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Dragon (Middle-earth)

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

Created dateFirst Age
Created by fictional beingMorgoth
Home worldMiddle-earth
Base of operationsEred Mithrin, Withered Heath, Lonely Mountain
Sub-racesFire-drakes, cold-drakes

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]

Earliest conceptionsEdit

Dragons are already present in The Book of Lost Tales, the earliest Middle-earth-related[2] 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.[3]

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


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

Tolkien admitted he had been fascinated with dragons since childhood.[4]


In Tolkien's works, dragons are quadrupedal, like Komodo dragons or other lizards, and are either flightless (Glaurung) or winged and capable of flight (Ancalagon and Smaug). Winged dragons are stated to have first appeared during the War of Wrath, the battle that ended the First Age.

Some dragons are also capable of breathing fire, known as "Fire-drakes", or "Urulóki" (singular "Urulokë") in Quenya. 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 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, though not directly stated, that this term indicates a dragon which cannot breathe fire, rather than one who breathes ice or snow.

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" but does not explicitly explain the term.

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.

Named dragonsEdit

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, 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'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.

Ancalagon the BlackEdit

Ancalagon the Black (Sindarin: rushing jaws from anc 'jaw', alag 'impetuous'[5]) 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.

Ancalagon the Black was the greatest dragon of Middle-earth, undoubtedly the largest, and is often referred to as the "father of the winged-drakes". Like all other Urulóki, Ancalagon breathed fire, which was said to be hotter than any other known flame.

Two extinct genera have been named inspired by Tolkien's dragon. In 1977, an extinct genus of worms from the Cambrian Burgess Shale was named Ancalagon[6] and in 1980, an extinct genus of mammal was named Ankalagon.[7]


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 (circa T.A. 2000).

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 came from this hoard.

His name was likely taken from Anglo-Saxon sceaða, "injurious person, criminal, thief, assassin".[8]


Smaug as depicted 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. Bilbo Baggins discovered this, which led to Smaug's death above Esgaroth.[9]

Non-canon dragonsEdit

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[who?] 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 alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales, 2, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-36614-3
  2. ^ Actually, at this stage Tolkien had yet to apply the term "Middle-earth" to his work; he used terms like "the Great Lands" instead.
  3. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales, 2, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-36614-3
  4. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1947), On Fairy-Stories, Unwin Paperbacks (1975), p. 44; ISBN 0 04 820015 8
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ "Ancalagon minor". The Burgess Shale. Retrieved 19 September 2012.
  7. ^ Lund, Richard (Jan 1980). "Photomacrography of Fossils for Publication". Journal of Paleontology. 54 (1): 264–266. JSTOR 1304185.
  8. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien (1967), Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings, in Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull (2005), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, Harper Collins, 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

External linksEdit