I'm planning of giving a -possibly very unpopular - interpretation to a very loved concept in the genre of my story and I wonder if this could be see as shocking or plain stupid by the average reader.

The dilemma regards dragons (in your otherwise classical fantasy settings). If dragons were real they wouldn't be able to fly, their massive size and incredibly thick skin makes them to heavy to do so.

In my story dragons have sharp claws and thick skin as an evolutionary trait, because they live in the top of mountains and high plateaus they need sharp claws to climb those said plateaus and mountains and thick skin to survive in a rocky environment. They live in high altitude places and use their wings to glide across the sky, but not fly, once they're in the ground they stay there.

Would it be to unusual for the average reader? And if so, would this become a major weak point of my plot? More in general, is it wise to reinterpret a common trope like this?

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    Everything can be a good idea given the right setting. But I think your question belongs in WorldBuilding.SE rather then this place. Aug 21, 2018 at 14:39
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    Not a new idea. In Celtic folklore, dragons commonly don't fly. There's a reason they are called "worms", sometimes.
    – user32754
    Aug 21, 2018 at 14:41
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    In Chinese Folklore, some fly and some do not. The ones that do fly do so by magic, not wings. Winged Oriental dragons are quite new and are typically a marriage of European Dragons and Oriental dragons.
    – hszmv
    Aug 21, 2018 at 14:49
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    Perhaps it would have been a better idea to publish this in WorldBuilding.SE, @TotumusMaximus, but I'll keep it here, I believe that it might have its place here. If more people find a problem with it being here I'll change it right way. Aug 21, 2018 at 14:52
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    @hszmv, to be honest I was going to explain the Dragon's ability to fly by magic, but then I thought, why would they have wings if they fly by magic means? So I decided to go the more realistic route. Aug 21, 2018 at 14:59

5 Answers 5


No fantastical concept is truly off-bars. Personally, I think it'd be refreshing. I'm partial to a coherently-built world where it looks like creatures have been subject to evolutionary pressures like it would in any world. I've got a similar facet in the world I'm writing.

For example, wyverns are relatively small and built like pterosaurs, and instead of being terrifying human-eating monsters, they're egg-eating parasites. Also, as there's colossal squid that are more commonplace in the oceans, these corpses fill the ocean with bursts of nitrogen. Said nitrogen fills the oceans with algae; the only way the oceans remain uneutrophied is that there are massive marine filter feeders and intertidal algae eaters; think massive lugworms and semi-aquatic giant slugs.

My point is, if you're going to write a world with a fantasy with more realistic dragons, it may hurt marketability for those who just want cool, purely escapist creatures, but I, and many like me, find fantasies much more compelling if there's evidence of a semi-functional ecological system.

  • I do love realism in fantasy stories, knowing that the author spent time and effort with the environment and the creatures, instead of being lazy, is really honourable. I really like the way you build your world, is very well thought out and detailed. Aug 21, 2018 at 15:02
  • @VítorCarvalho Just think of your world as an ecosystem; what do your land-dragons eat? What, if anything, eats them? What selection pressures do they experience? Who knows, it might be that as a side-effect of its existence, other fantastical creatures have to be invented (like my massive lugworms and giant beach slugs) that add depth and flavour to the world. Something a lot of novice worldbuilders do is focus too much on the 'cool' creatures while handwaving the necessary elements for their existence. Not every animal gets to be an apex predator! Aug 21, 2018 at 15:16

A monster, is a monster, is a monster, it doesn't really matter what the locals call it per se but your readers will need to know that "when I[you] say 'dragon' I mean X" or they will go with the connotations that they have when they read the word "dragon", dragons are a very specific thing in many cultures and vary widely depending on the cultural context so you need to define you terms early and often if you're going against those expectations.


More as an addendum to other answers, but note that there is a real world example to lend credence to your concept: Argentavis Magnificens (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentavis), an extinct giant South American bird which "may have used mountain slopes and headwinds to take off, and probably could manage to do so from even gently sloping terrain with little effort" (From the wiki).

More things in heaven and earth, etc.


It sounds like you're treating genre as prescriptive. That is, you pick one and must conform to its rules.

Maybe it's better to think about genre as descriptive, a label that marketers or booksellers impose on your book based on what's in it.

So, as I've said here before, just write your story. Let the readers assign it a genre, if they're into that sort of thing; let the booksellers figure out which shelf to put it on. That's not your job. Just write your story.

  • Except it IS your job if you write a query letter to an agent or publisher, you have to give them some idea of the genre. It is a requirement of being a selling author. You can't just write "I wrote a book, I'm leaving it to you to figure out what kind of book."
    – Amadeus
    Aug 24, 2018 at 14:26
  • That's one difference between a novelist dealing with a publisher and a short story writer submitting stories to journals. The question doesn't specify and I assumed. Aug 24, 2018 at 19:49

If you're worried about how the readers will take it, I have two suggestions:

  • Build the world as ENTIRELY unique and different, built upon a premise (in your case, "evolution"), filled with other fantastical creatures, some that might be borrowed from other sources or genres, some that you invent yourself, so that the audience isn't so disappointed/confused by the arrival of a winged yet flightless dragon
  • Make the mood of the story self-aware and humourous, not just with the Western trope of dragons but other tropes that line up with the genre you wish to subvert

Given your explanation of the origins of such a biological structure, I think that you would want the first suggestion, though blending the two might be a fun experiment (there are many humorous and self-aware stories that also build a rich lore around it). If a dragon evolved like this through evolution and changes in environment over millions of years, I would also be naturally curious about how other mythical creatures have come to be.

  • How did they interact with each other?
  • How deeply do the history of these creatures follow evolutionary thought?

Subverting tropes aren't new, but they can often be very fun to do. But there are bad ways and good ways to subvert them. The bad ones throw out half-ideas and blanket statements, implying an agenda against the culture they wish to question. The good ones show that they respect the culture that they're borrowing from, criticizing or poking fun at it while also showing that they respect why people love the originals and that the authors understand them by offering a similar feeling around the substitute.

Though another good way is to just be utterly silly with it, which is fine too!

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