An Inquiry into Literary Dragons East and West
Edited By Fanfan Chen and Thomas Honegger
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Dragons: The Evolution of Glaurung and Smaug 271
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Dragons The Evolution of Glaurung and Smaug Anne C. Petty Summary This paper is a study of how two very different dragons emerged in Tolkien’s fiction from the same basic source material, primarily Beowulf and the story of Sigurd the dragonslayer. As a youngster, Tolkien’s exposure to the dragonslayer tale came via Andrew Lang’s 1890 Red Fairy Book, in the story of “Siegfried the Dragon- slayer”. This story type forms the central motif in Tolkien’s The Hobbit and his Middle-earth legendarium, published as The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin. Tolkien’s two most famous dragons – Glaurung and Smaug – exhibit his fascination for the creature. As characters, they share much in common, yet differ in interesting ways, as Tolkien’s skill as a writer matured. This essay explores these various inspirations for Tolkien’s two famous dragons, focusing on his writer’s skill in bringing them to life as characters by comparing the ways in which they exhibit both “malicious wisdom and shrewd- ness” and animal “bestiality”. In comparison, we’ll discover that Glaurung finds himself firmly rooted in the high saga style of Tolkien’s Nordic sources, while Smaug has at least one foot, and maybe a tail, planted in the modern world, with both serious and comedic results. Dragons are iconic. The concept of such a creature has haunted our psyche for thousands of years, becoming a firmly established motif in literature and art the world over. By the Middle Ages, the western dragon was well standardized in terms of what...
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