From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Tolkien's legendarium character
Conversation with Smaug.png
"Conversation with Smaug" as illustrated by J.R.R. Tolkien
Jump to: navigation, search
For the MUD, see SMAUG.
Tolkien's legendarium character
Conversation with Smaug.png
"Conversation with Smaug" as illustrated by J.R.R. Tolkien

Smaug (/smɡ/[1]) is a fictional dragon and the main antagonist in J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel The Hobbit. He was a fearsome dragon who invaded the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor 150 years prior to the events described in the novel. A group of 13 Dwarves mounted a quest to take the kingdom back, aided by the wizard Gandalf and the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Smaug is described as "a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm".[2]


The Hobbit[edit]

One of the last great Fire-drakes 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), the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (their titular burglar), and their quest 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 Smaug in his lair, he discovered a small bare patch on the dragon'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, Frodo Baggins, 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]

As stated in the tale The Quest of Erebor, Gandalf had an ulterior motive in helping Thorin with his quest; he knew that Smaug could pose a serious threat if used by Sauron, then dwelling in Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. He also knew they would need a "burglar" to reclaim the Arkenstone from Smaug. Gandalf assumed that Smaug would not recognize the scent of a Hobbit, and so he asked Bilbo 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[3] and a rough coloured pencil and ink sketch entitled Death of Smaug.[4] 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[5] and which he described as one of his "most valued sources" for The Hobbit.[6] 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 smúgan,[7] to squeeze through a hole: a low philological jest."[6]

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 cat-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 Hobbit (film series)[edit]

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.[8] Smaug is presented with a long head, red-golden scales, the wyvern-like body and piercing yellow-red eyes. The dragon speaks with Received Pronunciation with an underlying growl as Cumberbatch, taking his 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.[9][10][11] 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.[12]

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

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

Smaug appears in the second film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. In this adaptation, the weak spot in Smaug's armor is the result of one of his scales breaking off during his attack on Dale by a Black Arrow fired from a windlance. He scares Bilbo into removing the One Ring, and implies that he knows what it is. Smaug also reveals his knowledge of the growing threat from the Necromancer. 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 where he begins to burn it down in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Though Smaug destroyed Lake-town's windlance, he is killed when Bard uses a makeshift launcher to send the black arrow into the dragon's weak spot. It would be revealed after Smaug's death that the dragon was used by Sauron in a scheme to revive the kingdom of Angmar.

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.[13][14] Critics also praised the visual effects company Weta Digital and Cumberbatch's vocal and motion-capture performance for giving Smaug a fully realized personality. He made his final appearance in the film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.[15][16]


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.

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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."
  2. ^ Tolkien, The Hobbit, Chapter 1, "An unexpected Party".
  3. ^ Hammond & Scull, image No. 133.
  4. ^ Hammond & Scull, image No. 137
  5. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (ed. Christopher Tolkien, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983).
  6. ^ a b Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, letter No. 25., ISBN 0-395-31555-7 
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Fleming, Mike (16 June 2011). "Benedict Cumberbatch To Voice Smaug in 'The Hobbit'". Deadline New York. Retrieved 19 June 2011. 
  9. ^ Cumberbatch's Hobbit challenges - Yahoo Movies UK
  10. ^ Benedict Cumberbatch on bringing Smaug to life for the latest installment of The Hobbit
  11. ^ Giardina, Carolyn (13 December 2013). "'The Desolation of Smaug:' Weta's Joe Letteri Reveals The Biggest VFX Challenges". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  12. ^ USA Today |url= missing title (help). 
  13. ^ Empire's The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug Movie Review
  14. ^ 'The Hobbit' Reviews: Get The Scoop On 'Smaug' - Music, Celebrity, Artist News |
  15. ^ Hughes, Mark. "Review - 'The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug' Is Middle-Earth Magic - Forbes". Forbes. 
  16. ^ "'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug': It Lives! –". Time. 9 December 2013. 
  17. ^ Noer, Michael (23 April 2012). "How Much is a Dragon Worth, Revisited". Forbes. Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  18. ^ "Smaug". Forbes. 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012. 
  19. ^ "Smaug". Forbes. 2013. Retrieved 31 July 2013. 
  20. ^ "Smaug". The Colbert Report. Retrieved 12 December 2014. .
General references

External links[edit]