Above is my quickie charcoal sketch of the Lambton Worm. It’s one of my favorite dragon stories, but there are so many variations to the tale that it’s difficult to tell just one complete version. I will tell it as I first read it, and if you would like to read all the versions, by all means explore them. Many of these legends are passed down in an oral tradition instead of being written, and variations occur according to the storyteller, cultures of the time, etc. In tales such as this, a worm is not an invertebrate that lives in the dirt; it is a dragon, often a huge, coiling monster.
The Lambton Worm story is a legend from North East England in the UK. The story takes place around the River Wear. Young John Lambton, heir to the Lambton estate, was a rebellious youth and decided to go fishing one day instead of attending his local church service. Warned by an old man passing by(headed to church) about missing one’s religious responsibilities, the young Lambton begins to rethink his actions when he brings in a horrific catch–a large snake or salamander-like creature. Rather than returning it to the river, the youth is advised by the old man to throw the creature down a well.
Lambton grows up, and goes off to join the Crusades. The creature in the well, meanwhile, has been growing and thriving underground(on what, we are never quite sure),poisoning the well water, until it is ready to emerge as a gigantic coiling serpent. Once it climbs out of the well, nothing is safe, be it livestock or humans. It terrorizes the countryside and in between assaults on the land and its civilians it coils itself around a hill(now called Worm Hill). Countless people try to slay the beast, but it seems to have the ability to reattach its coils every time someone tries to chop it in half.
John Lambton returns from the Crusades and finds his family’s land in ruin because of the worm. Determined to slay it and stop its deadly reign, he consults a witch, who tells him to have a set of razor-spiked armor constructed for himself and to fight the worm in the middle of a raging river. Lambton follows her instructions and lures the beast into the river. The worm tries to wrap around John Lambton’s armor, but its coils become severed on the armor’s razor-sharp spikes and are washed away in the current before they can reattach themselves, and at last it perishes.