9 Legendary Dragons From Around The World

A dragon sand sculpture in Yokohama, Japan
A dragon sand sculpture in Yokohama, Japan
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

From Asia to Europe, South America to Africa—and even the United States—stories about dragons pervade mythology. Some of these dragons are said to bring luck, while others feast on humans; some protect water, while others steal it. In a few of these stories, dragons can even talk. Here's a selection of dragon tales from across the globe.

1. NINKI NANKA // GAMBIA

In Gambia and other parts of West Africa, the Ninki Nanka (sometimes translated as "Dragon Devil") is believed to live in swampy areas. The beast is said to be over 150 feet long and very fierce, with a face like a horse, a crest of skin on its head, and mirror-like scales. Many say that if you see the Ninki Nanka, you will die within a few weeks. Parents sometimes reportedly tell their misbehaving kids that they're going to send them to the swamp, where the Ninki Nanka will take them if they don’t starting acting properly.

2. MESTER SNOOR WORM // THE ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND

Mester Snoor Worm was a sea dragon of the Orkney Islands who was said to wake up every Saturday at sunrise, open his giant mouth, and yawn nine times. Then he would set out to procure seven virgins to eat for breakfast. As an old fable says: "Although he was a venomous beast, he had a dainty taste." An accompanying legend describes how an old wizard said the land could be saved from the dragon's appetites for good if the beast ate the king's daughter. Fortunately, a hero showed up to slay the dragon and save the princess, and the dragon's falling teeth turned into the Orkney, Shetland, and Faroe Islands, while its body turned into Iceland.

3. SNALLYGASTER // UNITED STATES

The snallygaster lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland, especially Frederick County. Its name is derived from the German words schnelle geeschter, meaning "quick spirit," and the myths around it are thought to have begun with German immigrants who settled in the area starting in the 1700s (perhaps helped along by some clever newspaper editors in the 1920s and 1930s). The snallygaster is said to be half-bird and half-reptile, with a metal beak, and swoops down from the sky to carry off victims and suck their blood. It has a werewolf-like arch enemy named the Dwayyo, and the two are said to have ferocious mythical battles.

4. XIUHCOATL // PRE-COLUMBIAN MEXICO

A stone statue of Xiuhcoatl at an Aztec site
A stone statue of Xiuhcoatl at an Aztec site in Tenayuca, Mexico
Maunus, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In Aztec mythology, Xiuhcoatl was a flaming serpent associated with turquoise, drought, and the fire god Xiuhtecuhtli. He was said to have been used by the god Huitzilopochtli to behead his sister Coyolxauhqui, in a triumph of light over darkness. He was a national and political symbol for the Aztecs, and ancient incense burners have been discovered carved in his image.

5. MINOKAWA // PHILIPPINES

Minokawa is a bird-dragon who shows up in Filipino mythology. The creature is said to be as big as an island and has sharp feathers like swords and mirrors for eyes. It lives in the sky near the eastern horizon, and once swallowed the moon, causing people on Earth to scream and cry. Minokawa was so curious about the strange noises they were making it opened its mouth in surprise, whereupon the moon jumped out and escaped. After that, the moon was afraid of Minokawa, and so hid from the dragon inside a series of holes in the horizon. Minokawa generally gets blamed for eclipses, when humans need to make as much noise as possible so that the beast will drop the moon.

6. VRITRA // INDIA

In the Vedic religion of early India, Vritra is a serpentine dragon and the animalistic representation of drought. In some versions, he hoards the waters and the rains. He is also the enemy of Indra, the King of Heaven, who heroically destroys him and his “deceiving forces” after Vritra blocks the courses of the rivers. When Vritra battles Indra and swallows him, Indra uses his sword to slice the monster open from inside his stomach. Vrirtra is sometimes also blamed for stealing cows.

7. THE WAWEL DRAGON // POLAND

A Wawel dragon sculpture outside the Dragon's Cave in Poland
Jennifer Boyer, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Wawel Dragon, a.k.a. the Dragon of Wawel Hill, terrorized ancient Kraków, Poland. He inhabited Smocza Jama (“dragon’s den”), a limestone river cave on the banks of the Vistula, which flows below the hill where Wawel Castle sits. He was said to poison the air with his breath and devour both humans and cattle, until one day when a local hero fed him a lamb filled with sulfur—which made him so thirsty that he drank river water until he exploded. A stylized, fire-breathing metal statue of the Wawel Dragon is a tourist attraction in Kraków, and the dragon itself is a symbol of the city.

8. PEUCHEN // CHILE

In the Mapuche and Chilote cultures of Chile, a shapeshifting dragon called the Peuchen is widely feared and revered. The Peuchen takes the form of a huge flying snake most of the time, but can camouflage itself to look like other creatures while trying to suck the blood of various animals (generally sheep). This dragon makes high-pierced whistling sounds and can paralyze its victims with its gaze. It can only be killed by a machi (a medicine woman). The word peuchen is also the Chilean word for the common vampire bat, and some folks believe the bat is the basis of this myth. Other cryptozoologists think the peuchen is a local version of the chupacabra.

9. MO’O // HAWAII

The ancient Hawaiians believed that long black lizard- or dragon-like creatures called moʻo lived in pools, caves, and ponds, and were aggressive guardians of freshwater sources. They were said to be omniscient and able to control the weather, as well as morph into seductive women or mermaids. When slain, their bodies became a part of the landscape—for example, the cinder cone Puʻu Olaʻi and Molokini crater are said to be chopped-up pieces of an unfortunate moʻo who crossed the volcano goddess, Pele. Meanwhile, Molokaʻi’s Kamalo Ridge is said to display a gray outline of Kapulei, a male moʻo who pledged to watch over the area in life and in death.

20 Facts About Eyes Wide Shut On Its 20th Anniversary

Warner Bros./Liaison via Getty Images Plus
Warner Bros./Liaison via Getty Images Plus

In the late 1990s, stories about what was happening on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s already-secretive film Eyes Wide Shut constantly made headlines. Everyone wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes with real-life celebrity couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, and the 15-month shoot only intrigued people more. Finally, the film was released on July 16, 1999—more than four months after Kubrick had passed away. While there is still a lot we don’t know about the movie, here are 20 things we do.

1. Eyes Wide Shut is based on a 1926 novella.

Eyes Wide Shut is loosely is based on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story), which was published in 1926. Considering that the movie takes place in 1990s New York, it is obviously not a direct adaptation, but it overlaps in its plot and themes. “[The book] explores the sexual ambivalence of a happy marriage and tries to equate the importance of sexual dreams and might-have-beens with reality,” Kubrick said. “The book opposes the real adventures of a husband and the fantasy adventures of his wife, and asks the question: is there a serious difference between dreaming a sexual adventure, and actually having one?”

2. Production on Eyes Wide Shut began in 1996.

By then, Kubrick had been holding onto the rights to Traumnovelle—which screenwriter Jay Cocks purchased on his behalf, in order to keep the project under wraps—for nearly 30 years. Kubrick had planned to begin working on the film after making 2001: A Space Odyssey, but then got the opportunity to adapt A Clockwork Orange.

3. The studio pushed Stanley Kubrick to cast A-list names.

Terry Semel, then-head of Warner Bros., told Kubrick, “What I would really love you to consider is a movie star in the lead role; you haven't done that since Jack Nicholson [in The Shining].”

4. Stanley Kubrick wanted to cast Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.

Kubrick liked the idea of casting a real-life married couple in the film, and originally considered Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. (He also liked the idea of Steve Martin.) Eventually, he went with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who were married from 1990 to 2001.

5. London stood in for New York City.

Though the film is set in New York, it was filmed in London. In order to construct the most accurate sets possible, Vanity Fair reported that Kubrick “sent a designer to New York to measure the exact width of the streets and the distance between newspaper vending machines.”

6. Some of the shots in Eyes Wide Shut required no set at all.

In order to give the movie a dream-like quality, the filmmakers used an old-school method of shooting—and a treadmill. “In some of the scenes, the backgrounds were rear-projection plates,” cinematographer Larry Smith explained. “Generally, when Tom’s facing the camera, the backgrounds are rear-projected; anything that shows him from a side view was done on the streets of London. We had the plates shot in New York by a second unit [that included cinematographers Patrick Turley, Malik Sayeed and Arthur Jafa]. Once the plates were sent to us, we had them force-developed and balanced to the necessary levels. We’d then go onto our street sets and shoot Tom walking on a treadmill. After setting the treadmill to a certain speed, we’d put some lighting effects on him to simulate the glow from the various storefronts that were passing by in the plates. We spent a few weeks on those shots.”

7. Eyes Wide Shut holds a Guinness World Record.

The film has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest constant movie shoot, with a total of 400 days, which was a surprise to the cast and crew. Cruise and Kidman had only committed to six months of filming. The extended shoot was a lot to ask of Cruise in particular, who was at the height of his career. He even had to delay work on Mission: Impossible II to finish Eyes Wide Shut. He didn’t seem to mind though. “We knew from the beginning the level of commitment needed,” Cruise told TIME. “We were going to do what it took to do this picture.”

8. The script for Eyes Wide Shut kept changing.

Todd Field as Nick Nightingale in Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut
Warner Bros. via Getty Images Plus

According to Todd Field, who portrayed piano player Nick Nightingale (and is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker in his own right), “We’d rehearse and rehearse a scene, and it would change from hour to hour. We’d keep giving the script supervisor notes all the time, so by the end of the day the scene might be completely different. It wasn’t really improvisation, it was more like writing.”

9. Tom Cruise developed ulcers while shooting Eyes Wide Shut.

“I didn't want to tell Stanley," Cruise told TIME. “He panicked. I wanted this to work, but you're playing with dynamite when you act. Emotions kick up. You try not to kick things up, but you go through things you can't help.”

10. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman slept in their characters' bedroom.

In order to reflect their real-life relationship, Cruise and Kidman were asked to choose the color for the curtains in their on-screen bedroom, where they also slept.

11. The apartment featured in the movie was a re-creation of Stanley Kubrick's.

According to Cruise, “The apartment in the movie was the New York apartment [Stanley] and his wife Christianne lived in. He recreated it. The furniture in the house was furniture from their own home. Of course the paintings were Christianne's paintings. It was as personal a story as he's ever done.”

12. Stanley Kubrick temporarily banned Tom Cruise from the set.

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise star in Stanley Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut' (1999).
Warner Bros. via Getty Images Plus

Given his penchant for accuracy, it’s quite possible that Kubrick wanted to stir up some real-life jealousy between his stars in order to help them embody their characters. In a fantasy sequence, Kidman’s character has sex with another man, which motivates the rest of the film’s plot. Kubrick banned Cruise from the set on the days that Kidman shot the scene with a male model. They spent six days filming the one-minute scene. Kubrick also forbid Kidman from telling Cruise any details about it.

13. It took 95 takes for Tom Cruise to walk through a doorway.

Six days for a one-minute scene is nothing compared to the time Kubrick had Cruise do 95 takes of one simple action: walking through a doorway. After watching the playback, he apparently told Cruise, “Hey, Tom, stick with me, I’ll make you a star.”

14. Security on the set was tight.

Aside from Kubrick, Kidman, Cruise, and their tiny crew, no one was allowed on the set, which was heavily guarded. In May 1997, one photographer managed to capture a picture of Cruise standing next to a man that the photographer thought was just an “old guy, scruffy with an anorak and a beard.” That man was Kubrick, who hadn’t been photographed in 17 years. After the incident, security on the set was tripled.

15. Paul Thomas Anderson spent some time on the set.

One person Cruise did manage to sneak onto the set was his future Magnolia director, Paul Thomas Anderson. While there, Anderson asked Kubrick, “Do you always work with so few people?” Kubrick responded, “Why? How many people do you need?” Anderson then recalled feeling “like such a Hollywood a**hole.”

16. Stanley Kubrick makes a cameo in the movie.


Warner Bros.

He’s not credited, but the film’s director can be seen sitting in a booth at the Sonata Café.

17. Stanley Kubrick died less than a week after showing the studio his final cut of Eyes Wide Shut.

Kubrick died less than a week after showing what would be his final cut of the film to Warner Bros. No one can say how much he would have kept editing the film. One thing that was changed after his death: bodies in the orgy scene were digitally altered so that the movie could be released with an R (rather than an NC-17) rating. Although many claim that Kubrick intended to do this, too. "I think Stanley would have been tinkering with it for the next 20 years," Kidman said. "He was still tinkering with movies he made decades ago. He was never finished. It was never perfect enough.”

18. By the time Eyes Wide Shut was released, a dozen years had passed since Stanley Kubrick's last directorial effort.

Eyes Wide Shut came out a full 12 years after Kubrick’s previous film, 1987's Full Metal Jacket.

19. Eyes Wide Shut topped the box office during its opening week.

The film earned $30,196,742 during its first week in release, which was enough to take the box office’s number one spot—making it Kubrick’s only film to do so.

20. Tom Cruise didn't like Dr. Harford.

One year after the film’s release, Cruise admitted that he “didn’t like playing Dr. Bill. I didn’t like him. It was unpleasant. But I would have absolutely kicked myself if I hadn’t done this.”

An earlier version of this article ran in 2015.

Top 50 Best-Selling Artists of All Time

Paul McCartney of The Beatles and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sit opposite each other on a train at London's Euston Station.
Paul McCartney of The Beatles and Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones sit opposite each other on a train at London's Euston Station.
Victor Blackman, Express/Getty Images

Who are America’s all-time favorite musicians and bands? When it comes to the best-selling artists of all time, The Beatles still rule—yes, even a half-century after their breakup. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), these are the 50 best-selling artists of all time.

  1. The Beatles

Albums sold: 183 million

  1. Garth Brooks

Albums sold: 148 million

  1. Elvis Presley

    Elvis Presley is seen playing the guitar in his 1966 film, 'Spinout'
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Albums sold: 146.5 million

  1. Eagles

Albums sold: 120 million

  1. Led Zeppelin

Albums sold: 111.5 million

  1. Billy Joel

Albums sold: 84.5 million

  1. Michael Jackson

Albums sold: 84 million

  1. Elton John

    Elton John plays a concert in 2008.
    LENNART PREISS/AFP/Getty Images

Albums sold: 78.5 million

  1. Pink Floyd

Albums sold: 75 million

  1. AC/DC

Albums sold: 72 million

  1. George Strait

Albums sold: 69 million

  1. Barbra Streisand

    Barbra Streisand
    Terry Fincher, Express/Getty Images

Albums sold: 68.5 million

  1. The Rolling Stones

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Aerosmith

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Bruce Springsteen

Albums sold: 66.5 million

  1. Madonna

Albums sold: 64.5 million

  1. Mariah Carey

    Mariah Carey performs during the 2019 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 1, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada
    Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Albums sold: 64 million

  1. Metallica

Albums sold: 63 million

  1. Whitney Houston

Albums sold: 58.5 million

  1. Van Halen

Albums sold: 56.5 million

  1. Fleetwood Mac

Albums sold: 54.5 million

  1. U2

    The Edge and Bono of the rock band U2 perform at Bridgestone Arena on May 26, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee
    Jason Kempin, Getty Images

Albums sold: 52 million

  1. Celine Dion

Albums sold: 50 million

  1. Neil Diamond

Albums sold: 49.5 million

  1. Journey

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Kenny G

    Kenny G performs onstage during the "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives" Premiere Concert during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival at Radio City Music Hall
    Noam Galai, Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Shania Twain

Albums sold: 48 million

  1. Kenny Rogers

Albums sold: 47.5 million

  1. Alabama

Albums sold: 46.5 million

  1. Eminem

    Eminem performs onstage during the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards which broadcasted live on TBS, TNT, and truTV at The Forum on March 11, 2018 in Inglewood, California
    Kevin Winter, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 46 million

  1. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Albums sold: 44.5 million

  1. Guns N’ Roses

Albums sold: 44.5 million

  1. Alan Jackson

Albums sold: 43.5 million

  1. Santana

Albums sold: 43.5 million

  1. Taylor Swift

    Taylor Swift performs onstage at 2019 iHeartRadio Wango Tango presented by The JUVÉDERM® Collection of Dermal Fillers at Dignity Health Sports Park on June 01, 2019
    Rich Fury, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 43 million

  1. Reba McEntire

Albums sold: 41 million

  1. Eric Clapton

Albums sold: 40 million

  1. Chicago

Albums sold: 38.5 million

  1. Simon & Garfunkel

    Pop duo Simon and Garfunkel, comprising (L-R) singer, Art Garfunkel and singer-songwriter, Paul Simon, performing on ITV's 'Ready, Steady, Go!', July 8, 1966
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Albums sold: 38.5 million

  1. Foreigner

Albums sold: 38 million

  1. Rod Stewart

Albums sold: 38 million

  1. Tim McGraw

Albums sold: 37.5 million

  1. Backstreet Boys

Albums sold: 37 million

  1. 2 Pac

Albums sold: 36.5 million

  1. Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan
    Evening Standard/Getty Images

Albums sold: 36 million

  1. Def Leppard

Albums sold: 35.5 million

  1. Queen

Albums sold: 35 million

  1. Dave Matthews Band

Albums sold: 34.5 million

  1. Britney Spears

    Britney Spears performs at the 102.7 KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2016
    Christopher Polk, Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Albums sold: 34.5 million

  1. Bon Jovi

Albums sold: 34.5 million

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