<i>By <a href=http://twitter.com/troybrownfield>Troy Brownfield, Newsarama Columnist</a></i> <p>Jan. 23, 2012 is Chinese New Year, marking the start of the "Year of the Dragon" considered to be the luckiest and most auspicious year in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. <p>Given the occasion and with the prominence of dragons on HBO's acclaimed series <b>Game of Thrones</b>, the hit video game <b>Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim</b>, and Peter Jackson's forthcoming, highly anticipated two <b>Hobbit</b> films, we've been moved to take a look at some of the grand old dragons of pop culture. <p>Whether they hatch from novels or comics or even folk songs, these are some of our long-time favorite famous firebreathers. Just don't breathe fire yourself if we skipped one of <i>your</i> favorites. <p>Click the <b>"Start Here</b>" button in the upper-right corner to begin our countdown of our favorite dragons across books, movies, comic books, roleplaying games and more. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p>
Recorded in 1962 by Peter, Paul and Mary, eventually hitting #2 on the Hot 100 in 1963, Puff the Magic Dragon has given birth to three animated specials (beginning in 1978) and endless speculation that the song is actually about - as Greg Focker would put it - "to smoke ... a marijuana cigarette." <p>Co-writer Peter Yarrow has consistently denied it, maintaining that the lyrics are literal: the song is about a little boy that befriends a dragon, and leaves him behind as he grows up. <p>In animation, Puff was voiced by geek culture icon Burgess (The Penguin) Meredith. <p>In terms of the song's cultural staying power, it's been covered by everyone from Dolly Parton to Tori Amos.
Let's face it: though he's based in many ways on the various Asian conceptions of dragons, he looks a lot like a dog... a big, furry, friendly dog. <p>Regardless, Falkor the Luckdragon of the Neverending Story books and films possesses many of the attributes that characterize a good dragon in pop culture. <p>Indeed, Falkor is an interesting collection of traits. He has fur, but no wings. He has scales, but again, looks leonine on one book cover and like a dog on screen. <p>Falkor breathes blue flame, but is vulnerable to immersion. Interesting cat, er, dog, um dragon, isn't he?
Draco from <b>Dragonheart</b> slides past Falkor for one reason alone: Sean Connery. <p>We mean, really, has there ever been a more perfect voice for a dragon that the Scotsman Bond? <p>It's also hard to remember now, but in 1996, Draco was kind of a revolutionary character. Sure, you'd had the dinosaurs of <b>Jurassic Park</b>, but CGI was simply not as common and it is now. <p>Industrial Light & Magic's Phil Tippett took the lead, and Connery's real facial expressions were built into the rendering of Draco. <p>Though the movie isn't perfect, the dragon left a lasting and trailblazing impression.
If you've missed the MythAdventures series by the late Robert Aspirin, then you're missing out of one of the great comedic fantasy series out there. <p>Loaded with puns, pratfalls and general silliness that run alongside themes of trust and friendship, the books are a complete delight. <p>One memorable member of its huge cast is the monosyllabic Gleep, a baby dragon that becomes the companion of lead character/magician Skeeve. <p>Gleep is endearing for a few reasons, namely his vocabulary (which consists of Gleep!) which masks his intelligence and empathy, particularly where Skeeve in concerned.
The dragons in the late Anne McCaffrey's long-running Pern novels contain a number of memorable attributes. At hatching, they impress upon those that become their future riders, forming a telepathic bond that cements their relationship. <p>What's most interesting about Pern in the long run is that the dragons came from genetic manipulation, and the universe itself combines many elements of both fantasy and science fiction over time. <p>These days, McCaffrey's son Todd is in the family business, co-writing or flying solo on more tales of dragons of Pern.
The late Joel Rosenberg wrote several series, but his most popular was easily the ten-novel Guardians of the Flame. <p>Beginning with a group of role-playing gamers that cross worlds and become their characters, the novels soon segue into a complex, action-packed look at tearing down the mechanics of a slavery-driven society. <p>One such slave freed early on is the smart-ass dragon Ellegon. He becomes the companion of Karl Cullinane after Karl rescues him from life as a chained sewer incinerator and later becomes uncommonly devoted to Karl's family and friends.
Phil Tippett is the Dragon Master. Fifteen years before Draco, he was an integral part of the effect team responsible for this creature from <b>Dragonslayer</b>, a film for which he and others at ILM developed the stop-motion variant Go Motion. <p>As well-regarded as the rendering and movement of this dragon has been over time, the image that sticks with most people that saw it as kids in 1981 is the site of a particular character getting mauled by a group of baby dragons. <p>What can you say? Awesome sticks with you.
The granddaddy dragon of comic books, Fin Fang Foom still manages to terrify the denizens of the Marvel Universe now again. Even if he occasionally wears pants. <p>Befitting his legendary status, Fin Fang Foom was the first Build-A-Figure from the Marvel Legends line that required fans to purchase two entire assortments in order to collect enough pieces to build him. That's saying something. <p>In addition to comics, animation, and toys, Fin Fang Foom has appeared in the Marvel Ultimate Alliance video game.
You knew that some form of D&D had to make it, right? <p>Tiamat bestrides them all, first appearing in the Greyhawk supplement in 1975 and gaining more layers of personality and character and interpretation over time. <p>You probably know that Tiamat has five heads, each possessing a different breath (as the D&D dragons do). She also figured prominently in the Dungeons and Dragons animated series, and is the equivalent of Takhisis in the Dragonlance novels and games. <p>And she did, at the time, make for an awesome toy.
Our number one is the scourge of Laketown, the stealer of dwarven treasure, the attempted roaster of hobbits ... SMAUG. <p>The driving force behind the plot of <b>The Hobbit</b> and the thing that Bilbo Baggins must confront at the pinnacle of his role as Thorin's thief, Smaug informs much of our modern pop culture conception of dragons. <p>An obvious influence on D&D and the whole fantasy genre that followed the work of Tolkien, Smaug casts a long, long shadow. <p>And of course, he'll take on all new relevance when he appears in the upcoming <b>Hobbit</b> big-screen adventures. <p><i>And speaking of highly-anticipated 2012 films, check out this list of <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/comics/10-things-we-want-in-man-of-steel-110620.html>10 things we want to see in the Superman movie reboot, <b>Man of Steel</b></a></i>.