Dragons were large reptilian creatures in Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel, The Legend of Korra that were the original practitioners of firebending, the art of manipulating flames. First demonstrating the technique to the culture known as the Sun Warriors, the precursor of the Fire Nation, and to Wan, the first Avatar, they were highly respected in the Fire Nation and Sun Warrior cultures alike.
After Wan, a man who later became the first Avatar, was banished from his village atop a fire lion turtle around 9,832 BG (Before the Air Nomad Genocide) and, having been allowed to keep the power over fire from the creature, he began his life among the spirits in the Spirit Wilds. There, he came across a white dragon, who performed intricate movements while flying through the sky. Wan mimicked these movements and became the first known human to perform the Dancing Dragon, the oldest firebending technique.
Almost ten millennia after Wan's encounter with a dragon, shortly before the Hundred-Year War, Avatar Aang and his friend Kuzon searched Fire Nation mountaintops in the hopes of finding the elusive dragons a hundred years before Aang was frozen in an iceberg. They ended up saving a dragon egg from the nefarious clutches of a group of poachers and gave the egg back to its mother.
During his time as ruler of the Fire Nation, likely after the death of Avatar Roku, Fire Lord Sozin began the tradition throughout the Fire Nation of hunting dragons as the ultimate sport. As they were the ultimate fire benders, anyone who managed to slay a dragon earned the honorary title of "Dragon" and their talents as firebenders would become known legendary. Near the end of the Hundred Year War, dragons were thought to have gone extinct due to General Iroh's claim that he had killed the final one. However, Aang and Fire Nation prince Zuko discovered that two dragons, Ran and Shaw, were still alive, deducing that Iroh had lied to protect the species, as well as learning the true beauty and meaning of Firebending from the dragons. Ran and Shaw were further protected by the Sun Warriors, who hid in secret and worshipped the two dragons as their mentors.
By 171 AG, a new dragon, Druk, had been born, possibly to Ran and Shaw, and came to be used by Zuko as a means of transportation. However, dragons were still an extremely rare sight and very few people were still aware of their existence, as the average person was shocked to view one.
The dragon is a large, horned reptile with a long, scaly body that ends in a thin tail. It often has four short legs and two large wings that enable it to fly quickly over great distances. The green dragon which Aang and Kuzon encountered also had an extra, smaller set of wings beneath its other wings. This indicated they could be variable in their appearance. The White dragon Wan encountered and learned Firebending from had no wings at all and yet could still fly, further proving this.
The dragon's head is large compared to the rest of its body, and its bearded face is dominated by a wide, flat nose and golden, cat-like eyes. There also seem to be several subspecies of dragons, as Ran and Shaw were much larger and had several physical features not present in the dragons owned by Roku and Fire Lord Sozin.
Dragons were quite intelligent creatures, and could understand human speech. Though generally solitary, they could form lifelong bonds with people, as evidenced by the bonds between Avatar Roku and his dragon Fang, Sozin and his dragon, and their shared grandson, Zuko, who kept the dragon, Druk. When bonded to a person, such dragons would defend their human companion to the death. However, as hinted with Ran and Shaw, they might have also occasionally eaten humans as well, as Ran and Shaw supposedly would have eaten Aang and Zuko if the two had not proven worthy to learn the secrets of true firebending. They also laid eggs.
There were several notable dragons in the World of Avatar. Among these were:
- Fang- Avatar Roku's dragon and animal guide. Male. Red. Died with Roku.
- Ran and Shaw- The last two dragons alive at the end of the Hundred-Year War. Red and Blue. Genders unknown (probably male and female). Worshipped by the Sun Warriors and taught Aang and Zuko the true meaning of firebending.
- Sozin's Dragon- Fire Lord Sozin's pet and steed. Blue. Gender unknown. Deceased.
- Green Dragon- A dragon encountered by Avatar Aang and his friend Kuzon before the Hundred-Year War. Female. Green with four wings. Wild dragon that Aang and Kuzon helped by rescuing her egg from poachers.
- White Dragon- Wild dragon that taught Avatar Wan firebending. White and wingless. Deceased.
- Druk- Fire Lord Zuko's dragon and companion. Male. Red. Descendent of Ran and Shaw, possibly their offspring.
The symbolism of the red and blue dragons has appeared several times throughout Team Avatar's adventures. Commonly, the red dragon represents honor and goodness, while the blue dragon represents seduction and evil.
While living in Ba Sing Se, Zuko dreamed that he was the Fire Lord and lacked his scar. Two dragons, one red and one blue, gave him advice. The blue dragon spoke with the voice of Azula, Zuko's sister who wielded blue flames when firebending; the red dragon spoke in the voice of Iroh, Zuko's caring uncle, who wielded the normal red fire. The blue dragon sought to harm Zuko, encouraging him to sleep forever, whereas the red dragon told him to escape. This dream was eventually brought to life, when Azula and Iroh gave Zuko different advice in the Crystal Catacombs of Ba Sing Se. Zuko decided to fight by Azula's side, later regretting his decision.
The red and blue dragons also represented the conflict between Avatar Roku and Fire Lord Sozin, with Roku's dragon, Fang, being red and Sozin's being blue. Roku and Sozin were initially friends, but they grew distant over time. Both dragons were present on Roku's island when Sozin betrayed Roku and left his old friend to die in the volcanic eruption - Sozin escaped on his blue dragon, while Fang swooped in so he could die with Roku.
Of the original firebending masters, Ran and Shaw, one is a red dragon and one is a blue dragon. Though no distinction of personality or name was made between them, the red one paired with Zuko and the blue one with Aang as they do the "Dancing Dragon" form; however, when Aang and Zuko finished displaying the "Dancing Dragon" form and prepared to face the dragons' judgment, Aang faced the red dragon, and Zuko the blue one. The dragons deemed them worthy and showed Aang and Zuko the original meaning of firebending, encircling them in a beautiful tornado of rainbow-colored flames.
Dragons in the World of Avatar are heavily influenced by the depiction of dragons in traditional Chinese culture. The long serpentine body, whiskers, fin-like ears, wild looking eyes, canine snout, and the position and proportions of the horns and legs suggest this particular oriental influence. However, other Asian cultural influences are present as, for example, the dragons in the series have four toes; this is a typically Korean trait. In Chinese and a significant proportion of Asian mythology, dragons are traditionally portrayed as a chimerical mix of lizards, camels, goats, and bats, among other animals; however, their image seems to have been refined in adaptation for animation and for the Western audience. The ability to breathe fire and the presence of wings are characteristics more common in European dragons, but they are included in the dragons of the Avatar universe as it is such an integral aspect of the western idea of dragons, and also for the fact that they are the primal benders for the art of firebending, whereas oriental dragons were more closely associated with water. Druk, Zuko's dragon, was named after a dragon of Korean legends.