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Tolkien's legendarium character
Conversation with Smaug.png
"Conversation with Smaug" as illustrated by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Trâgu [1]
  • The Golden
  • The Magnificent
  • Dragon of Erebor
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For the MUD, see SMAUG.
Tolkien's legendarium character
Conversation with Smaug.png
"Conversation with Smaug" as illustrated by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Trâgu [1]
  • The Golden
  • The Magnificent
  • Dragon of Erebor

Smaug (/smɡ/[2]) is a fictional dragon and the primary antagonist of J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit. He is described as "a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm".[3]


The Hobbit[edit]

One of the last great dragons of Middle-earth, Smaug rose to prominence by laying waste to the town of Dale and capturing the Dwarf-kingdom of the Lonely Mountain (Erebor) with all of its treasure. These events occurred some 150 years before the events of The Hobbit, and Smaug was already centuries old at the time. The Hobbit recounts the tale of a party of dwarves (consisting of a few of the original residents of the Lonely Mountain and their descendants) and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (their titular burglar) to recapture the mountain and kill the dragon. In the book, the dragon is sometimes called Smaug the Golden or Smaug the Magnificent.

Centuries spent sleeping atop his gold hoard caused gold and gemstones to become embedded in the flesh of Smaug's belly, augmenting the already essentially impenetrable armour of the scales that covered most of the rest of his body; however, when Bilbo observed him in his lair, he discovered a small bare patch on Smaug's left breast. When Bilbo discussed this weakness of Smaug's with his dwarven companions, he was overheard by the thrush that roosted by the mountain's secret door. The thrush in turn told Bard the Bowman of Esgaroth. When Smaug attacked the town, Bard shot his Black Arrow into Smaug's weak spot, killing him.

Among the items in Smaug's possession were the Arkenstone and a number of mithril mail shirts, one of which was given as a gift to Bilbo by Thorin Oakenshield, the company's leader. In The Lord of the Rings, set years later, the shirt saved Bilbo's kinsman from injury several times.

The Return of the King[edit]

In Appendix A, section III, of The Return of the King under "Durin's Folk", Smaug is mentioned briefly as "the greatest of the dragons of his day", having heard rumour of the great wealth of Erebor, he "arose and without warning came against King Thrór and descended on the mountain in flames." In this text, Dragons are stated to reside in the wastes (Withered Heath) beyond the Grey Mountains, "making war on the Dwarves, and plundering their works". It can be inferred that Smaug came from this region.

Unfinished Tales[edit]

In the tale The Quest of Erebor, Gandalf states that he knew that Smaug could pose a serious threat if used by Sauron, then dwelling in Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. This was his motive in aiding Thorin and company in reclaiming their lost homeland. With stealth in mind, Gandalf assumed that Smaug would not recognize the scent of a Hobbit, so Bilbo was asked to accompany them.

Concept and creation[edit]

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[4] and a rough coloured pencil and ink sketch entitled Death of Smaug.[5] While neither of these appeared in the original printing of The Hobbit due to cost constraints, both have been included in subsequent editions and Conversation with Smaug has been used extensively. Death of Smaug was used for the cover of an early UK paperback edition of The Hobbit.

From 1925 to 1945, Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, and a prominent critic of and expert on Beowulf — on which he gave a lecture at the British Academy in 1936[6] and which he described as one of his "most valued sources" for The Hobbit.[7] Many of Smaug's attributes and behaviour in The Hobbit derive directly from the unnamed "old night-scather" in Beowulf: great age; winged, fiery, and reptilian form; a stolen barrow within which he lies on his hoard; disturbance by a theft; and violent airborne revenge on the lands all about. Smaug was intimately familiar with every last item within his hoard, and instantly noticed the theft of a relatively inconsequential cup by Bilbo Baggins. Tolkien writes that Smaug's rage was the kind which "is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy lose something they have long had but never before used or wanted." This theft of a cup, Smaug's knowledge of every item in the hoard, and the dragon's ensuing rampage, all echo the story of Beowulf.

Tolkien noted that "the dragon bears as name—a pseudonym—the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb smugan,[8] to squeeze through a hole: a low philological jest."[7]

Smaug was depicted by Tolkien as an intelligent being capable of speech, easily pleased by flattery and fascinated by Bilbo's description of himself in riddles. This is also done in later film adaptations such as The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. He is described as having "quite an overwhelming personality" and every time his eyes flash across Bilbo's invisible form, he feels almost compelled to tell him the truth about himself because of the hypnotic power within.

Portrayal in adaptations[edit]

The Hobbit (1977)[edit]

In the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit, Smaug was voiced by Richard Boone. In general, Smaug's design in the animated version is consistent with Tolkien's description, save for his face. Rather than the traditional reptilian look associated with dragons, Smaug's face in the animated version has distinctly mammalian wolf-like features like fur and canine teeth. His hypnotic gaze is absent, although his acute eyesight is portrayed by showing highbeam-like lights shining forth from his eyes whenever he is searching for something.

The Lord of the Rings (film series)[edit]

In Peter Jackson's first film of his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, which occurs 60 years after the events in The Hobbit, Gandalf mentions Smaug in passing during a conversation with Frodo Baggins, stating: "If you're referring to the incident with the Dragon, I was barely involved.", referencing the events that took place in The Hobbit.

The map Gandalf picks up to look at in Bilbo's house while visiting him is the same one used to aid Thorin and his company of dwarves, along with Gandalf and Bilbo, before and during their quest to the Lonely Mountain in the first film of The Hobbit series An Unexpected Journey, it still bears the sketch of Smaug over the mountain.

During Bilbo's birthday party, the firework Merry and Pippin launch that results in all the party-goers panicking and fleeing from it, seems to be made in Smaug's likeness.

The Hobbit (film series)[edit]

Benedict Cumberbatch provided the voice and motion-capture for Smaug in Peter Jackson's trilogy.

On June 16, 2011, it was announced that Smaug would be voiced and interpreted with performance capture by Benedict Cumberbatch in Peter Jackson's three-part adaptation of The Hobbit.[9] Smaug is presented with a long head, red-golden scales, the body of a wyvern and piercing yellow eyes. The dragon speaks with Received Pronunciation with an underlying growl as Cumberbatch, taking cue from the reptiles at the London Zoo, aimed for a tone that would be "that bridge between animal and human" with a deep and rasping guttural dryness to the voice. The voice heard in the film is completely unaltered from Cumberbatch's vocal performance; only a mild digital rise in volume was added.[10][11][12] Smaug's design was also created with key frame animation, meaning it was animated by hand, 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.[13]

Smaug as he appears in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Smaug appears in the first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as unseen minor villain. described as a "fire drake from the north" before taking residence in Erebor. His full appearance is not shown as only parts of him are glimpsed, partially obscured by treasure. The only parts of him seen are his legs and tail, which is consistent with Tolkien's illustrations, and his eye, which is showcased in the final scene of the film. In addition, Smaug is a topic of discussion amongst the White Council as Gandalf cites his reason to support Thorin Oakenshield's quest.

In the second film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug as the final main antagonist. the dragon's scene with Bilbo deviates from the book with his weak point revealed to have been the result of one of his scales broken off during his attack on Dale. Having also gotten the hobbit to remove the One Ring, Smaug displays an awareness of the relic and its master while hunting Bilbo for sport before becoming tired of him. Smaug then battles Thorin's small group of dwarves when they come to Bilbo's aid, surviving a bath of molten gold before flying off to Lake-town as the film comes to an end.

Smaug was considered one of the highlights of the second film of the series with several critics hailing him as cinema's greatest dragon incarnation.[14][15] Universal praise was also given to the visual effects company Weta Digital and the vocal and motion-capture performance of Cumberbatch for bringing a fully realized personality to Smaug.[16][17]


In the 1977 "J.R.R. Tolkien Calendar", the Brothers Hildebrandt depicted Smaug with bright red scales and large bat-like wings. In the 2003 video game release, Smaug was voiced by James Horan. Here, his role is more or less the same as it has been in the other versions, but here he has a more traditional dragon look.

In popular culture[edit]

In 2011 Smaug made his first appearance on the Fictional 15, the Forbes list of the 15 richest fictional characters. That year, he was ranked number 7 with an estimated net worth of $8.6 billion, whereas Scrooge McDuck was first with $44 billion. The following year, the magazine did a more careful analysis[18] and concluded that a conservative estimate was $61 billion, which placed him comfortably atop the list.[19] Michael Noer, the author of this article, limited his estimate in order to keep Smaug's net value in line with living factual characters, notably Bill Gates and Carlos Slim. The estimates are tied directly to Smaug's size and the assumption that he lies directly on the largest part of his hoard. A more literal reading of Tolkien's text and comparison to historical instead of living factual persons (notably John D. Rockefeller or the Rothschild family) would result in a much higher estimate, as much as $870 billion, according to the article. In the 2013 edition of the Forbes Fictional 15, Smaug placed 2nd on the list with a net worth of an estimated $54.1 billion falling behind Scrooge McDuck who was estimated to have a net worth of $65.4 billion.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1996), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Peoples of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, "The Appendix on Languages", p. 54, ISBN 0-395-82760-4 
  2. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. "Appendix E – Writing and Spelling: I. Pronunciation of Words and Names". The Lord of the Rings. : "All these diphthongs were 'falling' diphthongs, that is stressed on the first element, and composed of the simple vowels run together. Thus ... au (aw) as in loud, how and not laud, haw."
  3. ^ Tolkien, The Hobbit, ch 1 "An unexpected Part".
  4. ^ Hammond & Scull, image No. 133.
  5. ^ Hammond & Scull, image No. 137
  6. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (ed. Christopher Tolkien, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983).
  7. ^ a b Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, letter No. 25., ISBN 0-395-31555-7 
  8. ^ See definition: Bosworth, Joseph; Toller, T. Northcote. "smúgan". An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (Online). Prague: Charles University.  - derivation of which smygel is the basis for the name of Sméagol, also known as Gollum
  9. ^ Fleming, Mike (16 June 2011). "Benedict Cumberbatch To Voice Smaug in 'The Hobbit'". Deadline New York. Retrieved 19 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Cumberbatch's Hobbit challenges - Yahoo Movies UK
  11. ^ Benedict Cumberbatch on bringing Smaug to life for the latest installment of The Hobbit
  12. ^ Giardina, Carolyn (13 December 2013). "'The Desolation of Smaug:' Weta's Joe Letteri Reveals The Biggest VFX Challenges". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  13. ^ USA Today |url= missing title (help). 
  14. ^ Empire's The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug Movie Review
  15. ^ 'The Hobbit' Reviews: Get The Scoop On 'Smaug' - Music, Celebrity, Artist News |
  16. ^ Hughes, Mark. "Review - 'The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug' Is Middle-Earth Magic - Forbes". Forbes. 
  17. ^ "'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug': It Lives! –". Time. 9 December 2013. 
  18. ^ Noer, Michael (23 April 2012). "How Much is a Dragon Worth, Revisited". Forbes. Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  19. ^ "Smaug". Forbes. 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  20. ^ "Smaug". Forbes. 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
General references

External links[edit]