Dragon (Middle-earth)

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J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium features dragons closely based on those of European legend.

Besides dragon (derived from French), Tolkien variously used the terms drake (the original English term, from Old English draca, in turn from Latin draco and Greek δράκων) and worm (from Old English wyrm, "serpent", "dragon").[1]

History[edit]

The dragons were bred by Morgoth during the First Age, when Glaurung, the first dragon, appears. Tolkien's dragons are capable of breeding on their own, and in later ages the Withered Heath is purportedly their spawning ground.

Taxonomy[edit]

Tolkien designed his own taxonomic system for dragons, based on locomotion and fire-breathing.

Dragons are quadrupedal, like Komodo dragons or other lizards, and are either flightless (Glaurung) or are winged and capable of flight (Ancalagon and Smaug). The first winged dragons appeared during the War of Wrath, the battle that ended the First Age.

Dragons which breathed fire were called Urulóki (singular Urulokë), "Fire-drakes". It is not entirely clear whether the term "Urulóki" referred only to the first dragons such as Glaurung that could breathe fire but were wingless, or to any dragon that could breathe fire, and thus include Smaug. In Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings Tolkien mentions a "Cold-drake". It is commonly assumed, though not directly stated, that this term indicates a dragon which cannot breathe fire, rather than one who breathes ice or snow. Further, Tolkien calls a fire-breathing dragon in the non-Middle-earth story Farmer Giles of Ham a "hot" one.

Tolkien calls the dragon Scatha a "long-worm" but does not explicitly explain the term.

Other characteristics[edit]

All of Tolkien's dragons share a love of treasure (especially gold), subtle intelligence, immense cunning, great physical strength, and a hypnotic power called "dragon-spell". They are extremely powerful and dangerous but mature very slowly. Because of this, Melkor's first attempts to use them against his enemies fail, as they are not yet powerful enough to be useful in battle. Despite their evil beginnings, they are not purely destructive by nature, as can be seen by Smaug, who wants to be left in peace, though he did force out the dwarves in the Lonely Mountain.

Dragon-fire (even that of Ancalagon the Black) is described as not being hot enough to melt the One Ring; however, four of the Dwarven Rings are consumed by Dragon-fire.

Named dragons[edit]

Tolkien named only four dragons in his Middle-earth writings. Another, Chrysophylax Dives, appears in Farmer Giles of Ham, a story separate from the Middle-earth corpus.

Glaurung[edit]

Main article: Glaurung

Glaurung is the Father of Dragons in Tolkien's legendarium, and the first of the Urulóki, the Fire-drakes of Angband. He has four legs and can breathe fire, but lacks wings. Glaurung can control and enslave Men using his mind. He is slain by Túrin Turambar.

Ancalagon the Black[edit]

Ancalagon: (Sindarin: rushing jaws from anc 'jaw', alag 'impetuous'[2])

Morgoth bred Ancalagon during the First Age to be the greatest and mightiest of all dragons, and the first of the winged ‘fire-drakes’. He arose from the inferno pits of Angband like a storm of wind and fire as a last defence of the realm of Dor Daedeloth. Near the end of the War of Wrath that pitted Morgoth’s hosts against the Host of the Valar, Morgoth sent Ancalagon leading a fleet of winged dragons from the fortress of Angband to destroy the Dark Lord’s enemies. So powerful was the assault of the dragon flight that the Host of the Valar was driven back from the gates of Angband onto the ashy plain of Anfauglith.

From the west, Eärendil 'The Blessed' in his powerfully hallowed Elven airborne ship Vingilot, aided by Thorondor and the great Eagles, dueled with Ancalagon and the dragon fleet for an entire day. At length Eärendil prevailed, casting Ancalagon upon the triple-peaked towers of Thangorodrim and destroying both dragon and towers. With his last and mightiest defender slain, Morgoth was soon utterly defeated and made captive, ending the War of Wrath.

Ancalagon the Black is considered to have been the greatest dragon of Middle-earth, undoubtedly the largest, and is often referred to as the ‘father of the winged-drakes’. He was so large his body was able to crush the volcanic Thangorodrim, the highest peaks in Beleriand. Like all other Urulóki, Ancalagon breathed fire, which was said to be hotter than any other known flame.

In 1977, an extinct genus of worms from the Cambrian Burgess Shale was named Ancalagon, inspired by Tolkien's dragon.[3]

Scatha[edit]

Scatha was a mighty "long-worm" of the Grey Mountains. Little is known of Scatha except that he was slain by Fram in the early days of the Éothéod.

After slaying Scatha, Fram's ownership of his recovered hoard was then disputed by the Dwarves of that region. Fram rebuked this claim, sending them instead Scatha's teeth, with the words, "Jewels such as these you will not match in your treasuries, for they are hard to come by." This led to his death in a feud with the Dwarves.

The Éothéod retained at least some of the hoard, and brought it south with them when they settled in Rohan. The horn that Éowyn gave to Merry Brandybuck after the War of the Ring came from this hoard.

His name was likely taken from Anglo-Saxon sceaða, "injurious person, criminal, thief, assassin".[citation needed]

Smaug the Magnificent[edit]

Main article: Smaug

Smaug was the last great fire-drake of Middle-earth. He was slain by Bard, a descendant of Girion, Lord of Dale. A deadly winged fire-breathing dragon, he was described as red-gold in colour and his underbelly was encrusted with many gemstones from the treasure-pile he commonly slept upon once he had taken control of Erebor (the Lonely Mountain). The Arkenstone was buried right in the pile he slept on, but Smaug never noticed it. Smaug had only a single weakness: there was a hole in his jewel encrusted underbelly on his left breast area. Bilbo Baggins discovered this, which led to Smaug's death above Esgaroth.[4]

Other dragons[edit]

Other dragons were present at the Fall of Gondolin. In the late Third Age the dragons bred in the Northern Waste and Withered Heath north of the Ered Mithrin. Dáin I of Durin's folk and his son Fror were killed by a cold-drake, prompting their people to leave the North.

Earlier conceptions[edit]

Dragons are already present in The Book of Lost Tales, the earliest Middle-earth-related[5] narratives written by Tolkien, starting in 1917. The Book of Lost Tales was eventually posthumously published in two volumes as part of The History of Middle-earth series, which was edited and includes commentary by his son Christopher.

In the earliest drafts of "The Fall of Gondolin", the Lost Tale that is the basis for The Silmarillion, Morgoth (here called Melkor) sends mechanical war machines in the form of dragons against the city; some even serve as armoured personnel carriers for Orcs. These machines do not appear in the published Silmarillion, also edited by Christopher Tolkien, in which real dragons attack the city. As in the later conception of the dragons in the Legendarium, the winged dragons had not yet been devised by Morgoth at the time of the Fall of Gondolin. The first winged dragons were coeval with Ancalagon the Black.[6]

Non-canon dragons[edit]

When the company 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 expansion of the game, 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.

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

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Book of Lost Tales 2, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-36614-3 
  2. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1987), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Lost Road and Other Writings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, The Etymologies, pp. 348, 362, ISBN 0-395-45519-7 
  3. ^ "Ancalagon minor". The Burgess Shale. Retrieved 19 September 2012. 
  4. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937),Douglas A. Anderson, ed., The Annotated Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002, ISBN 0-618-13470-0
  5. ^ Actually, at this stage Tolkien had yet to apply the term "Middle-earth" to his work; he used terms like "the Great Lands" instead.
  6. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Book of Lost Tales 2, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-36614-3 

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