-by Grant Smuts
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
‘Here Be Dragons’.
When ever I hear that phrase, I can almost immediately hear the dwarves from the Hobbit singing
‘Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old’…
At some point or another, you might have come across the words “Here Be Dragons”. The phrasing has seen some usage in popular poetry and anthologies and you might just think it as a fanciful turn of phrase. The truth is that it originates from old map-making which was a very imprecise task, due to a lack of advanced technology and an almost whimsical tendency to make things up as you go.
Basically, to fill in great blank areas on the maps, mapmakers used to include textual and/or graphic warnings of the dangers of going into uncharted territory. Such warnings took the form of sea serpents, dragons, cannibals and many other mythical and, sometimes, even real creatures.
The actual phrase “Here Be Dragons” has been used only once, on the 16th century Lenox Globe – but it sounded so awesome that it was immortalized by every fantasy writer drawing a map. They just have to put a dragon or sea serpent somewhere on their map – to designate ‘the great unknown’… also known as the region of ‘come here and get eaten’
On the map “Here Be Dragons” is rendered in Latin as Hic Sunt Dracones (because everything sounds better in Latin. Seriously. “Ego vivo in crustulam” sounds like some badass wizard’s spell, but it actually means “I live on the cake”. Because why the hell not?)
Joking aside, in fantasy, the place marked as “Here Be Dragons” – if it is ever traveled to – usually designates a test of the hero’s will to survive. It’s usually some inhospitable place – the raging ocean, a vast and barren desert, mountains known for their many treacherous paths and so on. “Here Be Dragons” was a note of caution to the explorer – a note often ignored.
After all, in the fantasy setting, it’s rather a moot point that dragons and other scaly, furry and feathery nasties can kill you. After all, magic can kill. Knives, swords and their bladed cousins can kill. Small children can kill, when launched at great speed (don’t try this at home). So the dragon on your map is sometimes a challenge to the fantasy explorer to see if the dragon is actually there, and if it is, to survive it and return to tell the tale.
Hell, that’s what a thing like Dungeons and Dragons was based on – adventurers exploring the depths of deadly and forgotten places, facing the great unknown and returning with riches (and several level-ups) from their adventures.
‘Here Be Dragons’ has a greater meaning than just the unexplored places on the map though. The more I think on it, the more I feel that it could be a signpost for the genre of fantasy itself. It sort of hits the nail right on the head, doesn’t it? You open the pages of a fantasy novel, with (usually) no idea of what you’re getting yourself into, who or what you’ll encounter… and how deeply you’ll be drawn in.
You’re reading a fantasy so 9 out of 10 times it’s not so much a question of ‘if’ there are dragons. The bigger question is what those dragons are, what they mean, and how they prove to be obstacles (or otherwise).
There are greater and deeper unknowns that the fantasist dares to explore. We tend not to be happy so much with archetypes as we are with subversions and motivations.
Fantasy is heading into the new age, where the old dragons have been met, conquered or otherwise discussed the nature of existence with, and now there are new dragons on distant horizons. While most people think of Fantasy as a place filled with tried and tested and perhaps tired tropes and conventions, for the budding fantasist, this is an exciting time.
It’s a time for reinvention, for discovery… to show the world the wonders of new horizons, avenues of psychology and creatures that (for the moment) defy belief. We venture beyond Middle Earth, Narnia and Pern. These places have been explored in great detail by true trailblazers in the field. We set our sights a little further afield. We look down on the map, to the edges and we mark the empty spaces with an ‘X’:
“Here Be Dragons” is our destination.
As Troll Magazine heads into Issue 2, we find ourselves in unexplored territory, finding our feet and our capabilities. And while I shouldn’t say too much about it, I’ll say this:
There Will Be Dragons.
Read our Debut Issue here at
And get ready for Issue 2!!! Bigger, Better, and infinitely more Badass.