Clichés: dragonrider fantasy, part two

Continuing from my first post, I’ll now delve to the usual story clichés appearing in dragonrider fantasy. This time specifically to elements related to dragons.

Dragon illustration (public domain image)

The first contact

As mentioned in the first post, the MC usually lives a very ordinary life in a remote village, so contact with a dragon is very unexpected. Whether the character meets a grown dragon or finds an unhatched egg differs – I’ve seen a version where the MC encountered a wounded female laying an egg. Anyway, it results in the MC having gained a lifelong companion he has absolutely no clue how to care for.

Learning to care for the dragon usually presents the very first challenge, especially if the MC starts with an egg – a dragon past the very early stages of life is often self-sufficient. Furthermore, being seen in a possession of a dragon egg or a hatchling probably wouldn’t help his situation, so the MC has to keep his new companion a secret – thus granting another challenge, because a dragon can’t hide easily once it grows a bit, because of its size.

The rider and the dragon then form a bond which often gives them the ability to communicate telepathically (whether only between them or with other riders as well will differ), and this bond often physically marks the rider in some way.

Rapid growth

Another shared element tends to be the rapid growth of the baby dragon. This is one of the most obvious plot devices – a creature living way longer than a human is able to reach quite some size in the span of weeks, months at most. The reason is simple – it allows the story to be continuous (without a major time skip) while having the MC go through the learn to care for a dragon process. The biggest challenge tends to be feeding the fast-growing dragon in the very early stages when it can’t hunt on its own, especially if the MC is near-broke (something the orphan situation – mentioned last time – helps).

This often happens at the same the MC has to leave their hometown, so caring for a growing dragon’s apetite is additional test on their journey along with evading the villain’s goons with, for now, no combat skills whatsoever. Furthermore, as the dragon is still growing and the MC has yet to learn about a proper equipment, it means the MC usually has to travel by foot for the time being. Sometimes, if they weren’t a broke orphan, they may have the advantage of traveling on horseback.

The MC tends to find the mentioned wise old teacher only after this stage is over – and thus they can actually start learning how to be a dragon rider.

Source of power

Dragonriders are often capable of using magic after bonding – their ability to use magic comes from the dragon and bonding with it. In dragonrider books, other inhabitants (usually regardless of what creature they are) aren’t able to wield magic – dragons are the exclusive source of any magical ability.

This also has practical implications on the MC and the story as a whole. It ties to the with power comes responsibility aspect in the fact that only the few people – the dragonriders – understand what power and responsibility they bear. Especially considering the coming-of-age elements, it further alienates the MC from the general populace, to which he belonged not-so-long ago. If the bond also affects their lifespan, it means they’ll either have to find their romantic interest among other dragon riders or deal with the unpleasant fact – that one will most-likely outlive the other by a lot.

Note: I’ve delved into fantasy longevity in past, and this posts about half-breeds shares the same issue.

This fact also often brings another part of the MC’s discipline training – the link between the dragon and the rider may allow them to share their energy, but their individual energy reserves may be quite different. Thus, both the dragon and the rider need to keep their own and each other’s abilities and limits in mind, if they want to avoid ending up with one (or both) too exhausted to be useful in a fight.

Gearing up

Another typical element that happens at some point after meeting the mentor figure involves getting the proper gear for a dragonrider. This necessarily includes a saddle/harness which may be the MC’s first contact with anyone who had seen another rider, and thus with their new reality – it’s quite likely the crafter may’ve known someone close to the villain or MC’s family (in case they’re dead or missing – which they often are) and may share some additional bits of wisdom and backstory.

Another typical part is a special weapon, most often a sword. A dragonrider’s sword is usually crafted from a rare, specific material used only for dragonriders. What that material is may differ – it may be a slightly modified steel, forged from a special ore (such as meteorite) or even use shards of the dragon’s egg shell. Either way, the weapon is not only often something to magnify the MC’s power (by acting as a conduit or storage of power) but also a symbol of prestige/position because of its rarity. Obtaining such a weapon may be the moment the MC becomes a true dragonrider in the eyes of others.

The weapons, special as they are, often have a name – or even a personality. Another story element may be the MC inheriting or otherwise coming across the weapon of former rider – often someone who died during the villain’s rise to power. Or, if the weapon comes from a defeated enemy, lead the MC to ponder if it’s right to use a weapon that was used for evil.

Endings

Dragonrider stories – at least those I’ve read so far – tend to have a positive ending for the MC (meaning the MC survives), though there may be a significant collateral damage. Quite often, the MC will lose someone dear to them sooner or later (the wise old teacher is usually doomed to an early demise, as said in the first part). Self-sacrifice and the power of friendship are often major parts of the finale, in some way.

Often, the outro will strongly hint that while the villain was defeated, there’s a lot to do. After all, the world has yet to recover from the villain’s rise to power, and another struggle – between the villain and the MC – made the situation even worse. Thus, the good side may win, but they’ll win a broken world that has a lot of mending to do.


While these two posts may suggest that dragonrider fantasy are books often following the same pattern and thus being repetitive, they’re quite a major subgenre. The struggle between good and evil is as old as stories themselves and still lives on. Maybe using time-tested story elements allows the authors to focus on details and draw the readers by immersion. Maybe the reason is elsewhere.

I’m curious to know what you think. Are you an avid devourer of dragonrider books? If yes, what makes you return to them? If not, is there something specific you don’t like about them? And, by any chance, have you considered writing a dragonrider book yourself?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.