Smaug, the Dragon in the Hobbit
Smaug also known as the Golden One is one of the offspring of the Morgothic Dragons. After the fall of the latter, he leaves the Dried Branch (land of dragons) to travel through Middle-earth in search of treasure and a hiding place.
In this article, we will answer several questions you may ask about this ferocious creature from The Hobbit saga:
- Who is Smaug the Golden One?
- Where does the name Smaug come from?
- What kind of dragon is Smaug?
- What's his story?
- How did J.R.R. Tolkien create Smaug?
- What are the Smaug's secret origins?
- What are Smaug's various appearances?
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1. Who is Smaug the Golden One?
Smaug the Golden is a dragon belonging to the legendary British writer J. R. R. Tolkien and featured in his novel The Hobbit (1937), of which he is the main antagonist. At the time of the novel's action, he lives in the halls of Lonely Mountain, (also known as Erebor Sindarin) in Middle-earth. He had first destroyed the town of Dale, located at the foot of this mountain and populated by Men. Smaug then drove out the occupants, the Dwarves of Erebor, to take their wealth. Worried about Sauron's return to Middle-earth, the magician Gandalf wonders what role Smaug might play in Sauron's plans for conquest. At the same time, he receives a visit from Dwarf Thorin, who has come to seek advice on how to recover his lost heritage. Gandalf proposes to arrange a meeting between Thorin's company and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. This is how the Quest of Erebor is organized, which will allow to give back to the Dwarves the treasures that belong to them, while freeing the north of the Rhovanion from the influence of the dragon. Despite Thorin's death, the quest is a success, Smaug being shot by an arrow fired by Captain Bard during his assault on the city of Esgaroth, and the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor being restored.
Smaug was often brought closer by critics of the dragons in Norse mythology. Indeed The Hobbit draws much of his inspiration from works derived from this mythology, notably Beowulf, to which J. R. R. Tolkien devoted an academic work. According to this approach, Smaug can be interpreted as a figure of avarice.
2. Where does the name Smaug come from?
The name Smaug comes from the early Germanic verb smugan: "to slip into a hole", an etymology Tolkien called a philologist's bad joke. According to Tom Shippey, the name Smaug may have come from the mysterious expression sm'eah-wyrm "penetrating worm". This expression is found in the Bald's Leechbook, a 10th-century Anglo-Saxon work. This suggestion is corroborated by Tolkien's statement to The Observer newspaper that Smaug comes from the wid smeogan wyrme, "against the penetrating worm". Shippey adds that the name refers to the spirit rather than the physique of the dragon because the meaning of smeagan also refers to cunning. The name therefore suits Smaug, the most sophisticated intelligence in The Hobbit.
More remotely, Smaug is also linked to the creature's name Sméagol, a derivative of the old English smygel "burrow, place to crawl into". Tolkien also derived smial, the name given by hobbits to their most luxurious holes. Smaug is supposed to represent the name Trâgu, which has the same meaning in Dale's language, also in relation to the authentic westron name of Sméagol: Trahald.
3. What kind of dragon is Smaug?
Smaug is a winged dragon, red-golden in color. He has a very keen sense of smell, so much so that he can tell the number of company members just by the scent. His chest is covered with inlaid gems and stones, except for a small part in the hollow of his left breast, which is as bare as a snail without its shell. Its armor thus gives off a warm red light.
Smaug is described as particularly greedy, strong and evil, the most powerful of his time. In the first chapter of the Hobbit, we learn that Smaug was already over five feet tall, when he was just a young dragon.
4. What's his story?
Smaug made his first appearance in the year 2770 of the Third Age, during the reign of King Thrór. At that time, the dwarf kingdom of Erebor lived in opulence, the halls dug into the heart of the Lonely Mountain abounding in armor, jewels, gems and cups. All this wealth was known in the country, so much so that the dragon Smaug, greedy, strong and wicked, the most powerful of his time, finally heard about it. Smaug then flew from the parched branch to the Lonely Mountain, which he destroyed. He attacks the town of Dale on the mountainside, killing anyone he meets along the way. However, Thrór, his son Thráin II and his grandson Thorin II Oakenshield managed to escape, along with many dwarves, and settled in the Ered Luin.
In 2841 T. A., Thráin II leaves alone, deciding to return to Erebor. In 2845 he is taken prisoner in the fortress of Dol Guldur by Sauron, who steals his ring, the last of the seven allocated to the dwarf lords. Five years later, Gandalf enters the fortress, discovers Thráin dying, and receives confirmation that Sauron has returned. Gandalf begins to fear that Sauron will send armed forces to retake the ancient Kingdom of Angmar from the north and reach Eriador. This fear is reinforced by the lack of dwarf and human forces, destroyed by Smaug in the north of the Rhovanion, which could have stopped him. Finally, Gandalf feared Smaug all the more because Sauron could have used him as an ally in the future War of the Ring. So he is considering a way to get rid of the dragon.
In March 2941 T. A., Gandalf met Thorin on the way to the Shire at Bree. Thorin takes advice from Gandalf to take revenge on Smaug and regain his throne. Gandalf promises Thorin that he will think about his problem and then returns to the Shire. There he meets up with Bilbo Baggins and discovers that he is eager for adventure. Gandalf sets up the quest for Erebor, reuniting Thorin and his company with Bilbo, relying on the fact that Smaug doesn't know what a hobbit is.
The company crossed Middle-earth, and finally arrived in Erebor in the autumn of 2941. After some research, they discover a secret door that was used as an emergency exit by Thorin's grandfather and father during the dragon attack. On Durin's day, which corresponds to the last autumn moon, the secret door is revealed and the dwarves open it. Bilbo is sent alone into the heart of the mountain. The deeper he sinks, the more intense the heat he feels. He hears a sound that turns out to be the dragon, sleeping on a heap of stones and riches. Bilbo takes advantage of Smaug's sleep to steal a two-handled cup and then runs back up into the open air. He has just enough time to find the dwarves and show them his booty, for Smaug to wake up and discover the cup's theft. Enraged, he comes out of the Mountain and flies away with the idea of catching Bilbo. Smaug perches on the top of the mountain and pours his fire on his flanks. The dwarves and Bilbo barely have time to take shelter in the secret tunnel, but the door is destroyed and they are trapped. Smaug, after this outburst of fury, finds his heap of gold and falls half asleep. Bilbo decides to go back down into Smaug's lair, hoping that Smaug has fallen asleep. Having passed his ring of invisibility, he goes down the tunnel. Despite his invisibility, Smaug smells Bilbo. After a dialogue in which Smaug tries to learn more about the Hobbit and his companions, Bilbo escapes. But he has had time to observe that Smaug has a flaw in his armor, in his chest, a flaw that he informs the dwarves about. A thrush, who was following the company, also learns of the dragon's weakness and flies to Esgaroth. Smaug, for his part, comes out of Erebor and tries to bury the dwarves by causing a landslide on the side of the mountain, before heading towards the lakeside town of Long Lac (Esgaroth).
The archers of Long Lac, seeing Smaug coming, try to shoot him, but he is too well protected by his armor of stones. He set fire to and shot down several Esgaroth homes, before the thrush that followed the dwarves alerted Captain Bard, heir to Dale's throne, to Smaug's weak spot. He shoots the dragon with a black arrow, inherited from his family, shot in the left hollow of the chest. Smaug crashes into the town of Esgaroth causing a whirlpool and boiling in the water. The water where Smaug lies is feared by the people of the surrounding area, his bones remain several centuries in the ruins, and no one dares to dive any more in search of the stones of his armor.
5. How did J.R.R. Tolkien create Smaug?
J. R. R. Tolkien said that he cannot remember the exact date when he started writing Bilbo the Hobbit. In a 1955 letter to W. H. Auden he tells how, one summer when he was busy correcting copies of English literature, he wrote on a blank copy the first sentence of Bilbo the Hobbit: "In a hole lived a Hobbit", without knowing where the idea came from. Michael Tolkien, the author's second son, suggests the year 1929 as the beginning of the novel's writing. Some of his own writings, dating from this period, are clearly inspired by Bilbo the Hobbit, a novel that his father read to his sons during its elaboration. Nevertheless, John D. Rateliff, in The History of the Hobbit, suggests that writing of the story did not begin until the summer of 1930. In the very first draft of The Hobbit, The Fragment of Pryftan, the dragon appears for the first time as Pryftan. The name Smaug only appears in the revision of this chapter entitled The Adventure Continues from the second phase of writing the Hobbit. Tolkien then corrects the occurrences of the name Pryftan in previous chapters.
For a long time, Tolkien remained undecided about the fate of the dragon. Thus, in a draft, he envisages that Smaug will be killed in his sleep by Bilbo, and finally settles on death during the battle of the Lake. In the same draft, there is, for the first time, a reference to Smaug's golden red color.
6. Smaug's secret origins
Smaug is a Western Dragon. So he has links to the dragons of Nordic literature. Douglas A. Anderson notices that he dies with a wound in his belly, like the dragon in the Völsunga saga, Fáfnir, and the dragon in Beowulf. The dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug when they meet, where Bilbo refuses to give his real name, is a reminder of the conversation between Sigurd and Fáfnir. This exchange also recalls the dialogue between Ernest and the Giant Toad in Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen's short story Ernest, published in 1869 in Stories for My Children.
Tolkien notes, however, in a radio interview in 1965, that Fafnir is a human or humanoid being who has taken this form, while Smaug is just a purely intelligent lizard. However, despite Smaug's intelligence, he is nothing compared to the Necromancer. This difference is like the difference between the lightness of Bilbo the Hobbit and the seriousness of it's sequel, The Lord of the Rings. Compared to Glaurung, Smaug is just as dangerous and just as capable of creating desolation, but does not possess the same majesty as this one. The main difference he has with the latter is his freedom of action. Unlike Glaurung, who is dependent on Morgoth, Smaug is a free agent who does not answer to any master. He is closer to the White Dragon of the Moon in Roverandom, especially in character.
The link with Beowulf is accentuated by the scene where Bilbo steals a cup from Smaug's golden heap, which is directly reminiscent of a similar scene in Beowulf. When Tolkien is asked about this, he answers:
"Beowulf is one of the sources I value most, although he was not consciously present in my mind while I was writing, and the theft episode came naturally (and almost inevitably) in view of the circumstances. It is difficult to envisage any other way to continue the story at this point. I'd like to think that the author of Beowulf would say much the same thing."
J. R. R. Tolkien, letter to the editor of the Observer
Smaug thus reflects Beowulf's dragon in many ways. Tolkien uses it to put into practice certain literary theories he developed around the portrait of the dragon in the Anglo-Saxon poem, endowing the creature with a bestial intelligence beyond its purely symbolic role. According to Jane Chance, Smaug expresses spiritual sin through his pride and avarice. Smaug's avarice is also reflected in the "bewilderment", the corrupting power of the treasure over the dwarves, and especially over Thorin, who refuses to share the treasure.
Smaug also embodies the role of the tempter in the image of the original sin serpent in the Bible, who tempts Adam and Eve. He is also related to Leviathan, the sea monster described in the Book of Job of the Jerusalem Bible, which Tolkien knew well from his participation in its English translation from Hebrew.
Smaug the dragon and his gold reserves can be seen as a reflection of the traditional relationship between evil and metallurgy, as brought together by the description of the Pandemonium in John Milton's Lost Paradise. According to Ross Smith, Smaug dialogues with the charm and wit (and the accent the reader imagines) of an educated member of the British upper class, but especially with the aggressive politeness characteristic of that class.
7. Smaug's various appearances
Tolkien illustrated Smaug many times. One of his drawings, in color, entitled "Conversations With Smaug", illustrates the meeting between Bilbo and the dragon. The illustration appeared in 1937 in the second English printing of the first edition of the Hobbit and in 1938 in the American edition, where Tolkien's monogram was removed from the drawing. In both editions, the printed title is "O Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities".
In 1973, in The J. R. R. Tolkien Calendar, there is the illustration of "Death of Smaug" which shows the dragon pierced by the black arrow above Esgaroth. This drawing had already been used to illustrate the cover of the 1966 English paperback edition, despite Tolkien's reluctance to use it. According to Tolkien himself, the sketch was made in 1936 for the first edition of the Hobbit.
Smaug is also depicted on the map of the Wild Lands that has adorned Bilbo's novel The Hobbit since 1937, and published, along with an earlier version, in Artist and Illustrator. A colorful poster by H. E. Riddett was published in 1979. On these maps, the representation of Smaug is very similar to that of Roverandom's White Dragon of the Moon. Smaug also makes an appearance in the illustration of Santa Claus' letter of the year 1932, where he is drawn on the wall of the goblins' cave.
Smaug also inspired other illustrators, such as John Howe. For example, in 1985, for the 50th anniversary calendar of Bilbo the Hobbit, John Howe illustrated The Death of Smaug, and in 1990 he was commissioned to illustrate Smaug the Golden to adorn the cover of the novel.
In The Hobbit, the 1977 cartoon adaptation of Bilbo the Hobbit, Smaug is dubbed by Richard Boone, while in the 1978 radio adaptation The Hobbit, it is Francis de Wolff. James Horan lent him his voice in the video game Bilbo the Hobbit, released in 2003.
In the film adaptation of Peter Jackson (2012-2014), British actor Benedict Cumberbatch was hired to embody and interpret the voice of the dragon.
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