Here be dragons.
Did anyone ever actually write that on a map in all seriousness? If they didn’t, it’s an idea we needed to invent, because the phrase goes so deep with us. We love the idea of a place so remote and so dangerous that real dragons, breathing fire and sleeping on hoards of stolen treasure, are able to have their being there.
But it’s also a lesson in ecology. Dragons need a Here. Without a Here — without that remote and dangerous land – dragons can longer exist. You can destroy a dragon by means of a knight-errant – or you take the modern option and destroy the Here instead. By doing the thing at one remove, you get rid of the dragons and remove all possibility of them ever being seen again.
That’s a concept that works in the real wild word, and it’s called habitat destruction. It’s a 21st century truth — even if dragons exist only in the untamed imagination of us humans.
Or do they? The bromeliad arboreal alligator lizard looks wonderfully like a little dragon: rather like Norbert, Hargrid’s beloved little monster in the Harry Potter books.
That’s because this lizard has especially stout scales, which give it the look of a scaled-down dragon. It also has a burly little body, chunky legs and a prehensile tail: just what you need for a life in the trees. They are no more than six inches long, not counting the tail, and they hunt big game – mostly insects — in the trees.
They live in wet forests in Mexico… and if you chop down all the wet forests in Mexico, there will be no more bromeliad arboreal alligator lizards. So it seems a smart idea – for that and for about a million other reasons – so look after the wet Mexican forests that remain.
You could, I suppose, draw your map and write on it “here used to be dragons”. But that wouldn’t have the same force, would it?