Dragons are the stuff of legend, of course, but the natural world offers plenty of scientific basis for some of the creatures’ most fantastical features.
Paleontologist Henry Gee, who’s also a fan of fantasy writing pioneer JRR Tolkien, included an entire chapter on dragons in his book The Science of Middle-Earth. Using Tolkien’s villainous character Smaug as a dragon archetype, Gee found numerous real-world examples, and nature-based theoretical possibilities, that could explain everything from fire-breathing to flight.
And for those who feel talk of dragons has no place in the field of science, Gee has this elegant rebuttal: “Science is not about the known, for that is boring… All science that is enjoyable and worthwhile, rather than routine or directed in pursuit of some unconnected goal, starts when a person of vision looks outwards beyond the wall of what is known and asks the question ‘What if?’”
All text in the following slides is excerpted from The Science of Middle-Earth.
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