Make Room for Dragons – Michael Martinez’ J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth

by Aug 21, 2001Other News

“Sauron could have miscalulated and simply used up his dragon-stock too soon, depriving himself of potential great servants and captains. Hence, if the dragons were reduced to weak and simple-minded creatures without Morgoth’s will, the loss of great numbers of dragons in the War of the Elves and Sauron could have forced Sauron to turn his attention to other means of extending his power.”
Is it possible to explain why Tolkien did not write about dragons in the Second Age? Some new twists on old ideas may reveal the truth about where the dragons went and what they were (or were not) up to.

Here is an excerpt from Michael’s August 4th Suite101 article:

People sometimes ask why there are no dragon stories from the Second Age. In the development of Middle-earth, the Second Age was almost an after-thought, and it didn’t really call for dragons, although we have to assume for the sake of the pseudo-history that they were always there, in the background, waiting for an opportunity to make their appearance.

Dragons, like so many other literary devices, appear only rarely in the pages of Tolkien’s fiction. Only two dragons are featured prominently in the tales: Glaurung and Smaug. Glaurung had a high purpose. He was one of the prime characters in the tragic story of the children of Hurin. Smaug, on the other hand, was just an adventure. A goal for the Hobbit and Dwarves to reach. In the earliest versions of The Hobbit, all which came after Smaug’s death was quickly summarized. The dragon was the capstone of the story.

There are two more named dragons in Tolkien’s Middle-earth tales: Ancalagon the Black and Scatha the Worm. Ancalagon has no real story attached to him. Or, rather, he is barely more than a footnote in a much longer tale, The Silmarillion. He appears briefly in a final assault upon the Host of Valinor before Earendil slays him in the sky, culminating a night-long battle. Scatha is the core of a story told only as an anecdote about the Northman hero Fram, who slays the dragon and recovers a hoard taken from the Dwarves. Scatha’s death does not end Fram’s tale, however, for the Dwarves demand that he return their hoard and he refuses, so they kill him (or arrange for his death).

Fram’s story is unique. Turin mortally wounds Glaurung in the early hours of the morning and then kills himself soon afterward; Earendil slays Ancalagon in the dawn skies and then retreats into legend; Bard the Bowman slays Smaug in the night and goes on to become King of Dale. We know nothing about Fram’s encounte with Scatha, and he does not end either tragically, mythologically, or gloriously like his fellow dragon-slayers. He simply meets his death and the history of his people continues.

There is, however, a certain symmetry in these four dragon stories. Both Glaurung and Ancalagon served Morgoth, whereas Scatha and Smaug were at the very least semi-independent, if not completely independent of Sauron. Tolkien provides only one comment, in “The Quest of Erebor”, where Gandalf tells Frodo and other members of the Fellowship of the Ring that “the Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect”. The clear implication is that Sauron either possessed or could have achieved some measure of control over Smaug, when he was ready to launch his final war against the northern world.

Nonetheless, one may entertain the strong impression that dragons were drifting away from the Dark Lords and assuming their own priorities by the end of the Third Age. In fact, after the Downfall of Sauron in the War of the Ring, dragons had to assume their own priorities.

But what happened with the beasties in the Second Age? There are no dragons in Númenor, and they are not mentioned in the brief accounts of the War of the Elves and Sauron or the War of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. If there were dragon stories for the Second Age, what would be their purpose, and who would be their heroes?

Please click on the link below to read the entire article.


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