Smaug is a fictional dragon character in "The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Character overview

One of the last great dragons for Middle-earth, Smaug is the main antagonist in "The Hobbit" who had previously laid waste to the town of Dale and captured the Lonely Mountain (Erebor) with all its treasure. He was already centuries old during this and over 200 years more passed before the events of "The Hobbit". The book recounts the tale of a party of dwarves (a few of the original residents of the Lonely Mountain and their descendants) and a hobbit to recapture the mountain and kill the dragon. Smaug is described as reddish-gold and was said in accounts of the Red Book that he was of great size. In the book he is sometimes named Smaug the Golden or Smaug the Magnificent.

In "The Hobbit"

Smaug was intimately familiar with every last item within his hoard, and instantly noticed the theft of a relatively inconsequential cup by Bilbo Baggins. According to Tolkien, his rage was that 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, on which Tolkien was a noted expert and which he described as one of his "most valued sources" for "The Hobbit". [ME-ref|Letters|Letter #25] 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 relative Frodo from injury multiple times.

Smaug's belly was crusted in gems and gold, which rendered him almost invulnerable. However, when Bilbo met him in his lair, he discovered a bare patch on his left breast. When Bilbo told his Dwarf companions about Smaug's weakness, 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 left breast, the armour's weak spot, killing him.

After Smaug's death, Thorin and Company claimed the treasure as theirs by birthright. This created a conflict with Bard and the Elven king Thranduil of Mirkwood, who each wanted a portion of the gold as reimbursement for all the damage Smaug had caused their kingdoms over the years. Thorin refused to share the treasure as long as they stood in arms before his gate, and declared war on both of them. Conflict was avoided by the arrival of the Goblin and Warg army, and the Dwarves decided to ally with the Elves and Men to fight this greater evil in what was known as the Battle of Five Armies, during which Thorin was mortally wounded.


Smaug has the fiery breath generally associated with dragons, but is just as dangerous behind as before: his tail is described as having the power of a battering-ram wielded by giants, and when Bilbo foolishly gives him too many clues as to where his and the Dwarves campsite is, Smaug uses this powerful tail to bring rubble down upon them to try to bury them all.

Smaug has exceptional eyesight, and also an acute sense of smell, which he is able to use asleep or awake. He is even able to put an exact figure on the number of people and ponies that arrive near his lair, and his appetite (he eats ten out of the fourteen ponies before he even has his conversation with Bilbo) is monstrous. He can also sleep with one eye open to keep watch over his treasure, which is how he manages to speak with Bilbo when he returns for more — although he has to admit to himself that he cannot decide what species Bilbo is by scent alone, the smell of a hobbit being unknown to him.

Smaug's weakness — which we are told by Tolkien is common among dragons — is that he enjoys riddles and cannot resist the urge to uncover them — although he has further strength in his abilities to give very accurate guesses and to keep what information he does uncover to himself. In common with Tolkien's other dragons Smaug's has power of hypnosis using his eyes; every time he looks towards the unseen Bilbo, he puts him "in mortal danger of falling under the dragon's spell", and makes him suddenly want to tell him everything. The eyes "rove" from side to side in search of him, however Bilbo is invisible with the help of the One Ring at the time and the impact of their power does not consume his mind completely. Smaug does, however, possess what is described as "quite an overwhelming personality", as well as a dry, if cruel, sense of humour, so that aside from coming close to making Bilbo betray his friends, he also causes him to temporarily believe that the dwarves are trying to swindle him out of his share of the treasure and that it would be impossible for them to remove it all even if they allowed him some.

A further weakness lies with Smaug's own pride: he believes himself to be invulnerable, and is unaware of the unarmoured patch of bare skin on his breast when he goes to Esgaroth to set the town alight and hunt its people. This arrogance eventually proves fatal to him in his battle with the town's defenders.


Tolkien writes in "The Quest of Erebor" (published in full in "Unfinished Tales", appearing in abridged form in the Appendices for "The Lord of the Rings") that, according to Gandalf it was fortunate that Smaug had been slain, since this allowed the area around Dale and Erebor to be defended against Sauron's forces during the events of "Lord of the Rings". As Gandalf said: "Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador!"


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" [ME-ref|A&I|Image #133] and a rough coloured pencil and ink sketch entitled "Death of Smaug". [ME-ref|A&I|Image #137] 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".

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. From 1925 to 1945, Tolkien was a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, and an important critic of "Beowulf" — on which he gave a lecture at the British Academy in 1936. [J. R. R. Tolkien, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays" (ed. Christopher Tolkien, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983).] In addition, similarities to the dragon Fafnir of the Nibelungenlied are obvious.


In the books, the name Smaug is presented as a translation of Trâgu in Tolkien's fictional language of "original Dalish", much like Sméagol/Trahald. According to Tolkien, the name Smaug is "the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb "smeugan" (Old Norse "smjúga"; past "smaug") = "to squeeze through a hole"" (This is noted in the first chapter of "The Hobbit" when the Dwarves wonder how the dragon was able to squeeze through the passageway in the mountain) (Letter No. 31).

Portrayal in adaptations

In the 1977 animated version of "The Hobbit", Smaug was voiced by Richard Boone. In general, Smaug's design is consistent with Tolkien's description save his face. Rather than the traditional reptilian look associated with dragons, Smaug's face in the animated version is more like a cross between a wolf, a bat, and a crocodile. His hypnotic gaze is absent, and his acute eyesight is portrayed by showing highbeam-like lights shining forth from his eyes whenever he is searching for something.

In the 2003 video game release, Smaug was voiced by James Horan.


External links

* an image of Smaug on his hoard

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