Cats and Dragons (Here there be Dragons; 3rd in an occasional series)

I generally try to avoid controversial topics, but here I boldly venture the opinion that those who love dragons are predisposed to also love cats.

My Dragon Cat by artist Amelie Hutt Smirtouille

My Dragon Cat by artist Amelie Hutt Smirtouille from Digital Art Gallery Online

Cats, like dragons, are predators. They may not breathe fire (though they are fond of warmth), but cats have often been accused of being selfish and standoffish. I daresay the same accusations have often been lobbed at dragons as well.

Why then are some of us so attracted to these predatory creatures?

To begin with, they are quite pleasing to look at. Both dragons and cats have graceful, sinuous bodies and long, equally sinuous tails. (“Sinuous” is one of my favorite words.) Both seem to grin, rather like Alice’s crocodile, a grin of deep and somewhat smug self-satisfaction that is nevertheless quite attractive.

In a previous post, I discussed the mysterious attraction that predatory animals hold for many of us: the way that raptors, owls, wolves, and big cats, among others, inspire us with feelings of wonder and awe. The love I hold for dragons and cats is a somewhat more domesticated version of this, and the feelings they incite are a safer, more comfortable and cozy sentiment that is removed from the dangers of the true wild. The house cat,  a domesticated version of the wild’s tigers and lions, pleases cat lovers in part because its presence combines the pleasures of domesticity with the vicarious excitement of wild things in the same way that lovers of mystery enjoy curling up by the fireside with the latest thriller or a classically gruesome tale by Poe (often with a cat curled up on one’s lap). In the same way, dragons offer a similar sort of vicarious thrill as we read or view their adventures from the comfortable safety of our favorite couch or reading nook.

So, fellow dragons lovers, it’s time to weigh in. Are you cat people or fonder of dogs? I’m curious to know!

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.

%d bloggers like this: