Tag Archives: j.r.r. tolkein

Thursday Myths & Legends 101: Smaug the Magnificent

Smaug is perhaps my favorite dragon in fiction.  Maybe that’s just a childhood-association thing, but I’ve always thought he was pretty impressive.

Smaug is, of course, the dragon (and main villain of) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein.  Since I’m going to be starting Lord of the Rings, I’ve had The Hobbit on my mind, and my favorite scene in that novel is the bit where Bilbo talks with the great and evil Smaug.

As dragons go, Smaug is fairly impressive.  Fiery breath, incredibly strong tail, keen and accurate eyesight and sense of smell—he can also speak intelligently.  He is also centuries old, and very used to getting his way, and is conniving enough to confuse and entrance his victims, with help of a hypnotic gaze.

Smaug lives in Lonely Mountain, and has captured the treasure of the dwarves who once did.  He lies in his treasure, which has encrusted his skin, and knows every piece of his hoard—meaning he notices when even the smallest item (say a cup) is taken from it.  His weaknesses turn out to be his downfall, of course.  He is unable to resist a riddle (as are all dragons, according to Tolkein) so Bilbo is able to keep him talking and guessing things.  The “great worm” as he is called, also believes himself to be invulnerable, but Bilbo is so close to him he’s able to find a small, unencrusted patch of skin on Smaug’s left breast, which ends up being the death of him.

I think what always captured my imagination when I was a child, though, was how very smart Smaug is.  Sure he’s a great lazy, greedy beast, but he riddles out what he can from Bilbo, and bamboozles him a little bit, and is entirely entertaining to watch.  Smaug is no run-of-the-mill dragon.  Tolkein apparently drew extensively from the tale of Beowulf while writing him, which could explain some of the staying power of his story… drawing from something much older and very much a part of the origin of fiction.

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