16 May 2019
The Horror of the Flame
The room is filled with piles of gold, larger than any one man can ever hope to achieve. You gaze in awe at the glimmering heaps of wealth before your eyes. It is all yours. Or so you thought. The pile suddenly moves. Underneath the treasure lies a red and golden beast, larger than any pile of gold. One of which you have never seen before. Its wings, large enough to blow you away with a single movement. Its scales, like impenetrable armor. Its fangs, sharper than any sword. You see its eye, shut tightly. The beast slumbers. Shocked and terrified you hide, behind a pillar, underneath the gold, anywhere that will keep you safe from this…monster. You pray in hopes that the beast doesn’t awake, but your prayers are unheard. It opens its eye and rises from its slumber as you hear the gold fall from its body. In its raspy and deep voice it says, “Well, thief. I smell you. I hear your breath. I feel your air. Where are you?” (Tolkien 2013). It can speak, it knows you are here. The beast approaches you, closer and closer. You wish to remain hidden, yet you find yourself running. Your fear has overcome your reason, your control, your hope. You run as the beast chases you, the gold beneath your feet ringing against each other. You realize there is no hope and come to a halt. You turn to the beast. You gaze in the face of death, accepting your fate, as the beast comes for your life.
Smaug is a dragon from the films and novels The Hobbit created by J.R.R. Tolkien. Smaug is mostly known for being a greedy, powerful, and terrifyingly intelligent dragon that can take over kingdoms and destroy anything he wishes to. In the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the dragon is described as a monster that stole a kingdom and all the riches inside from the dwarves. When Smaug is shown in the film for the first time we learn he is a northern dragon who is very proud and cunning (Unerman 2002). He boasts of his great deeds, which others see as horrendous, and allows Bilbo, the main character, to live so long as he praises the dragon. Although Smaug is simply toying with Bilbo and enjoying the fake praises, Smaug knows what it is Bilbo is after and that he actually considered letting Bilbo have it because he knew what the effects of giving him the treasure would be. And just as Smaug predicted, the effects were not so great. Smaug demonstrates that he is an evil in the world through his effects on the dwarves, his effect on Lake-town, and the effects of his death.
Firstly, Smaug’s desire for gold led to both the destruction of the dwarven race, and the savior of the dwarven king. Before the events of The Hobbit trilogy, Smaug attacked and took over the dwarven kingdom Erebor. After destroying the kingdom he took the castle, along with the treasure left in it, to be his lair in which he slumbers (Tolkien 2013). By doing this he robbed the dwarves of their home, gold, food, destroyed their relationship with the elves, and forced them to wander the wilderness in hopes of finding a new home. The dwarves sought help from the elves, however they refused to face the wrath of a dragon and left the dwarves to die. From that moment on, the dwarves and the elves became enemies. Although all these horrible effects happened due to the attack, there was one that turned out beneficial for the dwarves. Prior to the events of the attack it is revealed that the dwarven king at the time had grown an insatiable lust for gold and treasure (Tolkien 1937). His love of gold had resulted in a mental illness that caused him to endlessly search for gold, and he gave not a single coin to anyone else. Although what Smaug had done to the dwarves was horrible, his attack on the kingdom led to the dwarven king losing all the gold and thus resulted in him being cured of his greed. Though it is clear he did not attack Erebor with this purpose in mind, had Smaug not done so, the dwarven king would suffer from this illness until the end of his days. So there was at least one positive effect, however in the king’s eyes it was most likely one of the most horrific things that could have happened to him.
Many years later, the dwarves set out on a quest to retake Erebor from the dragon, resulting in awakening the beast and the destruction of Lake-town. At the end of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, Smaug is woken up by Bilbo and is attacked by dwarves. The beast becomes enraged and claims he will show the dwarves true revenge (Tolkien 2014). He destroys a nearby town that assisted the dwarves on their quest, and burns everyone and everything. This outcome would never had occurred had the dwarves not awoken the dragon. According to Jeffrey Cohen’s thesis II, the monster, Smaug in this case, always escapes (Cohen). Due to the dwarves failure to kill Smaug, it results in the monster escaping from danger and wreaking havoc on other people. This ties in with Cohen’s theory because if the dwarves had simply prevented the dragon from escaping, or from awakening at all for that matter, it would’ve resulted in less lives lost. The destruction of Lake-town is merely an effect from Smaug escaping the dwarves.
Although many lives were lost during the attack of Lake-town, there was one positive effect. Smaug dies! As Smaug destroys the town he is shot down by a large arrow by an archer named Bard, resulting in the death of the dragon. Ironically, the dwarves failure to slay Smaug led Smaug directly to his death. Granted, had the dwarves succeeded then it would’ve saved the lives of many innocent people, but at the end of the day the dwarves get their mountain and gold back. So now the quest is done right? Well, not exactly.
One effect of Smaug’s death was that the new dwarf king, Thorin, became corrupted by the gold. His thirst for treasure and his desire to share it with no one leads him to become mentally ill, just as Smaug said it would (Tolkien 2015). Now that he has the gold again, he can not bear the thought of separating from it, thus resulting in a large scale war. As Smaug has been defeated, there is a large fortune in Erebor that everyone sees an opportunity to take. This leads to many different races seizing the gold for themselves. Orcs, goblins, elves, humans, and dwarves all believe that they have a claim to the gold in the mountain. The orcs and goblins wish to steal it, the humans want compensation for slaying the dragon and to rebuild Lake-town, the elves have always wanted the gold since Smaug appeared, and the dwarves refuse to share any gold with anybody. The effect of Smaug’s death leads to an all out war of 5 different armies. So this begs the question, was Smaug’s death actually a good thing for these races?
Overall, Smaug has been the source of many effects throughout the history of Middle-Earth. He is a monster that has led to suffering in many races, especially the dwarves, and the destruction of many homes. Even in death, his effects on the world are so great that he disturbs peace and can cause wars. Smaug is the embodiment of an evil, strong, intelligent, and terrifying monster that will affect Middle-Earth for many years to come, even after his death.
Cheetham, Dominic. “Dragons in English: The Great Change of the Late Nineteenth Century.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 45, no. 1, Mar. 2014, pp. 17–32. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10583-013-9201-z. Accessed 14 November 2018
Dragons in English is a scholarly source written by Dominic Cheetham, who is a professor in literature specializing in the meanings of stories and folklore. He writes of how dragons are seen as very similar representations throughout the globe during the 19th century. He addresses how the cultural changes from eastern and western beliefs affected the view of dragons. I used this source to investigate how Smaug is a combination of both eastern and western dragons and although I did not mention this in the essay, it was a very valuable and information filled source.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Monster Theory is a novel written by Jeffrey Cohen, a professor of english and director of medieval studies. Cohen uses 7 theories to help define what a monster is or is seen as. The theories are used to help the reader analyze what monsters are and what they represent. His theories also goes into the whereabouts, origins, and popularity of monsters and how they change as culture changes. This is used as the basis of the essay as we must relate the monster to these theories.
SomeDisneyGuy. “The Hobbit Trilogy.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 19 Apr. 2017, http://www.imdb.com/list/ls069544617/.
The Hobbit and it’s 2 sequels are movies based off of novels written by J. R. R. Tolkien, an english writer and philologist who specializes in written medieval stories. In the movies on of the main antagonists is a dragon known as Smaug. Smaug is a dragon that is capable of speech and has taken over an entire kingdom. Smaug is shown as a ferocious and greedy dragon who will destroy all that stand in his path or desire for treasure. I will use this in my essay to have the most accurate information regarding my essay topic, Smaug.
Unerman, Sandra. Dragons in Twentieth-Century Fiction. Taylor & Francis, Ltd., 27 Feb. 2013, introtofictionw13.pbworks.com/f/Dragons in Twentieth-Century Fiction.pdf.
This source is written by an author who specializes in the fantasy genre. She addresses many dragons from different novels, films, and stories and compares the relationships and differences. She has an entire page based on Smaug, which is the topic I am writing about. She reveals that Smaug is neither eastern nor western but is a combination which is referred to as northern. This source gave me a background of what dragons Smaug was designed after and why this dragon was important in modern society.