Dragonslayers: from Beowulf to St. George by Joseph A. McCullough

Myths and Legends Series
Review by David Gibson

Dragonslayers is the second book in the Myths and Legends series which aims to explore ancient myths in which heroes battled monstrous beasts we call Dragons.

Dragonslayers gives a good first impression with an excellent front cover. The cover maintains the design of the Myths and Legends series, getting straight to my heart – I have a soft spot for illustrated covers – with a picture of the Redcrosse Knight battling a dragon. This choice is reflective of the keen eye with which the art has been selected, images from paintings, engravings and films.

One of the major standouts for me was ‘Beowulf and the Fire Drake’, a two page spread on pages 34–35, depicting a crawling serpentine dragon blasting searing fire at the hero.

The book is divided into Ancient, Norse, Holy and Medieval dragonslayers, with a selection of non-European dragonslayers at the end. In each section there is a retelling of choice draconic myths combined with commentary describing how the people of different times and cultures saw dragons.
This structure works well, establishing the myth’s origins then describing how it evolved over time. The writing has a very insightful, almost discussion-like tone while examining each myth; this worked well for me.

The break-out boxes were frustrating. They are used to bring up stories without giving them close analysis like the focal myths. Some, such as the one on page 15, work very well by coming at the end of a main story. However, others interrupt the flow of the writing, with the most egregious example at the top of page 50 and across all of page 51. The content of the boxes is excellent but I wanted to bring it up as I see many books making the same choice to interrupt the main narrative, which I find very distracting.

That aside, Dragonslayers is an excellent introduction to this topic and a valuable resource for anyone interested in mythology. It is backed up by with excellent commentary and enriching art. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about dragons and the legends surrounding them.