Imagine living in the Dark Ages and coming across a gigantic fossilized dinosaur bone. What sort of creature would come to your mind? Nearly every culture has some sort of mythology on a dragon-like creature. Some of these monstrous beasts have wings, some don’t. Some have scales while others have leather-like hides. Some have the head of a giant lizard, an elephant, or a bird of prey. Some live in underwater palaces, others in caverns, and others still in deserts or mountains.
One thing the dragons across cultures have in common is they are large and almost always guard something. In most western cultures, dragons were fearsome creatures. Nearly every story of a dragon included a heroic dragon-slayer. Consider Ladon, the dragon-like creature which guarded the golden apples in Hercules’ 11th labour – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labours_of_Hercules. There is also the hateful Nordic dragon, Nidhoggr – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nidhoggr. Also, consider the dragons in the ancient Celtic story of Lludd and Lleveleys – http://celticdragonbydawnross.webs.com/index.htm, as retold by myself.
In eastern cultures, the dragon could be either good or bad. Chinese culture today considers the dragon a creature of wisdom and of high spiritual power. Sometimes these dragons lived in palaces under the ocean or guarded the celestial home of the gods. Some could turn themselves invisible or could even turn into birds and fly away. Consider Wiki for some historical information on the Chinese dragon – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_dragon.
There are also dragons in ancient Egyptian stories, Hindu, and dragon-like creatures are even mentioned in the Bible by Moses and Isaiah.
If you’d like to know where I got most of my basic information on dragons, check out the “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures“. This book covered several pages on dragons, gave lots of basic information on several more dragons in culture than the few mentioned here, and inspired me to do more research using Wiki.