Anne Petty at Dragon*Con
Celebriel writes, Who better to talk about dragons at Dragon*Con than Tolkien scholar and author Anne Petty? Anne’s talk, “Glaurung vs Smaug: Dragon Smackdown,” helped kick off the Tolkien Track on Friday and was repeated on Sunday.

Anne reminded us that Tolkien called dragons “a potent creation of men’s imagination,” and she took us through the characteristics of dragons and dragon tales as classified in Finnish scholar Antti Aarne’s Tale Type Index, published in 1910 and now known as the Aarne-Thompson Tale Type Index after English translator and scholar Stith Thompson. These include:

  • The hero fights a mythical dragon
  • The dragon sleeps on treasure
  • A human steals from the dragon’s horde
  • The dragon guards a water source
  • Dragon’s blood is poisonous
  • Dragons’ eyes and their voices can cast spells
  • Dragon’s blood gives magical properties
  • Dragon’s have an exposed vulnerability (which the hero or an accomplice must discover)

Anne explained that Tolkien knew dragons from childhood, from stories in Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book, first published in 1890 and still in print, which included “The Story of Sigurt.” He visualized dragons as worms, long and skinny, and in length 20 feet or more, very different from the squat, bulky dragons known most commonly in the west from the St. George legend. She noted that the dragon in the Rankin-Bass animated “The Hobbit” of 1977 is fairly is close to Tolkien’s vision – an Eastern dragon not a Western one.

With this background, Anne developed the contrasts and comparisons between Glaurung and Smaug. Glaurung is a dragon of the First Age, the first of Morgoth’s great dragons. His name means “burning,” suggesting that he is a firedragon or uruloki.

Tolkien describes him as a “golden dragon of Morgoth,” “the father of dragons” and “the golden dragon of the god of hell.” In personality, Glaurung is impulsive and calculating in a human sort of way. Glaurung is relative young – we know this because in his early battles his platelike armor has not completely hardened. In “The Children of Hurin,” Turin kills Glauring by stabbing him from beneath. His vulnerability was ignoring or underestimating humans in his focus on the elves.

Smaug, also called a worm and a winged firedrake, is the last of the dragons. He doesn’t work for Sauron or Morgoth but is a free agent. He lives in under the Lonely Mountain (Erebor), which he took from the dwarves, and is red gold in color.

His name means “to squeeze through, like a snake through a hole.” Bilbo noticed Smaug’s vulnerable spot when the dragon was flattered into revealing his diamond waistcoat. A thrush overheard Bilbo telling the dwarves and relayed the information to Bard of Esgaroth, who shot Smaug with an arrow. Like Glaurung overlooking humans, Smaug erred in overlooking hobbits and focusing on his dwarf enemies.

Smaug’s descriptors, while impressive, are not as terrifying as First Age dragon Glaurung’s. He is known as “Smaug the tremendous,” “Smaug the mighty,” and Smaug “the unassessably wealthy.” Smaug is also, we might say, better socialized. It’s almost impossible to imagine a dragon like Glaurung in conversation with Bilbo in “Riddles in the Dark.”

At the end of Anne’s talk, fans discussed who might voice Smaug in any forthcoming production of “The Hobbit.” Among the suggestions were James Earl Jones, Sean Connery, John Rhys-Davies, and Jeremy Irons.

Read more at Check out Anne’s books, especially The Dragons of Fantasy (2004), at the web site.