Saturday, September 26, 2015

Dragons!

The topic I was curious about and chose to focus on researching during Thursday's class was dragons. The Making of Middle-earth chapter had a specific section about dragons that sparked my curiosity.
Dragons play an important role in many of Tolkien's works, specifically The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and The Children of Hurín. I've always been particularly interested in dragons, especially after an Animal Planet documentary had me convinced for an hour that they had found a real dragon. Therefore, some of the questions I had heading into my research were as follows:
Why are dragons often the enemy?
Why doesn't anyone ride a dragon in Tolkien's world?
Why are there talking dragons in Tolkien's world but none of them are nice?

What I found during my research:
Dragons were initially though of as akin to any exotic beast i.e. a lion, tiger, etc. But then Christianity came about as a forceful worldview, particularly in Europe. Once Christianity took hold dragons became synonymous with the idea of evil and were viewed as sinister beings. Thereafter the depictions of dragons began to conform to the expectations of the era. Dragons were then largely placed in stories and mythology as a foil to a righteous hero. Fire breathing dragons are thought to have originated with the idea of a "hell mouth". Many depictions of hell and demons include being consumed by fire via a hell mouth. Thus, a fire breathing dragon is akin to the fire from the pit of hell. Another interesting fact is the etymology of "dragon". It comes from the Greek word "draconta" (which is also connected with the Latin word Draco) which means "to watch". Therefore, it is thought that this etymology is connected to the idea of dragons "watching (guarding) valuables".

How I connected this to my initial questions:
I think Tolkien's dragons may be uniformly sinister because they follow the line of dragons viewed through the Christian worldview. The dragons in Tolkien's world are created by Morgoth and therefore are unlikely to have any redeemable qualities. They were created and raised up in evil and exist to antagonize the heroes in Tolkien's tales. Tolkien's dragons are also different from each other. For example, Glaurung is wingless while Smaug has wings. Apparently dragon fire is also capable of destroying the rings of power, except for the One ring. Interesting right? I could not find much about why Tolkien refers to dragons as "the great worm". Any one else have any thoughts on why dragons are evil worms? Or why there are no dragon riders in Tolkien works? Any thoughts on why dragon fire cannot destroy the One ring?

1 comment:

Vairë said...

Dragons may be represented in modern culture as friendly but powerful creatures, but even in initial culture, they were thought of as exotic beasts. Beasts. The Dragon suits itself very well to archetype of the mister, as it is big, mysterious, glorious, and shrouded by many enchantments. It holds power, and the western psyche sees power as a threat. That last is the result of Christianity. However, even before that, dragons were simply large enough, powerful enough, and closely related enough to snakes to be framed as woebringers.