Smaug (/smɡ/[T 1]) is a dragon and the main antagonist in J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit, his treasure and the mountain he lives in being the goal of the quest. He is a powerful and fearsome dragon who invaded the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor 150 years prior to the events described in the novel. A group of thirteen dwarves mounted a quest to take the kingdom back, aided by the wizard Gandalf and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. In The Hobbit, Thorin describes Smaug as "a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm".[T 2]

Tolkien character
Conversation with Smaug.png
Tolkien's illustration "Conversation with Smaug"
  • Trâgu[T 1]
  • The Golden
  • The Magnificent
  • Dragon of Erebor
  • The Worm of Dread

Critics have identified close parallels with what they presume are sources of Tolkien's inspiration, including the dragon in Beowulf, who is provoked by the stealing of a precious cup, and the speaking dragon Fafnir, who proposes a betrayal.[1] A further source may be Longfellow's 1855 poem The Song of Hiawatha, where Megissogwon, the spirit of wealth, is protected by an armoured shirt, but whose one weak spot is revealed by a talking bird.[2]


In Appendix A, section III, of The Return of the King, dragons are stated to reside in the Withered Heath beyond the Grey Mountains. Smaug is described as "the greatest of the dragons of his day", and was already centuries old at the time he was first recorded. Having heard rumours of the great wealth of the Dwarf-kingdom of Erebor, he "arose and without warning came against King Thrór and descended on the mountain in flames". After driving the Dwarves out of their stronghold, Smaug occupied the interior of the mountain for the next 150 years, guarding a vast hoard of treasure.[T 3]

"The Quest of Erebor", a chapter of Unfinished Tales, recounts how Gandalf realized that Smaug could pose a serious threat if used by Sauron. He therefore agreed to assist a party of Dwarves, led by Thrór's grandson Thorin Oakenshield, who set out to recapture the mountain and kill the dragon. Assuming that Smaug would not recognize the scent of a hobbit, Gandalf also recruits Bilbo Baggins to join the quest, which is the subject of The Hobbit.[T 4]

In The Hobbit, upon reaching Erebor, the Dwarves send Bilbo into Smaug's lair, and he is initially successful in stealing a beautiful golden cup as Smaug sleeps fitfully. Knowing the contents of the treasure hoard which he had slept upon for centuries to the ounce, Smaug quickly realizes the cup's absence upon his awakening and searches for the thief on the Mountain. Unsuccessful, he returns to his hoard to lie in wait. Having been nearly killed in the dragon's search, the Dwarves send Bilbo down the secret tunnel a second time. This time, Smaug senses Bilbo's presence immediately, even though Bilbo had rendered himself invisible with the One Ring, and accused the Hobbit (correctly) of trying to steal from him. During his discourse with the dragon, Bilbo detects a small bare patch in the jewel-encrusted underbelly of the dragon. When Bilbo narrowly escapes an attack from the dragon and collapses amidst the Dwarves at the entrance to the secret tunnel, a thrush overhears Bilbo's frantic retelling of his interaction with the dragon and learns of the bare patch on Smaug's underside.[T 5]

Still enraged, Smaug flies south to Laketown and sets about destroying it. The townsmen's arrows and spears are useless against the dragon's armoured body. The thrush tells Bard the Bowman of Smaug's one weak spot, a bare patch on the dragon's belly. With his last arrow, Bard kills Smaug by shooting into this place.[T 6]

Concept and creationEdit

Beowulf fights his dragon to the death, 1908 illustration by Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton


Tolkien created numerous pencil sketches and two pieces of more detailed artwork portraying Smaug. The latter were a detailed ink and watercolour labelled Conversation with Smaug and a rough coloured pencil and ink sketch entitled Death of Smaug.[3][4][5] While neither of these appeared in the original printing of The Hobbit due to cost constraints, both have been included in subsequent editions, particularly Conversation with Smaug. Death of Smaug was used for the cover of a 1966 UK paperback edition of The Hobbit.[6]

The Beowulf dragonEdit

From 1925 to 1945, Tolkien was a professor of English Literature at Oxford University. He was a prominent scholar of the Old English poem Beowulf, on which he gave a lecture at the British Academy in 1936.[T 7] He described the poem as one of his "most valued sources" for The Hobbit.[T 8] Many of Smaug's attributes and behaviour in The Hobbit derive directly from the unnamed "old night-ravager" in Beowulf: great age; winged, fiery, and reptilian[a] form; a stolen barrow within which he lies on his hoard; disturbance by a theft; and violent revenge on the lands all about, flying and attacking at night.[1]

Stuart Lee and Elizabeth Solopova analyse the parallels between Smaug and the unnamed Beowulf dragon.[1]

Stuart Lee and Elizabeth Solopova's analysis of similarities between Smaug and the Beowulf dragon[1]
Plot element Beowulf
(Old English)
The Hobbit
Aggressive dragon eald uhtsceaða .. hat ond hreohmod ...
Wæs þæs wyrmes wig / wide gesyne
"old twilight-ravager .. hot and fierce-minded" ...
that worm's war was / widely seen
Smaug fiercely attacks Dwarves, Laketown
Gold-greedy dragon hordweard "treasure-guardian" Smaug watchfully sleeps on pile of treasure
Provoking the dragon wæs ða gebolgen / beorges hyrde,
wolde se laða / lige forgyldan
drincfæt dyre.
"was then furious / the barrow's keeper
wanted the enemy / with fire to revenge
precious drinking-cup."
Smaug is enraged when Bilbo steals a golden cup
Night-flying dragon nacod niðdraca, nihtes fleogeð
fyre befangen
"naked hate-dragon, flying by night,
wreathed in fire"
Smaug attacks Laketown with fire, by night
dragon's lair
se ðe on heaum hofe / hord beweotode,
stanbeorh steapne; stig under læg,
eldum uncuð.
"the one who on high heath / hoard watched
steep stone-barrow / the path up to it
unknown to any."
Secret passage to stone palace under Mount Erebor
Accursed dragon-gold hæðnum horde "a heathen hoard" The treasure provokes the Battle of Five Armies


Sigurd kills the dragon Fafnir. Wood-carving in Hylestad stave church, 12th–13th century

Smaug's ability to speak, the use of riddles, the element of betrayal, his enemy's communication via birds, and his weak spot could all have been inspired by the talking dragon Fafnir of the Völsunga saga.[8] The Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey identified several points of similarity between Smaug and Fafnir.[1]

Tom Shippey's analysis of similarities between Smaug and Fafnir[1]
Plot element Fáfnismál The Hobbit
Killing the dragon Sigurd stabs Fafnir's belly Bard the Bowman shoots Smaug in the belly
Riddling to the dragon Sigurd does not give his name, but replies in a riddle that he has no mother or father Bilbo does not give his name, but gives himself riddling names like "clue-finder", "web-cutter", "barrel-rider"[T 5]
Dragon suggests betrayal Fafnir turns Sigurd against Regin Smaug suggests Bilbo should not trust Dwarves
Talking to birds Dragon-blood lets Sigurd understand bird language: the nuthatches say Regin wants to betray him A thrush hears Bilbo talk about Smaug's weakness, and tells Bard the Bowman

Old English spellEdit

Detail of Old English book of Remedies (Lacnunga). The phrase in the spell wid smeogan wyrme, "against a penetrating worm",[9] is on line 3.

Tolkien noted, in a joking letter that he was surprised to see published in The Observer in 1938, that "the dragon bears as name—a pseudonym—the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb smúgan,[10] to squeeze through a hole: a low philological jest."[T 8] Critics have gone further; an 11th century medical text Lacnunga ("Leechings, Remedies") contains the Old English phrase wid smeogan wyrme, "against a penetrating worm" in a spell,[9] which could also be translated "against penetrating dragons". The critic David Day writes that Tolkien might have chosen to read this instead as a riddle: why should the dragon have been called "penetrating", smeogan? If the clue were in the riddle, the answer, Day suggests, would be that this was a reference to the dragon's name. "Smaug" is the adjective from the verb smeagan, "to examine, to think out, to scrutinise",[11] meaning "subtle, crafty": exactly what Tolkien was seeking.[12] Shippey, citing the same phrase, comments that it is "appropriate" that Smaug has "the most sophisticated intelligence" in the book.[13]

The Song of HiawathaEdit

John Garth, writing in The Guardian, notes the similarity between Smaug's death from Bard's last arrow and the death of Megissogwon in Longfellow's 1855 poem The Song of Hiawatha. Megissogwon was the spirit of wealth, protected by an armoured shirt of wampum beads.[b] Mama the woodpecker sings to Hiawatha where Megissogwon's only weak point is, the tuft of hair on his head, just as Tolkien's thrush tells Bard where to shoot at Smaug.[2]


The Hobbit (1977)Edit

Smaug as seen in the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated film of The Hobbit

In the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated film of The Hobbit, Richard Boone voiced Smaug. In general, Smaug's design in the animated version is consistent with Tolkien's description, save for his face: for rather than the traditional reptilian look associated with dragons, Smaug's face in the animated version has distinctly cat-like features including fur, enlarged ears, and canine teeth. He is much stouter than in the book. His hypnotic speech is absent, but his acute eyesight is portrayed by highbeam-like lights projected from his eyes.[15]

The Hobbit (film series)Edit

Smaug was voiced and interpreted with performance capture by Benedict Cumberbatch in Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of The Hobbit,[16] wherein Smaug is presented with a long head, red-golden scales, and piercing yellow-red eyes. The dragon speaks with Received Pronunciation with an underlying growl; Cumberbatch's vocal performance was vocoded using alligator growls.[17] Smaug's design was animated with key frame animation, in addition to Cumberbatch's motion capture performance. Weta Digital employed its proprietary "Tissue" software, which was honoured in 2013 with a "Scientific and Engineering Award" from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to make the dragon as realistic as possible. In addition, Weta Digital supervisor Joe Letteri said in an interview for USA Today that they used classic European and Asian dragons as inspirations to create Smaug.[18]

Smaug as depicted in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, with voice and motion-capture by Benedict Cumberbatch

In the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the audience sees only his legs, wings, and tail, and his eye, which is showcased in the final scene of the film. Smaug is a topic of discussion among the White Council as Gandalf's reason to support Thorin Oakenshield's quest.[19]

Smaug appears as the titular antagonist in the second film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. In an interview with Joe Letteri, Smaug's design was changed to this form after the crew saw how Benedict Cumberbatch performed Smaug while moving around on all four limbs.[20]

In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Smaug attacks Lake-town. He is killed by Bard with an elongated iron arrow and his body falls on the boat carrying the fleeing Master of Lake-town. It is later revealed that Smaug's attack on Erebor was all part of Sauron's design, meaning that Smaug and Sauron were in league with each other.[21][22]

Smaug was considered one of the highlights of the second film of the series (as well as his burning of Lake-Town in the third film); several critics hailed him as cinema's greatest dragon. Critics also praised the visual effects company Weta Digital and Cumberbatch's vocal and motion-capture performance for giving Smaug a fully realized personality, "hiss[ing] out his words with cold-blooded vitriol".[23][24]


Francis de Wolff voiced the red dragon in the long-lost 1968 BBC radio dramatization.[25] In the 2003 video game release, Smaug, voiced by James Horan, appears as a non-player character, based closely on the book, whereas in the 2014 video game LEGO: The Hobbit, the portrayal departs more from the book; rather than ever more closely simulating the book's characters, the scholar Carol L. Robinson notes, the technology has allowed new fiction to be created.[26]

In popular cultureEdit

An Air New Zealand aircraft in Smaug livery

In 2012, Forbes magazine estimated Smaug's wealth at $61 billion.[27]

In scienceEdit

In 2011, scientists named a genus of southern African girdled lizards, Smaug.[28] The lizards were so named after the fictional dragon for being armoured, dwelling underground, and native to Tolkien's birthplace, Bloemfontein.[29]

In 2015, a new species of shield bug was named Planois smaug, because of its size and its status "sleeping" in the researcher's collections for about 60 years until it was discovered.[30][31]

An ant species has been named Tetramorium smaug.[32]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The Old English word wyrm, used repeatedly in Beowulf for the flying dragon, has the dictionary meaning of reptile, serpent, or dragon.[7] Tolkien accordingly uses "worm" of Smaug in The Hobbit.[T 9]
  2. ^ Jeff Thompson drew illustrations of Megissogwon's wampum shirt deflecting arrows for National Geographic.[14]



This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ a b Tolkien 1996, "The Appendix on Languages"
  2. ^ Tolkien 1937, An Unexpected Party
  3. ^ Tolkien 1955, Appendix A:III "Durin's Folk"
  4. ^ Tolkien 1980, The Quest of Erebor
  5. ^ a b Tolkien 1937, Inside Information
  6. ^ Tolkien 1937, Fire and Water
  7. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1983). Tolkien, Christopher (ed.). Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. London, England: George Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-809019-0.
  8. ^ a b Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, letter No. 25., ISBN 0-395-31555-7
  9. ^ Tolkien 1937, An Unexpected Party


  1. ^ a b c d e f Shippey's discussion is at Shippey, Tom (2001). J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. HarperCollins. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-0261-10401-3.; it is summarized in 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.
  2. ^ a b Garth, John (9 December 2014). "Tolkien's death of Smaug: American inspiration revealed". The Guardian. London, England: Guardian Media Group.
  3. ^ "JRR Tolkien artwork on display for first time". BBC. 1 June 2018.
  4. ^ Hammond, Wayne G.; Scull, Christina, eds. (2011). The art of the Hobbit. London, England: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0007440818.
  5. ^ "In Focus: The hand-drawn maps from which JRR Tolkien launched Middle-earth". Country Life. 10 August 2018.
  6. ^ "Books by J.R.R.Tolkien - The Hobbit - Editions". TolkienLibrary. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  7. ^ Clark Hall, J. R. (2002) [1894]. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (4th ed.). University of Toronto Press. p. 427.
  8. ^ Unerman, Sandra (April 2002). "Dragons in Twentieth Century Fiction". Folklore. 113 (1): 94–101. JSTOR 1261010.
  9. ^ a b Storms, Godfrid (1948). No. 73. [Wið Wyrme] Anglo-Saxon Magic (PDF). 's-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff; D.Litt thesis for University of Nijmegen. p. 303. If a man or a beast has drunk a worm ... Sing this charm nine times into the ear, and once an Our Father. The same charm may be sung against a penetrating worm. Sing it frequently on the wound and smear on your spittle, and take green centaury, pound it, apply it to the wound and bathe with hot cow's urine. MS. Harley 585, ff. 136b, 137a (11th century) (Lacnunga).
  10. ^ Bosworth, Joseph; Bosworth Northcote, T. (2018). "smúgan". An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Online). Prague: Charles University.
  11. ^ Clark Hall, J. R. (2002) [1894]. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (4th ed.). University of Toronto Press. p. 311.
  12. ^ Day, David (2012). The Hobbit Companion. Pavilion Books. pp. 130–136. ISBN 978-1-909108-34-9.
  13. ^ Shippey, Tom (2005) [1982]. The Road to Middle-Earth (Third ed.). Grafton (HarperCollins). p. 102. ISBN 978-0261102750.
  14. ^ Thompson, Jeff (2001). "Hiawatha & Megissogwon". National Geographic. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  15. ^ "Western Animation / The Hobbit". TVtropes. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  16. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (16 June 2011). "Benedict Cumberbatch To Voice Smaug in 'The Hobbit'". Deadline. Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
  17. ^ Cassell, Amy (18 December 2013). "15 Questions From Last Week's David Farmer ('The Hobbit') Facebook Chat". Full Sail University Blog.
  18. ^ Truitt, Brian (16 December 2013). "Five things to know about scaly 'Hobbit' star Smaug". USA Today. Mclean, Virginia: Gannett Company.
  19. ^ Fleming, Mike (16 June 2011). "Benedict Cumberbatch To Voice Smaug in 'The Hobbit'". Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  20. ^ Sullivan, Kevin P. (20 December 2013). "What Happened To Smaug's Other Legs? 'Hobbit' FX Expert Explains". MTV. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  21. ^ Hughes, Mark (8 December 2013). "Review - 'The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug' Is Middle-Earth Magic". Forbes. New York City: Forbes Media. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  22. ^ Corliss, Richard (9 December 2013). "'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug': It Lives!". Time. New York City: Meredith Corporation. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  23. ^ De Semlyen, Nick (6 December 2013). "The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug Movie Review". Empire. London, England: Bauer Media Group. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  24. ^ Wigler, Josh (9 December 2013). "'The Hobbit' Reviews: Get The Scoop On 'Smaug'". New York City: Viacom. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  25. ^ "The Hobbit Full Cast Radio Drama". Internet Archive. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  26. ^ Ashton, Gail (2017). Medieval Afterlives in Contemporary Culture. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-350-02161-7.
  27. ^ "Smaug". Forbes. 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  28. ^ "Protect and Prosper". American Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
  29. ^ Stanley, Edward L.; Bauer, Aaron M.; Jackman, Todd R.; Branch, William R.; Mouton, P. Le Fras N. (2011). "Between a rock and a hard polytomy: Rapid radiation in the rupicolous girdled lizards (Squamata: Cordylidae)" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Academic Press. 58 (1): 53–70. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.08.024. PMID 20816817.
  30. ^ Faúndez, Eduardo (19 June 2015). "Patagonian Shield Bug Named After Middle's Earth's Smaug the Dragon". Entomology Today. Annapolis, Maryland: Entomological Society of America. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  31. ^ Carvajal, Mariom A.; Faúndez, Eduardo I.; Rider, David A. (2015). "Contribución al conocimiento de los Acanthosomatidae (Hemiptera: Heteroptera) de la Región de Magallanes, con descripción de una nueva especie". Anales Instituto de la Patagonia (Chile). Patagonia, Chile. 43 (1): 145–151. doi:10.4067/s0718-686x2015000100013. Archived from the original on 22 June 2015.
  32. ^ Hita Garcia, Francisco; Fisher, Brian L. (19 December 2012). "The ant genus Tetramorium Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in the Malagasy region—taxonomic revision of the T. kelleri and T. tortuosum species groups" (PDF). Zootaxa. Magnolia Press (3592): 1–85. ISBN 978-1-77557-073-8. ISSN 1175-5334.


External linksEdit