Dear Vermithrax Pejorative,
I still love you.
I know this sounds crazy. You haven’t even met me. You’re a fictional dragon; I’m a real person. But I have admired you for many years, and I needed you to know. It’s a platonic love, but no less powerful for being so.
I was only six when you appeared in our world, emerging from a lake of fire at select theaters around the country. Too young to see you in full widescreen glory, but I soon became a devoted fan.
Monsters were hard to come by in my childhood. Not rare, exactly, but nothing like they are now. These days you can’t pass a glowing screen without catching a glimpse of the magical.
Dragons in particular were a precious commodity. You had to wait for them. And wait, and wait. They thrived in bookstores, sure, but to actually lay eyes on one? A treasure.
So when you showed up on the scene? Brain meltdown. Never had a mythical beast been so perfectly brought to life. You raged and fought and died, and I forgot how to blink.
What I’m trying to say is this: you were a really big deal.
You still are.
Time changes love. It has changed mine. You still have the power to wow me, but only in adulthood have I come to appreciate you.
First of all, your name. Vermithrax Pejorative. Latin, or Latin-ish, translated by the experts as “the worm of Thrace that makes things worse.” Besides sounding cool, it suggests a rich, centuries-long history.
But the name is just superficial. Who you are is more important.
The first real description of you comes from the wizard Ulrich: “When a dragon gets this old, it knows nothing but pain.”
How brilliant that is! You aren’t cruel or vengeful. You aren’t bloodthirsty or powerful.
You’re just old. In pain. Crippled. We sympathize with you, the last of your kind. Even more important, we see it. The first time you blow flames, you can’t stop, wheezing out the last bits and smacking your head into the cavern roof.
I have a touch of asthma, so I can relate.
But your story gets even better.
You’re a single mother, just trying to raise a family in a hostile world. Three rambunctious kids are a lot to handle. You gave birth to them, nurtured them, and provided a steady diet of meat for their cute little jaws.
Then some misguided blonde kid creeps in and chops their heads off.
More pain. More loss.
You are the tragic hero of this story. The human drama takes center stage, but who cares about them? There are tons of humans, more every day, but there is only one dragon left. Your life and death matter.
Other fictional dragons have better conquered the public consciousness. But they possessed tools you lacked. Smaug had a silver tongue to build his personality. The GoT dragons have Daenerys. And their story vehicles just happen to be the two most popular fantasy epics of the last century.
You had no one. You don’t even have the capacity for language. But the filmmakers knew how to build your personality, how to make us care.
Your needs are simple ones. Just some kids and a house in the burbs. You don’t hoard gold, you don’t fight in wars. There is nothing cruel or selfish about you.
But what about the female sacrifices, chained to a stake at the mouth of your cave? Virgins, no less. Isn’t that evil?
Definitely evil, but this has nothing to do with your choices. A cruel human patriarchy set up those rules. I’m fairly sure you never cared about the gender or sexual experience of your human meals.
More evidence that the real villains here are the humans.
So you see? I empathize. You have wounds and hopes, goals and loves. They say every good villain is the hero of her own story, and this goes double for you.
Guillermo del Toro loves you, too, and that guy knows his business.
Why do I write this letter now, you ask? Because I don’t know how much longer this version of you will predominate. I wanted the you of today to know—not the you of the future.
And when you return, I don’t expect to recognize you. Vermithrax Pejorative will still be a dragon, but that is where the similarities will end.
For one, you will be bigger. Much bigger. Stronger, faster, endlessly powerful. Untethered by the beautiful restraints of practical effects. Everything about you will be slick and shiny and loud.
We’ll see you crash through castle walls, maybe even fight an army or two. You’ll look right into the camera and shake your head and bellow and fill the whole frame with your gaping jaws.
Maybe this time you will talk.
There will be no mention of decrepitude. Of pain. You will be young, or ageless in some way that strips away our empathy.
You might even be male.
The deep melancholy of your condition will be replaced with cruelty. You could become truly evil, a threat to the existence of the world. There might be two of you, or a hundred, a thousand, with one tiny human standing between the dragon apocalypse and civilization. That’s the modus operandi with fantasy movies these days. If it’s not the end of the world, what’s the point?
When that day comes, I’ll hold on to my memories of that beautiful old dragon with the asthma. The one with hip dysplasia and rips in her leathery wings. The one they prodded out of her home and destroyed, taking the last bit of magic in the world with her.
That’s it. Just needed you to know.
I still love you.
* Take a look at the wonderful write-up on Vermithrax over at MonsterLegacy.net to get a sense of just how much thought, love, and hard work went into the creation of this wonderful creature. An amazing bit of research!