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"Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool! You aren't nearly through this adventure yet."
Bilbo Baggins to himself after confronting Smaug[3]

Dragons were ancient, intelligent, powerful creatures, as feared as they were admired in Middle-earth. Their exact origin is debated, though it was clearly stated that they were created by Morgoth in some sense, millennia before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

History

Tolkien - Dragon

A drawing by Tolkien of a dragon

Dragons lived throughout the First, Second, and Third ages of Middle-earth and may have lived longer. They were originally bred by Morgoth during the First Age to serve as powerful war beasts. The first dragon ever seen in Middle-earth was Glaurung, titled as the Great Worm and the Father of Dragons, whom Morgoth used to great effect during the fourth and fifth battles in the War of the Great Jewels. Glaurung had four legs and breathed fire, though he was wingless and lacked the ability to fly. Like most of the creatures made or twisted by Morgoth, Dragons were capable of reproducing independently. Dragons were sometimes referred to as Great-Serpents, Long-Worms, or simply Drakes, with the first two specifying the Serpent-like Dragons. In the First Age, the greatest heirloom of the House of Hador was the Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin, a helm of great weight that had as its crest an image of Glaurung's head.[4] After Glaurung, even mightier dragons were bred to serve Morgoth. The largest and most powerful dragon to ever live was Ancalagon the Black, who led his kind in the final charge against the Valar in the War of Wrath at the close of the First Age. Most of Morgoth's dragons, including Ancalagon, were killed in this battle.[5] However, some survived and fled eastward to the Northern Waste of the remaining Middle-earth, where, in later years, they would slowly multiply.

Smaug, Raoul Vitale

Smaug, by Raoul Vitale

Dragons in the Second Age and Third Age were a blight upon the Dwarves and all those who hoarded treasure. Some like Smaug the Golden[6] and Scatha the Worm,[7] went from the Withered Heath where they had bred[8] and invaded Dwarven kingdoms. Some peoples of Men were driven from their lands as well in the northeast, before the last centuries of the Third Age, by certain dragons[9] among whom was Smaug.

Anato-finnstark-web-petit(1)

Depicton by Anato Finnstark of Ancalagon the Black issuing from Angband

It is presumed that after the death of Smaug in the Third Age, the great dragons became extinct. According to Gandalf, the fire-drake race survived until at least just before the War of the Ring, and some lesser kin survived even after the war. It may have been possible that some races of dragon still existed into the Fourth Age.[10]

There was an inn in the Shire called The Green Dragon, and a type of flower and firework called a Snap Dragon. For Bilbo Baggins' 111th birthday, Gandalf made a special dragon firework.[11]

Delineations

The main traits distinguishing dragons of Middle-earth were their means of movement and whether they breathed fire. The groups listed below are not all mutually exclusive.

  • Urulóki (Urulokë, Fire-drakes) - Fire-breathing four-legged Dragons with or without wings
  • Cold-drakes - Winged or wingless four-legged Dragons who could not breathe fire
  • Winged Dragons - Dragons that had four legs, but also wings, enabling flight
  • Wingless Dragons - Dragons with no wings that crawled on four legs, such as Glaurung. Spark-dragons were possibly of this group.
  • Serpent-like Dragons - Dragons that lacked legs and wings, such as the Great-Serpents/Long-worms and the Sea-Serpents/Fish-Dragons

Characteristics

Fall of Gondolin scene, Justin Gerard

Desperate Gondolindrim facing a dragon of Morgoth amid the fires of Gondolin in FA 150, by Justin Gerard

Dragons were long-lived, powerful, cunning, possessing subtle intelligence, great physical strength, and covered in nearly impenetrable scales everywhere except their undersides. They had an overwhelming lust for treasure, especially gold, and were known for sleeping on hoards of all they had stolen. By their very nature, they relished not only the theft of beautiful things, but the act of dispossession itself; it was more satisfying for them to steal treasure from others rather than find unclaimed valuables. According to Thorin Oakenshield, they had a very keen sense of the value of their hoard, but never themselves crafted so much as a brass ring. Dragons were prone to fits of rage, which could result in devastating effects upon the surrounding land and those living on it. The reasons behind their strong affinity for gold are unknown, but dragons often put a greater priority on possessing gold than on obtaining food, and they can survive without food (and maybe water as well) for decades or perhaps even centuries. This suggests that jewels may be primal sources of the great serpents' life forces (though they could also simply possess extremely slow metabolisms, similar to other reptiles but exaggerated). Due to this fact, dragons of Arda may or may not be immortal in ideal conditions, though they are known to live for very long periods of time. Not much is known about the lifecycle of dragons, but it is known that they hatch from eggs, and that Glaurung, the progenitor of the species, took three centuries to grow from infancy to adulthood, and that he was considered an "adolescent" after growing for around a century. If Glaurung's development mirrors that of other dragons, then it also takes a great deal of time for their scales to become hard, as Glaurung's could still be penetrated by arrows after a century of development.

Glaurung

Glaurung, the greatest wingless dragon, hypnotizing Niënor near Cabed-en-Aras, by Eric Velhagen

Many accounts of interaction between dragons and other beings makes mention of them speaking, using the Common Tongue. In conjunction, they also possessed a hypnotic power known as the "dragon-spell", by which weaker-willed beings could be put into a trance or bent to a dragon's will when the beast spoke. Even those of strong will could be subjected to this ability, especially if they were not prepared for it. Dragons could make even greater use of this ability through psychological manipulation, increasing the power of the spell by taunting a subject with knowledge of some inner conflict on the part of the subject. Glaurung, for instance, was not fully capable of bending Túrin to his will, but when the dragon began to taunt him with his own failings, Túrin became far more receptive to the dragon's suggestions. In addition, this dragon-spell seems to have had the ability to plant mistrust in the listener's mind. This power also extended to a dragon's treasure hoard, causing it to excite feelings of greed and animosity among others who would possess it. Feuds and battles frequently followed upon the death of a dragon; usually between the individual who slew the beast and the original owners (or their heirs) of its hoard, as well as an occasional ambitious third party. Some have speculated that this 'curse' played a part in Fram's death at the hands of the Dwarves after he had slain Scatha. The same could be said of the famous Battle of Five Armies upon the death of Smaug, though other external circumstances clearly played a significant role in causing that conflict.

Dragons evidently delighted in sowing discord and strife among others, and apparently had a love of riddles and puzzling talk, spending long hours trying to decipher it. Therefore, speaking in ambiguous riddles was the best way to converse with a dragon, as it was quite unwise to either tell the full truth or to directly refuse them. Bilbo Baggins used this knowledge to great effect during his confrontation with Smaug, entertaining him with vague double-speak in order to keep him mentally occupied and delay his rage.

JohnHoweSmaug

Smaug the Golden, by John Howe

Assaulting Gondolin Roger Garland

Dragons of Morgoth assaulting Gondolin's walls, as imagined by Roger Garland

Dragons had an acute sense of smell. During his encounter with Smaug, Bilbo Baggins was informed by the dragon that he knew that Bilbo was in the company of Dwarves, due to the scent of a "dwarf-ridden pony" upon Bilbo. However, Smaug could not determine what Bilbo himself was by scent, as he had not encountered a hobbit before. Furthermore, despite Bilbo's invisibility thanks to the One Ring, Smaug was aware of the hobbit's presence by his breath and the movement of the air he caused in the great hall. Dragons were known to be able to sleep with half an eye open, on the alert for intruders if they were suspicious. The hobbit, his senses perhaps heightened by wearing the ring, also reported seeing a pale ray of light emanating from Smaug's eye as he probed the chamber back and forth for the burglar.[12]

With strong scales covering the majority of their bodies, dragons could resist most weapons, though young dragons had to grow into their armour over time, as indicated in "Of the Return of the Noldor".[13] Mithril is said to have been as strong as dragon scales, though lighter in weight. The underbelly of a dragon is described in The Hobbit as soft, slimy, and unarmored, and was often exploited as a point of vulnerability in combat. However, Smaug had lain so long on the heap of treasure in the deep of the Lonely Mountain that gems and coins had become encrusted in the slime, so that he was "armored above and below with iron scales and hard gems"; he was also said to have had scales there too making his underbelly harder to strike at than his back (though this protection was not complete, and ultimately resulted in him being killed). The Dwarves appear to have had some skill at fighting dragons, as seen when they held off Glaurung for a time in the Nírnaeth Arnoediad. This was one of the few instances where the battle was not due to stolen gold. The age-old fight between Dwarves and dragons was primarily a result of the Dwarves placing great value on their hard-earned treasure, and the dragon's habit of stealing it. King Dáin I and his son Frór of the Grey Mountains were both slain at the doors of their hall by a great cold-drake. Both races lusted for beautiful metals and gems, and so, naturally, came into conflict, with the dragons generally prevailing.

Dragon fire was hot enough to melt the Rings of Power. Indeed, four of the seven rings gifted to the Dwarves were consumed by dragon fire. However, it was said by Gandalf that no dragon's fire would be hot enough to melt the One Ring, "not even that of Ancalagon the Black".

John Howe - Morgoth's Forces before Gondolin

Dragons and Balrogs before Gondolin, by John Howe

Significant dragons

In Tolkien's other works

  • Chrysophylax Dives - Main antagonist in the Farmer Giles of Ham, although not entirely evil in nature. One of the most powerful of his kin in his age.
  • A young dragon - Resided in Chrysophylax's nest in the absent of the older dragon, and later fought with the original host for the nest, losing the battle and resulting in his death.
  • Great White Dragon - A giant dragon appearing in the Roverandom and the sire of the white dragons on the moon.
  • Very Red - A red dragon said to have battled with the Great White Dragon on Earth in the era of Merlin.
  • Great sea serpent - A sea serpent of tremendous size and power, with the body a hundred miles long. He is described to be "primordial, prehistoric, autothalassic, fabulous, mythical, and silly are other adjectives applied to him". He causes a terrible storm by swimming, and is powerful enough that "even the Man-in-the-Moon working hard for fifty years could have concocted a spell large enough or long enough or strong enough to bind him. Only once had the Man-in-the-Moon tried (when specially requested), and at least one continent fell into the sea as a result".
Glaurung, Giancola

Glaurung, by Donato Giancola

Speculations on origins

Much speculation has accumulated as to the origin of Dragons in Arda.

  • One belief is that Dragons were simply beasts physically enhanced by Morgoth, likewise of Orcs and, possibly, Black Wings, but there are issues with this line of thought.[14] Randall Johnson has written that: "Dragons understand many tongues, and they are known for speaking in riddles. Dragons are very intelligent, able to lead armies into battle. Dragons are able to petrify and hypnotize with but a glance of their eyes. Dragons cast spells and curses. Some Dragons breathe fire. These properties and powers are not characteristic of simple beasts". Another problem is, of course, that dragons did not originally have wings. However, evil and corrupted creatures such as Orcs and wargs spoke several languages. Valar animals such as great eagles could communicate with Free Peoples. Thus it is logically not inappropriate to consider that dragons before dragons once were creations of Yavanna in terms of linguistic ability.
  • Another is that they were simply embodied Maiar, as the Balrogs were. This idea avoids many of the problems of the previous ideas on draconic origins. According to this belief, dragons are Maiar, ancient spirits in the form of gigantic, serpentine monsters. The fact that Maiar had the ability to take on corporeal forms has been established previously: Melkor's deadly allies, the Balrogs, were Maiar in the raiment of fire and shroud. The Wizards were Maiar in the apparent form of Men. One of the main drawbacks to this belief is that it debatably assumes all dragon individuals came into being in the First Age, which is counter to indications that the dragon Smaug was born after the War of Wrath and that Dragons reproduced in the Withered Heath.
  • Lastly, there is a belief that dragons are actually descendants of embodied Maiar and beasts (more likely monsters or those creatures referred to by Gandalf as 'nameless things') much like Ungoliant procreates with spiders. This belief is generally considered to have great strength by Middle-earth experts.[14] Johnson writes: "[this belief] contends that at some point in time, a Maia, according to the bidding of Melkor, assumed a bodily form genetically compatible with an existing reptile. Recall that Sauron himself took the form of a serpent. 'Then Sauron shifted shape, from wolf to serpent, and from monster to his own accustomed form.' (The Silmarillion, pg. 212) This serpent-Maia mated with the reptile, procreating the first Dragon, Glaurung. Glaurung then mated either with other existing reptiles or with other serpent-Maiar in order to reproduce. Eventually, the Dragons became a self-sustainable race."

Non-canon dragons

When Iron Crown Enterprises gained the licensing rights for games made from Tolkien's books, they expanded the selection of named dragons considerably in both Middle-earth Role Playing and The Wizards, a trading card game set in Middle-earth. Also in the real-time strategy game The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, based on Peter Jackson's film trilogy, there is a dragon named Drogoth.

In The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, there are several types of creatures distantly related to dragons. There are giant salamanders, worms (long, quadrupedal serpents) and drakes (smaller, weaker, less intelligent forms of dragons.) There is also an undead dragon in the game, Thorog, resurrected by the forces of the Witch-king of Angmar to aid him in maintaining control over the Misty Mountains. Though not all dragons were mentioned by name in the official texts, names coming from sources other than Tolkien are said not to be "canonical".

In a later expansions of the game, Drogoth the Dragon Lord was featured in The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, serving as a commander of goblin forces.

The Lord of the Rings Online: Rise of Isengard, a raid of 12 or 24 players takes place in the lair of Draigoch, another dragon in the Misty Mountains, though much further south in Enedwaith. He, unlike Thorog, is alive, though similarly flies and breathes fire. Another blue-fire breathing individual was portrayed as an ultimate force of Isengard.

In The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, players encounter the dragon Úrgost and must ally with him against Agandaûr.

Drakes appear as rather neutral characters in Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

Trivia

  • Tolkien's dragons bear striking similarity to the dragons described in old European legends and poems, such as the Norse Sagas or Beowulf epic. In all these sources, dragons embody greed. They hoard treasure with extreme jealousy and their ire is often provoked when any piece of their loot, no matter how small, is taken from them.
  • Tolkien also gives his dragons powers and weaknesses akin to those of the literary works he studied: eg. Like the dragon from Beowulf, they are reptilian creatures with fiery breath, and like Fafnir (from the Völsunga Saga in Norse mythology) they are serpentine creatures that poison the land around them. Also like both these dragons, Tolkien's dragons have armored scales but a soft, vulnerable underbelly, which is usually pierced to slay them.

Translations



Foreign Language Translated name
Albanian Dragonj
Amharic ከድራጎኖች
Arabic تنانين
Armenian Դրակոններ
Basque Herensugeak
Belarusian Cyrillic Цмокі
Bengali ড্রাগন ?
Bosnian Zmajevi
Bulgarian Cyrillic Дракони
Cambodian នាគ
Catalan Dracs
Chinese 足恐龙
Corsican Draghi
Croatian Zmajevi
Czech Draci
Danish Drager
Dari اژدهایان
Dutch Draken
Esperanto Drakoj
Estonian Draakonid
Finnish Lohikäärmeitä
Galician Dragóns
Georgian დრაკონები
German Drachen
Greek Δράκοι
Gujarati ડ્રેગન
Hebrew דרקונים
Hindi ड्रेगन
Hungarian Sárkányok
Icelandic Drekar
Indonesian Naga-naga
Italian Draghi
Japanese 竜/龍/ドラゴン
Kazakh Cyrillic Айдаһар ?
Kannada ಡ್ರಾಗನ್ಸ್
Korean 드래건스
Kyrgyz Cyrillic Ажыдаарлар
Latin Dracones
Latvian Pūķi
Lithuanian Drakonai
Luxembourgish Draachen
Macedonian Cyrillic Ламји
Malay Naga-naga
Maltese Draguni
Norwegian Drager
Old English Dracan
Persian اژدهایان
Pashto اژدهاوې دي
Polish Smoki
Portuguese Dragões
Punjabi ਡਰੈਗਨ
Romanian Dragoni
Russian Драконы
Scottish Gaelic Dràgoin
Serbian Драгонс (Cyrillic) Zmajevi (Latin)
Sinhalese මකරු
Slovak Draci
Slovenian Zmaji
Somalian Dawacooyin
Spanish Dragones
Swedish Drakar
Tamil டிராகன்கள்
Telugu డ్రాగన్స్
Thai มังกร
Turkish Ejderhalar
Ukrainian Cyrillic Дракони
Uzbek аждарлари (Cyrillic) Ajdarlari (Latin)
Vietnamese Con rồng
Welsh Dreigiau
Yoruba Dragoni
Yiddish דראַגאָנס

References

  1. The History of Middle-earth, Vol. XII: The Peoples of Middle-earth, II: "The Appendix on Languages"
  2. The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter XIII: "Of the Return of the Noldor"
  3. The Hobbit, Chapter XII: "Inside Information"
  4. The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter XXI: "Of Túrin Turambar"
  5. The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter XXIV: "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
  6. The Hobbit, Ch. I: "An Unexpected Party"
  7. The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers, II: The House of Eorl
  8. The Hobbit, Ch. I: "An Unexpected Party", pg. 20 (First Mariner Books edition, 2012)
  9. The Hobbit, Ch. IV, pg. 53 (First Mariner Books edition, 2012)
  10. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 144 (to Naomi Mitchison)
  11. The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter I: "A Long-expected Party"
  12. The Hobbit, Ch. XII: "Inside Information"
  13. The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Return of the Noldor", pg. 116 (1977 hardcover)
  14. 14.0 14.1 [1] http://cogitemusaccurate.blogspot.com/

External links

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