If you chose the Fire Nation for Thesis One, welcome back to dragons! For the earth, air, and water benders, let me catch you up!
Ran and Shaw are the two remaining dragons. Dragons were the original firebending animals but they were hunted by the Fire Nation to this point of near extinction, as we learn in “The Firebending Masters” [ATLA, 3.13]. We know that dragons can be anything from the monsters valiantly slain by Arthurian knights to the loveable Mushu from Mulan, and we expect that these dragon histories and connotations will play a pretty big role in establishing some things about the Fire Nation.
If you’ve watched the show or read along with this, you won’t be surprised to see that I’m talking about the Fire Nation’s fear of the dragons – but you also might not have read Sozin’s tradition of hunting dragons for sport [ATLA, 3.13] as fear. In doing this, ATLA really brings to light the ways fear of the monster and desire can be entangled. Hunting the dragon is a quest for glory, but perhaps also a cry for validation, suggesting a deep cultural insecurity about their powers. A fear of the dragon, a desire to hunt the dragon, is really a desire to be the dragon – made clear by the traditional honorary title of “Dragon” bestowed upon those who had slain a dragon [ATLA, 3.13]. The fear of the dragon is a desire to be strong, to be a masterful firebender, to be respected, but it is also a desire to be safe and validated and to know that, as the most powerful beings, we do not have anything else to fear. It is the desire to become great and the desire to be fearless. This fear is really a desire… not to fear? Certainly says something about the Fire Nation’s cultural moment while Sozin was Fire Lord.