Over at Fantasy magazine, Genevieve Valentine has a great essay looking at the major dragon archetypes, and what they represent to the human heroes who deal with them. Valentine begins by describing the "dragon as force" archetype:
The earth is a tangle of dragons.
The dragon is a myth given veracity by the fossil record that offers dinosaur remains as proof positive of the monsters who had possessed the world, once. The dragon is a monster that carries any burden we give it — terror, wish-granter, lesson.
The first incarnation of the dragon is as a force beyond ken, a force so great that it conquers nature, or becomes it. This dragon is pervasive, appearing in dozens of cultures as a serpent with wings or with talons, with feathers or with a mouth large enough to swallow a hundred men. (They are often to be prayed to; while they can grant wishes, they're quick to anger, and the sword laid against them cannot hold.)
For the people of the Santa Clara Pueblo, Avanyu is the dragon who brings water. His brothers, in spirit if not in geography, are the Japanese Ryu, the Vietnamese Long, and the Hebrew Leviathon. Mayan Kukulkan is the messenger of the sun.
Indian myth, perhaps, trusts its dragons most; Ananta-Shesha, the zenith of serpents, is he upon whom the earth rests. As he uncoils and stretches, time moves forward and the universe flourishes; when he curls back into himself, the universe will cease, and only he will be left; his name marks him as the eternal: "that which remains."
You really have to read the rest . . . on Fantasy.
Illustration by Kathleen Morton.