautiful than the Nereids. (A bad move, since Poseidon was married to one.) Luckily Perseus happened to be passing by and agrees to kill the monster in exchange for Andromeda's hand in marriage.
- The king of Troy cheated Apollo and Poseidon out of their payment for creating the walls of Troy. They sent a sea dragon to plague him until he sacrificed his daughter Hesione to it, except that Heracles happened by. Alas for the king, he then tried to cheat Heracles, and Heracles sacked Troy for it.
- A genderflipped version exists in the myth of Sybaris, a she-dragon terrorising the countryside around Delphi. When the people asked Apollo how to get rid of the dragon, the god told them to sacrifice a young man to the beast. Handsome Alkyoneus was chosen by lot and as he was led to the dragon's cave to be sacrificed, a brave young man happened to cross their path who fell in love with Alkyoneus and demanded to be sacrificed in his stead.
- In the popular medieval legend of Saint George and the Dragon, there is a town the inhabitants of which appease a dragon living in a nearby lake by giving it their sons and daughters as food. St. George, a soldier/knight, comes by just in time to rescue the king's daughter by defeating the dragon. The dragon has no preference for royalty and eats humans or cattle indiscriminately; that the princess is chosen just the day George visits the town is sheer coincidence.
- Japanese Mythology: Replace dragon with mountain-tall eight-headed mead-drinking hydra and you get the story of Orochi.
- Inverted in Chinese Mythology, where dragons are more likely to rape middle aged men. No, seriously.
- The pinball machine Medieval Madness has a ramp devoted to saving various damsels from dragons. The quality of the princesses vary.
- The Dark Eye: The more powerful dragons occasionally do this. However, they're typically after entertainment, not food, and prefer nobility because they tend to be better conversationalists.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- There's at least one supplement that mentions a dragon who, using her natural shapeshifting, would disguise herself as a maiden, either as a trap or to be "rescued" by a knight. This may be inspired by Fridge Logic or the legend of Melusine.
- Of the five varieties of evil dragons in the game, red dragons are the species most likely to kidnap maidens; like most dragons, they can eat anything, but they claim that female humans and young elves taste best.
- New World of Darkness: The unofficial supplement Dragon: The Embers gives a justification to this trope; in this universe, Dragons draw power from having subordinates worshiping them, which they frequently accomplish by collecting "Maidens" to trap in a life of subservience. With a princess, they could force a lot more people to worship them than they could with just, say, a housemaid.
- Choice of Games: Played with. One of the choices offered to the player character is whether to be the kind of dragon that kidnaps princesses. Options include "Yes, because it's Traditional" and "In the interests of gender equality, half the time I kidnap princes instead". The game also explores the motives for kidnapping royalty, including "It's all about companionship and good conversation" standing out from the more traditional answers.
- Super Mario Bros. deserves an honorable mention, even though Bowser isn't a typical kind of dragon.
Bowser: I will kidnap the princess again and again until I get it right, and nobody can stop me! Losing isn't an option, and neither is giving up!
- Dragon Quest I: The hero's first mission is to rescue the princess from the evil dragon that captured her. This is only half the game, though, as you still need to defeat the Dragonlord.
- In King's Bounty The Legend, Princess Amelie fears that she may be kidnapped by a dragon, as she's a princess, but is sure that the main character will save her. At the very end, she is kidnapped and taken hostage by Haas, the Big Bad dragon.
- In King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human, the three-headed dragon demands a maiden be sacrificed each year. King Graham decides to leave his daughter, Princess Rosella, tied at the stake to be eaten by the dragon.
- Dragon's Lair, of course, has Princess Daphne kidnapped by the evil dragon Singe. You play as Dirk on his way to rescue her.
- Starbound: Invoked. In order to summon the Dragon King boss, you need to craft a Decoy Princess in order to attract it.
- Castle Master: The plot is kicked off when a dragon kidnaps the princess and the knight goes to save her... if you picked the knight as your character. If you pick the princess instead, she gets to save the knight.
- In Hoard, one of the modes is to kidnap more princesses than any rivals.
- Played with in Odin Sphere. No dragons straight out capture princesses but the game features a few of both interacting one way or another. For one, Oswald is promised the Valkyrie princess Gwendolyn as his wife for defeating the dragon Wagner. Eventually, all five characters of royal blood have to fight dragons at least once.
- One side-quest in Dragon's Crown involves you acting as the representative of The Church to slay the dragon solo in an attempt to discourage the worship of a legendary princess who was said to have offered herself to a red dragon to save her kingdom. The Flavor Text of the Treasure Art for completing this quest reveals that, after you defeated the dragon you found the princess' ring among the Dragon Horde, which gave evidence of her Heroic Sacrifice and unsurprisingly encouraged her followers to worship her even more. The church eventually co-opts this worship by canonizing her as a saint.
- Defied in Dragon's Dogma, while the dragon may occasionally kidnap the duchess for a "Leave Your Quest" Test, depending on your affinity with the others, it is more often for him to pick Anything That Moves.
- Nodwick has it as a recurring joke, including that princesses have a business for renting themselves with a "no dragons" policy.
- What's New? with Phil and Dixie takes it in a slightly twisted direction in one strip, where the princess critiques the dragon's knot-tying technique and things eventually escalate into a BDSM scene.
- Ozy and Millie, Isolde reveals that princesses are bargaining chips for buying off knights.
- Played with in this Port Sherry comic. The dragon abducted the princess as part of a ruse to set the princess up with an eligible bachelor. Also, the dragon is female too.
- My Dragon Life, My Dragon Wife: Soul wants a beautiful maiden for her lair, because she's lonely and wants someone to cuddle, which her "hostage" is happy to oblige.
- Metal styles explained through dragon/princess story.
- Multiple variants in Orjan Westin's Micro SF/F Stories Twitter feed, mostly (but not always) involving sympathetic dragons and/or gender reversal or queerness. These include the serials "The Princess Dragons" and "The Princess' Dragon".
- Overly Sarcastic Productions: In Trope Talk: Dragons, Red discusses dragons' tendency to kidnap and/or eat damsels alongside other traits of dragons in folklore and modern fiction. It got its start in the middle ages, as the usual motivation for dragonslaying — getting the dragon's gold — was seen as too base and greedy a motivation for a knight, so rescuing a damsel for the sake of rightness and love was substituted; however, it's also seen in other mythologies with some frequency. Nowadays it's seen as very cliched, so it's usually subverted or otherwise played with.
- In Potatoes and Dragons, the King keeps calling for knights to kill the dragon that lives near the palace, for fear it might kidnap his daughter; unbeknownst to him, the princess has befriended the dragon and is actively thwarting each attempt on its life.
- Gender Flip in Jane and the Dragon, in which the Dragon kidnapped Prince Cuthbert because he believed the prince could translate the runes on his cave wall.