Here there be Dragons: Smaug (2nd in an occasional series)

As a follow-up to last week’s post on J.R.R. Tolkien, I thought I’d pen a few thoughts on visual images of Smaug, the dragon in Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Smaug, J.R.R._Tolkien_-_Conversation_with_Smaug_(large)First we have Tolkien’s own illustration of the beast. Despite Tolkien’s literary portrayal of Smaug as an evil creature, the drawing is a delight to the eye. The dragon’s body is a graceful curve, ending in a fanciful fleur-de-lys tail, Smaug’s bright orange scales a pleasing and complementary contrast to the bright gold of his hoard. Like Alice’s Crocodile, Smaug’s claws are neatly spread, and their greenish cast makes them stand out against the background of gold. Crocodile like, too, is Smaug’s expression, not quite a grin, but the slight upward tilt suggests a degree of smugness and satisfaction with his accumulated (and ill gotten) wealth.

Smaug, b&w, direction pictured in bookDragonSketchTolkien drew another image in black and white, a stripped down version that again emphasizes the dragon’s pleasingly graceful curves and striking fleur-de-lys tail, while offering a better view of Smaug’s spectacular wings. This graceful image appears in my paperback edition of The Hobbit (Houghton Mifflin, corrected & revised text of 1978)  on the two half-title pages.

Peter Jackson’s second installment of The Hobbit gave us a marvelous Smaug. While not modeled precisely on the color drawing of Tolkien, Jackson’s Smaug remains true to its spirit. The closeup image of the dragon’s eye that ended Part 1 was a masterful stroke, and the sequel doesn’t disappoint. The film’s dragon is both graceful and menacing, its movements a sinuous ballet, the voice (actor Benedict Cumberbatch) precisely what I would expect, deep and Vadarlike, cultured and smugly amused by the puny hobbit. Smaug’s face, with the cat-slit eyes and catlike grin of the mouth, shows us an antagonist both elegant and cunning, attractive despite his evil intent. (Not something I would ever say of a human villain, but I just love dragons!)

The trailer below gives the most footage of Smaug that I could find–which is still only a few seconds right at the very end. Understandably the film makers wanted to give away only the barest teaser of one of the movie’s very best features.

And here’s a link to a fun and fascinating interview with the voice of Smaug, actor Benedict Cumberbatch (otherwise known as Sherlock Holmes—amusingly enough, his Watson, Martin Freeman, plays the young Bilbo). Lots of great details on how he went about playing Smaug.


  1. jackconner said,

    January 16, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Reblogged this on jackconner and commented:
    I saw The Hobbit: Part Two for the third time today, and it held up pretty well. Some of my gripes receded a bit with this viewing. I don’t know if I was just feeling less critical today or if it was just because I knew what to expect, but the relationship between Tauriel and Killi flowed better for me this time, and the CGI wasn’t too distractingly bad. Speaking of Smaug, I love how reptilian he is in this — how snake-like, actually. I think his creators studied snakes while making him, how their scales move over flesh and bones, and the effect is eerie.

    About Cumberlatch and Freeman, I do think it’s hilarious that Bilbo is Smaug’s Watson. Thankfully Peter Jackson refrained from tossing in an “It’s elementary, my dear Bilbo” in there.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      January 17, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Thanks so much, Jack, I really appreciate that!

      Yes, the snakelike movements are definitely part of Smaug’s allure, creating the same kind of hypnotic effect that real snakes are said to exert on their prey (or is that just an urban legend?). And, yup, the Holmes/Watson connection is hilarious indeed.

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