It's impossible to venture into the world of myth and fantasy without encountering creatures that you wouldn’t find in a regular zoo. Our little shoppe obviously gets its name from one of the greatest - the fantastic fearsome dragon, of course.
From selkies to basilisks, centaurs to fairies, elves, unicorns and everything in between, it’s interesting to note that even the weirdest of magical creatures seem to have at least one toe (or horn, or wing), dipped in reality. Mythical creatures tend to be hybrids or marvellous mutations of real-life animals, which explains how they came to be a staple part of our stories, and still persist in our imaginations - and sometimes realities - today.
Anyone who’s visited Dragonspace knows that it’s crawling with beasts and beings from various mythologies. Here’s a select bestiary that takes a look at some of our favourites, and how they mightn’t be as far ‘out of this world’ as you’d first imagine.
You can find all the various ‘pieces’ of the dragon persona in the real-life animal kingdom. The reptilian body is akin to snakes and crocodiles; the talons and wings similar to birds of prey; the scales reminiscent of great fish; and the fire-breathing capabilities perhaps derived from the salamander, which was said to be resistant to flames. And of course, dinosaurs must be taken into account. These prehistoric giant beasts dominated the earth, skies and waters much like the dragons of various lores do.
Be they fearsome or benevolent, dragons usually hold a strong tie to the elements: earth, wind, water and fire; suitably represented in the animal connections above. It’s no wonder dragons are symbols of power and wisdom - they're an unrivalled conglomerate of all the greatest animal parts.
Over time, the fairy image has been reduced to miniature women with glittery wings having tea parties with fawns in the forest. We love this kind of fairy too, but to understand the fairy’s connection to the human world, we must travel back to ancient Britain and Ireland.
In Irish mythology, the great prehistoric race of the Tuatha Dé Danann - kings and queens of ancient times - were driven underground to become what modern Ireland now knows as ‘the good people” or the fairy folk. In Celtic spirituality, deities and goddesses with a deep link to nature are often associated with the faerie realm. Fairies have also been connected with the world of the dead, and of angels.
It could be said that fairies represent heightened versions of humans, with a deeper connection to the earth, heavens and the spiritual world. They’re our bridge to realms we can’t access alone. Perhaps that’s why they have wings, and why the leprechaun’s pot o’ gold is at the end of the rainbow - a place we never quite manage to reach.
Of all the magical creatures, the unicorn’s history is perhaps the most strongly steeped in reality. Greek writers of natural history were convinced the unicorn was a real beast from the distant land of India. Their conviction isn’t too ridiculous - after all, unicorns, in appearance, are simply horses with single horns (like the rhinoceros or the narwhal). The creature's strong elegant features also resemble real creatures such as the oryx, the goat, and the eland.
The elusiveness of the unicorn has come to be part of the mythology itself. Unicorns are considered mysterious woodland creatures that can only be captured and tamed by a ‘virgin’. Not to be taken too literally, this belief perpetuates the idea of the unicorn as pure and graceful. The Scottish interpreted the unicorn’s evasiveness as a strength, and adopted it as their national symbol because of this; just like the mythical beast, Scotland was also unconquerable. These days, the word ‘unicorn’ is often used to describe something singular, precious and hard to find.
The Mermaid and the Selkie
We’ll consider these two maidens of the sea together, as their mythologies are closely entwined. The mermaid - or merman - is a true hybrid, being human on top and fish on the bottom. Interestingly, merpeople tales exist in cultures all over the world, including Europe, Africa and Asia. Their lore is often connected to maritime adventures and recounts of sailors, so might have been inspired by sightings of manatees or seals by travel-weary explorers on the sea. And given that most sailors were men, this explains why mermaids are often considered beautiful female seductresses! (similar to the Sirens of Greek mythology)
In contrast, selkies morph - they live in the sea as seals, but shed their skin to become human on land. Like the mermaid, selkies are often featured in tales of romance, seduction and tragedy. In fact, the most well-known mermaid story - Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ - closely resembles selkie lore. The invention of selkies and mermaids could represent the human fascination with the ocean and its symbolism of adventure and the exotic.
In classic appearance, the phoenix most closely resembles something we might encounter in the real world - a bird, albeit a magnificent a one. It’s the phoenix’s ability to resurrect itself from death that make it a staple of mythical lore.
The phoenix has a close relationship to fire. Many depictions of the phoenix have it dying in a burst of flames and being born again from the ashes. In medieval art, the phoenix was often painted with a halo or golden plumage, linking it to the sun. In this way, the regeneration of the phoenix can be connected to the solar cycle and the passing of day into night and back again. So the phoenix’s closest real-life relative could be the rooster - a magnificently plumed bird, whose crow heralds the coming of dawn, and the sun’s “flames” illuminating the sky.
All good myths and folk tales have their roots in fact, which is why we find them so fascinating. We like to think that Dragonspace is a place where worlds overlap; a bridge between the magical and the mundane. Fantastic beasts are a big part of that, and the above are just a small selection of the colourful characters you’ll find behind our doors. Take a look at the companions you can bring into your own mythical menagerie here, in our dragon, fairy and woodland collections.