- "Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool! You aren't nearly through this adventure yet."
- —Bilbo Baggins to himself after confronting Smaug
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.
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, the father of dragons, whom Morgoth used to great effect during the fourth and fifth battles in the War of the Jewels. Like most of the creatures made or twisted by Morgoth, they were capable of reproducing independently. Dragons were sometimes referred to as serpents, great Worms, or simply Drakes, with the first two specifying the Wingless Dragons.
During the First Age, the greatest heirloom of the House of Hador was the Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin, which was a helm of great weight that had as its crest an image of the head of Glaurung the Dragon.  Most of the dragons were destroyed in the War of Wrath, however some survived and fled into the far north, from where in later years they would slowly start to multiply.
The dragons of the Second Age and Third Age were a blight upon the Dwarves and all those who hoarded treasure. Some, like Smaug the Golden and Scatha the Worm, went from the Withered Heath and invaded Dwarven kingdoms.
Before the coming of Smaug, there had not been notable activities observed during the Second Age, as they are largely independent while they still posed threats to men along with "demons" and "misshapen beasts", and Sauron gathered "all the evil things of the days of Morgoth that remained on earth and beneath it", possibly including dragons, beginning the Accursed Years.
It is presumed that, after the death of Smaug in the Third Age, the great dragons had become 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.
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 serpent-like Dragons with or without wings
- Cold-drakes - 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 Wyrms/Long-worms (and perhaps the Sea-serpents)
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 not eating (and maybe drinking as well) for decades or perhaps 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 life cycle 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.
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 doublespeak in order to keep him mentally occupied and avoid his rage.
Dragons had an acute sense of smell. During his encounter with Smaug, Bilbo Baggins was informed in no uncertain terms by the dragon that knew that Bilbo was in the company of Dwarves due to the scent of a "dwarf-ridden pony" upon Bilbo. However, he was unable to determine what Bilbo was by scent, as he had never encountered a hobbit before. Furthermore, despite his invisibility, thanks to the One Ring, Smaug was aware of the Hobbit's presence by both 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.
Dragons had strong scales covering the majority of their bodies, which could resist most weapons, though young dragons had to grow into their natural armour. Mithril is said to have been as strong as dragon scales, though lighter in weight. The underbelly of a dragon was described 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 had a lust for beautiful metals and gems, and so, naturally, came into conflict, with the dragons generally prevailling.
A great stench went before Glaurung, and his blood contained some sort of venom, though it is not known if all dragons had these two traits, although the Dwarves commented on the reek of Smaug that filled the Lonely Mountain's halls after the dragon's long stay there.
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", the greatest dragon.
It is unknown whether "spark" in the name "Spark-dragons" refers to any true electric abilities. Similarly, when a host of winged-dragons emerged from Angband in the War of Wrath, it is said that they were accompanied by great thunder, and lightning, and a tempest of fire. It is unclear whether this implied actual electricity, simply the work of Morgoth, or a phenomenon similar to volcanic lightning.
- Glaurung - Slain by Túrin Turambar, also known as the "Father of Dragons"
- Ancalagon the Black - The mightiest winged dragon to have ever lived; slain by Eärendil
- Scatha the Worm - Slain by Fram of Éothéod
- The Great Cold Drake - A cold drake of great power which attacked Dwarves of Grey Mountains and killed Dáin I and his second son Frór
- Fire-drake of Gondolin - A large dragon that participated in the Fall of Gondolin
- Smaug - Slain with the Black Arrow by Bard the Bowman (afterward King Bard of Dale)
- Gostir - a dragon mentioned only once in passing
In Tolkien's other works
- Chrysophylax - Main antagonist in the Farmer Giles of Ham, although not entirely an evil in nature. One of the most powerful of his kin in his age.
- A young dragon - Resided in Chrysophylax's nest while the absent of the older dragon, and later fought with the original host for a nest, losing to the battle and resulting in his death by being eaten by Chrysophylax.
- Great white dragon - A giant dragon appeared in the Roverandom and is the sire of the white dragons on the moon.
- Red dragon - A dragon which was said to had battled with the Great white dragon on Earth in the ara of Merlin.
- Great sea serpent - A sea serpent of tremendous size and power, with the body reaches hundred miles. 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 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".
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, fellbeasts, but there are issues with this line of thought. 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 under from Orcs to 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. 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."
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.
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Kazakh Cyrillic||Айдаһар ?|
|Serbian||Драгонс (Cyrillic) Zmajevi (Latin)|
|Uzbek||аждарлари (Cyrillic) Ajdarlari (Latin)|
Races of the Creatures of Arda
Servants of the Shadow:
- The History of Middle-earth, Vol. XII: The Peoples of Middle-earth, II: "The Appendix on Languages"
- The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter XIII: "Of the Return of the Noldor"
- The Hobbit, Chapter XII: "Inside Information"
- The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter XXI: "Of Túrin Turambar"
- The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter I: "A Long-expected Party"
- The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 144 (to Naomi Mitchison)
- Encyclopedia of Arda article on Middle-earth's dragons
- Concerning the Origin of Dragons article at Cogitemus Accurate
- Dragons at Wikipedia
- Dragons info on Dragons at tumblr