With teeth like swords, claws like spears, and armor like shields, Smaug the Impenetrable, King Under the Mountain, is one of the most fearsome dragons in fantasy.
The infamous antagonist in The Hobbit, Smaug is a titan among dragons. Although Tolkien did not invent our modern perception of the dragon, his presentation of the formidable red dragon is responsible for cementing many of its classic tropes. Smaug’s momentous greed and arrogant attitude are now essential associations with the concept of the dragon as an intellectual adversary, paired with his immense physical strength and power.
Brought to life in the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit and Peter Jackson’s more recent trilogy, Smaug has a strong pedigree. Although response to Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy was mixed, Smaug’s depiction was generally received positively. The version portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch was a hit with The Lord of the Rings fans.
But what do we really know about the wicked worm who hoarded the treasures of the Dwarves? Although the most famous, he is not the only dragon in Tolkien’s Legendarium. There are layers of curious information beneath his impenetrable scales.
Here are 16 Things You Didn’t Know About Smaug,
16. Smaug Is Not The First Dragon
Smaug is the first dragon to come to mind when thinking about Tolkien’s Legendarium.
As the one who has been brought to life multiple times across movies and games, Smaug is the most famous name. His haughty personality and love of treasure are characteristics we associate with dragons across the genre. Yet Smaug is not the first dragon. Glaurung, the Father of Dragons, is the first terrestrial, fire-breathing Dragon in Middle-earth.
Servant of Melkor, Lieutenant of his army, Glaurung was created as an experiment into new, deadlier creatures to fight Melkor’s war with the Elves. After a century of growing in the fetid pits of Angband, Glaurung first emerged in FA 260 to lay waste to the armies at the Siege of Angband.
15. Where He Came From
The exact origin of Smaug, and of dragons in general, is debated.
The theory that dragons were simply beasts (possibly Eagles) corrupted by Morgoth is a popular one, in keeping with Orcs being corrupted Elves. However, dragons evolved from wingless worms to the winged fire-breathers we recognize, so it is likely that they have their own unique heritage.
It is clearly stated that dragons come from Melkor in some way. One theory is that dragons are created from the literal sparks of the spirit of Melkor, where he bred monstrous reptiles and poured a portion of his own spirit into them, giving them each consciousness.
However they originally sparked into being, Smaug himself came from the mountains in the north. He is drawn by the great wealth amassed by the Dwarven kingdom of the Lonely Mountain. Not much else is known about his birth or creation.
14. Benedict Cumberbatch’s inspiration
When Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as Smaug opposite fellow Sherlock actor Martin Freeman as Bilbo, fans were ecstatic.
True to form, Cumberbatch went deep into his role. He did not simply voice the dragon, but also acted out the character in a motion-capture suit. Images of Cumberbatch on set in a tight motion-capture suit, rolling around on the carpet, growling, is the gift that keeps on giving.
To get into character, Cumberbatch reportedly went to London Zoo to study animals and get a sense of their movement. He focused on lizards, as the closest he could get to the fictional fire-breathers, and noted how they remained still for long periods of time and then could move very swiftly and viciously when the mood took them. He incorporated this into his charismatic monster.
13. Fire-drakes and Cold-drakes
It takes all sorts of dragons to make a Middle-earth.
Dragons are divided into categories based on their ability to fly and breathe fire. The most infamous is Smaug, along with Glaurung and Ancalogan, who are classified as Fire-Drakes. Fire-Drakes are the standard Great dragons of fantasy, fire-breathing serpent-like creatures with or without wings.
Tolkien uses the term Dragon and Wyrm almost interchangeably, for both his winged and wingless brethren.
Some dragons in the Legendarium could not breathe fire and are known as Cold-drakes. Often Cold-drakes did not have legs or wings, while some of these creatures could breathe smoke or mist. Despite not possessing the raw flaming power of their Fire siblings, Cold-drakes still possessed sharp claws and armour-like scales and are not to be trifled with.
12. Smaug and the Necromancer
The hype surrounding Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the eponymous dragon was expected and impressive. Fortunately, there were some surprises left in store for fans as Cumberbatch also voiced another important member of Middle-earth.
The mysterious Necromancer of Dol Guldur (known to fans as the disguised Dark Lord Sauron) was also voiced by the Sherlock star. Continuing his penchant for playing villains, Cumberbatch had the chance to flex his malevolent muscles with two different roles. While Smaug’s voice is powerful and bestial, the Necromancer is more whispery and moody – channelling the bottomless evil of Sauron.
Though not originally featured in The Hobbit book except in name alone, Jackson added in Cumberbatch’s Necromancer partly to give the movie more of the epic scope of Lord of the Rings and partly to provide the chance for a big old wizard battle.
11. Everyone’s Been Saying His Name Wrong
It may be difficult to admit but even die-hard Tolkien fans once pronounced Smaug’s name wrong.
Considering the complexity of Tolkien, it is surprising to note that some of the greatest confusion surrounding Smaug comes from how to pronounce the villain’s name.
Most readers have pronounced the mighty Fire Drake’s name “Smog”, which is also notably how they erroneously pronounce it in the Rankin/Bass adaptation. In actual fact, the “au” in Smaug is pronounced like the “ou” in sound or house, making the name pronounced more like “Sm-ow-g.”
The name Smaug is derived from the past tense of the early Germanic verb smugan “to squeeze through a hole.” Tolkien explained that this was a joke about Smaug’s inability to squeeze into the small hole Bilbo goes through to escape.
10. Smaug is Not The Strongest Dragon
In popularity, Smaug is the undisputed reigning champion of the Dragons in Tolkien’s legendarium. Undeniably, Smaug is the Greatest Dragon left in Middle Earth during the Third Age. Yet he is not the strongest to have existed previously. That mantle falls on Ancalagon the Black.
The largest dragon ever to exist in Middle-earth, Ancalagon was said to be the size of a Mountain. He was bred by Morgoth during the First Age to fight viciously for the Dark Lord. When faced with defeat, Morgoth unleashed his last and greatest weapon in the form of winged fire drakes, led by Ancalagon.
It took the Giant Eagles and the hero Eärendil (the father of Elros, the first King of Númenor, and Elrond) to finally cast Ancalagon down. When Ancalagon was killed, Morgoth’s resistance collapsed, and his huge falling body apparently crushed three gigantic active volcanoes to rubble.
9. How Big is he really?
Smaug is huge. Everyone knows that. Yet Tolkien never mentions Smaug’s precise size in the novel. Although he is described as immense, how immense is open to interpretation. In The Atlas of Middle-Earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad, Smaug is recorded as being about 20 meters (66 feet) in length.
For cinematic effect, in the movies, Smaug dramatically increases in size. His size in the original designs is mentioned to be 130 meters in length, which is bigger than two jumbo jets.
Due to the highly stylized nature of many illustrations of Smaug and the other dragons in Tolkien’s Legendarium, it is very difficult to use them as guides to their actual sizes. Even if Smaug is really somewhere between the two sizes, he is a big fellow. Especially compared to a hobbit.
8. He Was the Last Great Dragon
Smaug’s death is a central triumph in The Hobbit.
When Bard the Bowman was able to exploit the weak spot in the red dragon’s armor and fire his Black Arrow into Smaug’s breast, he freed the people of Laketown and restored Thorin’s birth-right.
Some people have theorized that Gandalf was not only compelled to defeat the dragon due to his friendship with the Dwarven Company but also because he knew Sauron was rising again. If Sauron had sided with the Great Dragon, the War of the Ring may have gone differently for the heroes.
Tolkien confirmed in a letter that Smaug was the last of his kind, the last of the Great Fire-drakes of Middle-earth. This implies that dragons of lesser stature, such as smaller Cold-drakes or Fire-drakes, did live on. Yet Smaug’s death marked the end of the hard hitters.
7. He Could Be Hairy
Rankin/Bass’s charming 1977 Hobbit adaptation is a strange version of Tolkien’s novel. While the TV movie remains quite faithful to the story, it is pitched at children, and so features musical numbers and a simplified plot.
Some of the art choices are a little odd. The most famously jarring design choice is that of the Wood-Elves, who, rather than appear as fair folk, are outright ugly, with grey skin and leaves in their blonde hair.
Unusually, they choose to make Smaug hairy and cat-like in appearance, complete with whiskers. At first this comes across as an odd choice but it actually makes a lot of sense. The film’s animation team were from Japan, so they depicted Smaug as a sort of hybrid of Western and Japanese dragon designs. Additionally, Tolkien does make at least one reference to catlike traits when describing Smaug.
6. He Loses Some Legs
Weta Workshops are famously responsible for many of the most celebrated CG creatures, including Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the Na’vi from Avatar. Their work on the creatures of The Lord of the Rings is widely seen as a huge step forward for computer-animated characters.
While Orcs and Gollum were at least rooted in something relatedly human, Smaug was a whole new challenge. Smaug went through some surprising changes in the movies. Originally, Smaug was envisioned as huge and intimidating, with six limbs (four legs and two wings) easily spotted in the prologue of the theatrical release of An Unexpected Journey. Eagle-eyed viewers would notice that this was changed for the next film, where the dragon is revealed as having four limbs (two back legs and two front legs with his wings attached).
5. He Might Have Lived Forever
Tolkien never explicitly mentions Smaug’s age or when he came into being.
It can be gleaned from references that the Old Worm made that he is pretty old. It is known that Smaug drove the Dwarves out of their mountain stronghold over 150 years prior to the events of The Hobbit so it appears that watching 150 years go by was pretty average to the creature.
A general statement about Dragons in the novel says: “they guard their plunder as long as they live (which is practically forever, unless they are killed).”
There is a general feeling in The Hobbit, which Smaug references, that he is a veteran now.
He described how he fought the warriors of old when he was young and tender but now he is old and strong. We will never know how long Smaug might have lived undisturbed by Dwarves and Hobbit Burglars. It is possible that living “practically forever” is in comparison to mortal races, but perhaps he really would have lived for centuries more.
4. He Can Melt Rings of Power – except one…
Dragon fire is hot enough to melt the Rings of Power.
In fact, four of the seven rings gifted to the Dwarves were described as being consumed by dragon fire.
The lesser Rings of Power were made by the Elven-smith Celebrimbor. These were grouped into three rings for the Elves, seven rings for the Dwarves, and nine rings for men.
One additional ring, the One Ring, was forged by Sauron himself at Mount Doom. It is revealed by Gandalf that no dragon’s fire would be hot enough to melt the One Ring and so the only way it could be destroyed was in that same fire that forged it. Not Smaug, not even Ancalagon the Black, the Greatest Dragon, would have been capable of destroying the One Ring.
3. His Hypnotic Power
Smaug’s basic powers are very recognizable to modern audiences. After seven seasons of Game of Thrones, viewers might almost be getting dragon fatigue by now.
Smaug’s imposing capacity for flight and his scalding fire-breathing ability are no doubt impressive. Yet it is not just Smaug’s raw strength which makes him such a compelling antagonist. He’s not just a mindless beast. He knows that, although his back has impenetrable scales, his underbelly is his vulnerable spot and so he has made sure that layers of gold and jewels from lying on his hoard have become embedded in his flesh, acting as a dazzling layer of armor.
For all his strength, he can be quite subtle. A cunning trickster, he enjoys placing doubts and playing on fears in people’s minds.
Smaug also possesses a hypnotic power known as the “dragon-spell”.
2. The Adaptation with Slag the Dragon
Before there was Peter Jackson, before there was Rankin/Bass, there was a Hobbit adaptation you will not have seen.
Running for approximately 12 minutes, the 1966 short film adaptation was literally created to extend the Producer’s license on The Lord of the Rings. It took less than a month to create and makes Jackson’s adaptation look like a perfectly faithful recreation.
This story follows Bilbo Baggins, General Torin Oakenshield (yes, that’s spelled correctly), and one Princess Mika, who go to kill the great dragon who has destroyed Mika’s kingdom of Dale: Slag the Dragon.
This mess of a plot ends with Bilbo stealing the Arkenstone, shooting the Arkenstone through Slag’s heart, killing him and saving the day. Bilbo finally returns to Hobbiton triumphantly with Princess Mika as his wife.
1. He’s One of The Richest Fictional Characters Ever
Along with such illustrious company as Scrooge McDuck, Tony Stark, and Tywin Lannister, Smaug the Mighty features on the Forbes Fictional 15, a list of the richest fictional figures.
Smaug has almost topped the list as the wealthiest fictional character on multiple occasions.
His treasure was calculated with a staggering value of over 62 billion dollars. Taking into account factors such as the length of the dragon as he lies on his hoard, the height of the mound, and the price of gold, silver, and diamonds, the ancient wyrm’s net worth was calculated. Of course, many fans had a lot to say about how the figures were estimated, taking issue with everything from the size of Smaug to the estimated value of the Arkenstone.
Basically, Smaug is so astonishingly wealthy that us mere humans struggle to calculate it. Smaug the Unassessably Wealthy, indeed.
Do you have any trivia to share about Smaug from The Hobbit? Let us know in the comments!
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