Dragons (Middle-earth)

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Dragons
Information
Created dateFirst Age
Created by fictional beingMorgoth(Melkor)
Home worldMiddle-earth
Base of operationsEred Mithrin, Withered Heath, Lonely Mountain,Erebor
Sub-racesFire-drakes, cold-drakes

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").[T 1]

Earliest conceptions[edit]

Dragons are already present in The Book of Lost Tales. Tolkien had been fascinated with dragons since childhood.[T 2] As well as "dragon", Tolkien called them "drake" (from Old English draca, in turn from Latin draco and Greek δράκων), and "worm" (from Old English wyrm, "serpent", "dragon").[T 3] Tolkien named four dragons in his Middle-earth writings. Like the Old Norse dragon Fafnir, they are able to speak, and can be subtle of speech.[1][2]

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 serve as transport for Orcs. These do not appear in the published Silmarillion, 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.[T 4]

In the late Third Age, the dragons bred in the Northern Waste and Withered Heath north of the Grey Mountains.

Inspiration[edit]

The Dragons in Tolkien's stories were inspired by Fafnir from Germanic mythology, the Beowulf dragon, and the Dragon from the legend of Saint George and the Dragon.

Tolkien admitted he had been fascinated with dragons since childhood.[T 5]

Characteristics[edit]

In Tolkien's works, dragons are quadrupedal, and may be either flightless, like Glaurung, or winged, like Smaug. Winged dragons first appeared during the War of Wrath, the battle that ended the First Age.

Some dragons, known as "Fire-drakes" ("Urulóki" in Quenya), are capable of breathing fire. It is not entirely clear whether the "Urulóki" were only 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 that Dáin I of Durin's folk and his son Frór were killed by a "Cold-drake", prompting their people to leave the Grey Mountains. It is commonly assumed that this indicates a dragon which could not breathe fire.

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.

Tolkien calls the dragon Scatha a "long-worm", without further explanation.

All 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 failed, as they were not yet powerful enough to be useful in battle.

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. Chrysophylax is a fire-breathing dragon, described as a "hot" one.

Glaurung[edit]

Glaurung, first introduced in The Silmarillion, is described as the Father of Dragons in Tolkien's legendarium, and the first of the Urulóki, the Fire-drakes of Angband. He is a main antagonist in The Children of Húrin, in which he sets in motion events that bring about the protagonist Túrin Turambar's eventual suicide before being slain by him. Glaurung is shown to use his ability to control and enslave Men using his mind to wipe the memory of Túrin's sister Nienor, though it was restored after Glaurung had perished. He is described as having four legs and the ability to breathe fire, but no wings.

In 2014, a new genus and species of gliding reptiles was named Glaurung.[3]

Ancalagon the Black[edit]

Ancalagon the Black (Sindarin: rushing jaws from anc 'jaw', alag 'impetuous'[T 6]) was a dragon bred by Morgoth during the First Age of Middle-earth, as told in The Silmarillion. He was one of Morgoth's most powerful servants, bred to be the greatest and mightiest of all dragons, and the first of the winged "fire-drakes". He arose like a storm of wind and fire from the infernal pits of Angband beneath the Iron Mountains, as a last defense 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 to lead 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. Eärendil 'The Blessed' in his powerfully hallowed Elven airborne ship Vingilot, aided by Thorondor and the great Eagles, battled Ancalagon and his dragons for an entire day. At length Eärendil prevailed, casting Ancalagon upon the triple-peaked towers of Thangorodrim, destroying both Ancalagon and the towers. With his last and mightiest defender slain, Morgoth was soon utterly defeated and made captive, thus ending the War of Wrath.[T 7]

Two extinct genera have been named after Ancalagon. In 1977, an extinct genus of worms from the Cambrian Burgess Shale was named Ancalagon,[4] and in 1980, an extinct genus of mammal was named Ankalagon.[5]

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. Scatha's name was likely taken from Anglo-Saxon sceaða, "injurious person, criminal, thief, assassin".[T 8] 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 silver horn that Éowyn gave to Merry Brandybuck after the War of the Ring, crucial in The Scouring of the Shire, came from this hoard.[6]

Smaug[edit]

Smaug in fan art

Smaug was the last named dragon 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. This is the result of one of his scales being dislodged by Girion during Smaug's initial attack on Dale on his way to take over Erebor. Bilbo Baggins discovered this patch, which led to Smaug's death above Esgaroth.[T 9]

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 beyond the Middle-earth canon in both Middle-earth Role Playing[citation needed] and The Wizards, a trading card game set in Middle-earth.[7]

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.[8]

In The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, players encounter the dragon Úrgost and must ally with him against Agandaûr.[9]

References[edit]

Primary[edit]

This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  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. (1947), On Fairy-Stories, Unwin Paperbacks (1975), p. 44; ISBN 0 04 820015 8
  3. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales, 2, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-36614-3
  4. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales, 2, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-36614-3
  5. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1947), On Fairy-Stories, Unwin Paperbacks (1975), p. 44; ISBN 0 04 820015 8
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), The Silmarillion, "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
  8. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1967), Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings, in Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull (2005), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, HarperCollins, p. 762; ISBN 0 00 720308 X
  9. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937), Douglas A. Anderson, ed., The Annotated Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002, ISBN 0-618-13470-0

Secondary[edit]

  1. ^ Shippey, Tom (2001). J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. HarperCollins. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-0261-10401-3.
  2. ^ Lee, Stuart D.; Solopova, Elizabeth (2005). The Keys of Middle-earth: Discovering Medieval Literature Through the Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien. Palgrave. pp. 109–111. ISBN 978-1403946713.
  3. ^ Bulanov, V.; Sennikov, Andrey (21 September 2014). "Glaurung schneideri gen. et sp. nov., a New Weigeltisaurid (Reptilia) from the Kupfershiefer (Upper Permian) of Germany". Paleontological Journal. 49: 1353–1364. doi:10.1134/S0031030115120035.
  4. ^ "Ancalagon minor". The Burgess Shale. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  5. ^ Lund, Richard (Jan 1980). "Photomacrography of Fossils for Publication". Journal of Paleontology. 54 (1): 264–266. JSTOR 1304185.
  6. ^ Drout, Michael D. C.; Hitotsubashi, Namiko; Scavera, Rachel (2014). "Tolkien's Creation of the Impression of Depth". Tolkien Studies. 11 (1): 167–211. doi:10.1353/tks.2014.0008. ISSN 1547-3163.
  7. ^ Miller, John Jackson; Greenholdt, Joyce (2003). Collectible Card Games Checklist & Price Guide (2nd ed.). Krause Publication. p. 377. ISBN 0-87349-623-X.
  8. ^ Radcliffe, Doug (20 March 2006). "The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II Walkthrough". GameSpot. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  9. ^ Miller, Greg (18 January 2012). "Lord of the Rings: War in the North Blowout". IGN. Retrieved 24 January 2021.