My wife and son were reading Dragonology the other night, and that got me thinking, in turn, about “How To Train Your Dragon”, which while largely about a peaceful coexistence between humans and dragons, still cast the majority of dragons in a subservient role to humans: doing agriculture, carrying people and so on. With the exception of the main characters of Hiccup and Toothless, who each had a disability forcing them to rely upon one another, it’s an unequal relationship.
A good tool to bring attention to inequalities that often go unnoticed is to reverse the roles and see what jumps out at you. This in turn sparked thoughts about what the world would look like if dragons were the benevolent owners of human pets. In Robin Hobb’s excellent stories in the Six Duchies, dragons often treat humans as playthings or accessories, but this was a little different. Think about your relationship to your pets. Now think about a world–a present-day world–in which dragons treat you that way. Take, as an example, the world of Charlotte’s Web.
- Your pets are members of your family, with thoughts, feelings, personalities. But humans always come first.
- Your pet may have started out as food (a pig, a chicken, a dog), but someone noticed a glimmer of a personality, of a soul, and so instead took that beast as a companion. This doesn’t mean that other beasts lack these qualities, just that this one beast had a stay of execution because of dumb luck.
- Your pets don’t necessarily distinguish you, as a human, as different from themselves.
- In any contest of wills, the human masters always win and get to decide the fate of the pets.
- Humans can transfer ownership of pets for any number of reasons, with little to no paperwork or legal involvement.
- The humans decide what activities the pets engage in, and what their rewards are.
- The humans can decide between life and death for a pet.
- Pets have only the lightest of supervision for how they interact with other pets of the same species. It is only when a pet interacts aggressively with a human–especially a human that is not their master–that their behavior is scrutinized, judged, and the pet is punished.
Taken as a set of criteria, this makes a compelling case for dragons living among us. They’re not hidden; humans just try to use the wrong criteria–physical appearance–when trying to identify something that they patently believe does not exist.
What a nice idea for a story that I will most likely never write. I wouldn’t want the dragons to know that I’m on to them.