Urban Fantasy: Where Be Dragons?

The urban fantasy genre has no shortage of fantasy creatures. They have wizards, fairies, trolls, demons, giants, werewolves, and perhaps a dozen flavors of the undead. They have virtually all the magical beings from high fantasy, but… where are the dragons?

For that matter, where are the unicorns, gryphons, mermaids, basilisks, centaurs, and ents? I can’t claim to be an expert on urban fantasy, but I’ve read a few dozen, and so far, the magical creatures seem to be limited to those who can put on a pair of shoes and walk among us.

In fairness, that’s almost required by the genre since the fantastic part of the world is usually hidden away, and since a vampire can walk into a nightclub more secretly than a forty-ton dragon, things tip towards the vampires and their two-footed friends.

There are certainly exceptions, but the ones I can think of almost don’t qualify as “urban fantasy”. The Harry Potter novels had dozens of truly fantastic creatures far beyond humans with prosthetic foreheads. (Oops, sorry, wrong genre!) But I’m not sure Harry Potter qualifies as urban fantasy. It’s not that it violates rule #12 of the urban fantasy code. It just doesn’t have the same vibe to me.

But if we are to stick with the rule that the fantastical elements of urban fantasy must remain hidden from the mundane world, couldn’t we still sneak in a few dragons? It would be hard to keep one in Chicago, but I can think of a number of lowly populated areas they might hide.

The national park system would make excellent hunting grounds, and if they were ever spotted by some random hiker? Well, ma’am, we think it was a bear attack, though we never did find the body. If they restrict their flight to nighttime (or at least during camping season), who knows how long they could remain a secret, especially if they were able to employ magical powers to help hide them. (This might go far in explaining some of the wildfires in recent years.) Go worldwide, and there are plenty of places that dragons might find more hospitable than humans.

Given how little we see of our vast oceans, mermaids would have an easy time hiding out. They might even enjoy teasing our submarines. Centaurs and ents would find suitable homes in our forests, and the ents might even talk a few developers out of their plans. Basilisks would hunt as easily as dragons, and unicorns are well known for their invisibility to all but virgins. If I’m to believe the statistics, they should be safe as long as they stay away from grade schools.

Then again, these remote locations are hardly urban, now are they? Could you keep a small dragon in the city? What about mermaids living in the town lake or ents in the city park? And are unicorns really that invisible to the impure? I don’t know, but it would be cool to see an author try it.

I’m not saying that I require my urban fantasy to branch out to ents or dive into the realm of mermaids. They’re still good stories as they are. However, I am saying it would be nice to explore an imaginative world that is populated by more than vampires, zombies, and werewolves.

6 thoughts on “Urban Fantasy: Where Be Dragons?

  1. In the subway system.

    (No, I didn’t just come up with that, it was in an urban fantasy I read. And enjoyed. And am looking forward to the next installment being available as an ebook before my birthday.)

      • I’m reluctant to do so here, as there being a dragon in the subway might be something of a spoiler, and I don’t want to ruin it for someone else.

  2. Oh, and dragons and forest fires? Got that one, too. The “forest fire” part isn’t terribly urban, as you point out, and if I’m remembering correctly which book it was, it’s more SUBurban than urban, for the most part, and YA to boot.

  3. I think you’re right – there doesn’t seem to be that much in the fantasy realm featuring actual non-humanoid creatures. I think I’ve read more future-based sci fi with non-humanoids.

    However, the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik is a notable exception. One of the main characters is a dragon – and not some human-sometimes dragon-sometimes dragon, but always a dragon. In the series the dragons work with a rider.

    It’s fantasy in that there are dragons. But otherwise it’s an alternate-history novel – the story takes place during the Napoleonic Wars.

  4. The Temeraire series is quite good, although I wouldn’t describe it as being Urban Fantasy. (Although I suppose it depends where you draw your sub-sub-genre lines.)

    I started reading an Urban Fantasy a while back where there were bridge trolls that lived (unsurprisingly) under bridges — but they were a part of the landscape rather than actual hominid figures. I don’t remember the name of the book, sadly. I do remember that I stopped reading after chapter 4 because it was awful. (The writing rather than the world building.)

    Other than that, I got nothing. Although I now feel somewhat challenged to fit a dragon or two into my own novel…

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