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From Tolkien Gateway
Revision as of 08:29, 18 March 2024 by Quentandil (talk | contribs) (Text replacement - "Letters not published in "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien"" to "Letters not published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien")
[[File:|320x480px|thumb|center|"Dragon" by J.R.R. Tolkien]]
General Information
Other names"Great worms"
OriginsMorphed by Morgoth in Angband
LocationsAngband, Nargothrond, Grey Mountains, Erebor, Withered Heath, Northern Waste
LanguagesVarious Mannish and Elvish tongues[1]
PeopleFire-drakes, Cold-drakes,
Long-worms, Sea-serpents
MembersGlaurung, Ancalagon, Scatha, Smaug,
Physical Description
Lifespan"Long and slow"[2]
GalleryImages of Dragons

Never laugh at live dragons.

Dragons also known as the Great Worms were evil creatures mostly seen in northern Middle-earth. They were greedy, cunning, seductive and malicious, likely a corruption devised by Morgoth through use of fire and sorcery sometime in the late First Age.


Scouring the Mountain by Ted Nasmith

Origin and early history

When Morgoth saw how strong the Noldor were in battle, he realized that Orcs alone were insufficient for defeating his enemies. His solution, breeding a new race of monsters: Dragons.[3][note 1]

The Father of Dragons was Glaurung, a mighty wyrm with cunning intellect and a powerful hypnotic gaze. Glaurung was integral in the fate of the Children of Húrin. Among his many misdeeds were the destruction of the Elf-realm of Nargothrond, and the spell which stripped Nienor of her memory, which eventually led her to reunite with and marry her long-lost brother Túrin. When Nienor learned of Glaurung's plot, she committed suicide by jumping into Cabed-en-Aras. Glaurung was finally slain by Túrin, who after discovering Glaurung's plot committed suicide by stabbing himself with his black sword, Gurthang.

At the Fall of Gondolin, Morgoth's army included dragons, "many and terrible".[4]

During the War of Wrath, Morgoth unleashed a new terror upon Middle-earth – the winged Dragons. Chief among these was Ancalagon the Black. Eventually slain by Eärendil the Mariner, Ancalagon's fall crushed the towers of Thangorodrim. Many of the dragons were slain but some fled and survived into the later Ages.[5]

After the First Age

It would appear that they fled to the Northern Waste, far from the lands of Men and Elves. Though their number was lessened, over the centuries the race of Dragons continued to breed and repopulate, particularly in the Withered Heath, an area in between two spurs of the Grey Mountains. Together with the Orcs, Dragons persisted as a threat to the race of Men throughout the Second and Third Ages.[6][note 2]

In the late Third Age the Dragons of the Withered Heath, stirred by the resurgence of all evil with the One Enemy's return, began to harass the Northmen and make war with the Dwarves around the year T.A. 2570 (Dáin I and Frór of Durin's Folk were killed by a great Cold-drake in 2589).[7][8] It was perhaps in these wars that Dragons swallowed four of the Seven Dwarf-rings.[9]

The most fearsome Dragon of the Third Age was Smaug the Terrible, who laid waste to the Dwarf-realm of Erebor and the nearby town of Dale. This devastated the area and sent Durin's Folk into exile. The Fire-drake remained in the abandoned halls of the Lonely Mountain for many years. Soon enough, the Wizard Gandalf became concerned that the Dark Lord Sauron could win the Dragon Smaug's allegiance and use him to devastate the North of Middle-earth. To prevent such a union, he encouraged and aided the expedition of Thorin and Company and their "burglar", the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. This began a chain of events that led to Smaug's death at the hands of Bard the Bowman.

Although Smaug was the greatest of the Dragons of his day,[8] he seems not to have been the last of his kind as Gandalf told Frodo Baggins that "there is not now any dragon left on earth in which the old fire is hot enough [to melt the Rings of Power]",[9] indicating the presence of other, lesser dragons.[10]


Dragons by J.R.R. Tolkien

The dragons were huge and longeval, with their lives spanning centuries. They shared a greed of treasure (especially gold), subtle intelligence, immense cunning, great physical strength, and their eyes and words had a hypnotic power called "dragon-spell". Those clever enough to avoid the spell never give direct information, but talked vaguely in riddles, since plainly refusing an answer would invite an immediate attack.

Apparently, dragons came from eggs.[11]

It may be that dragons could sport horns.[12]

While dragons were armoured with iron scales, they had a soft spot underneath, in the region of the chest, which could be pierced by blades or darts.[13][14]

Means of locomotion

Some dragons (Glaurung) crawled like snakes, yet had four legs, like a Tetrapodophis.[15][16] These must have been the most common type of dragons in the late First Age, since the winged fire-dragons only first appeared during the War of Wrath, while the winged Cold-drakes are only reported in Turambar and the Foalókë. These (such as Ancalagon and Smaug) could both walk on four legs and fly using wings. Breeds of wingless dragons did survive into later Ages.

Fire breathing

The Urulóki (singular Urulokë, Fire-drakes) could breathe fire. It is not entirely clear whether the term "Urulóki" referred only to the first dragons such as Glaurung that could breathe fire but were wingless, or to any dragon that could breathe fire, and thus include Smaug.

Dragon-fire (of the Urulóki) was hot enough to melt Rings of Power: four of the Seven Rings of the Dwarves were consumed by Dragon-fire, although it was not powerful enough to destroy the One Ring itself.[9]

The dragons who could not breathe fire were known as Cold-drakes. Those were found mainly in Ered Mithrin.

Individual dragons

Smaug by John Howe
  • Glaurung — Father of Dragons, slain by Túrin Turambar. First of the Uruloki, the Fire-drakes of Angband. He had four legs and could breathe fire, but didn't have wings.
  • Ancalagon the Black — first and mightiest of the Winged-dragons, slain by Eärendil in the War of Wrath.
  • Scatha — Slain by Fram of the Éothéod. Apparently a cold-drake. Described as a "long-worm", although this imprecise term seems to be more of an expression rather than a separate taxonomic group.
  • Smaug — the last great dragon of Middle-earth, slain by Bard of Esgaroth. A winged Urulokë.
  • Gostir — was one of the Dragons of Morgoth only known by name.
  • An unnamed dragon appears in Hobbit verse, said to have had red eyes, black wings and teeth like knives.[17]


Dragon is derived from French; drake is an English word, from Old English draca (derived from Latin).[18]

Words denoting "dragon" in Quenya are lókë and angulóke. Sindarin has lhûg and amlug.

In Gnomish, "dragon" is fuithlug ("a dragon who guards treasure"), lingwir or ulug (plural ulûgin; "she dragon" is uluch, uluchnir or ulugwin).[19]

Other names

The dragons were known by many different names:

Worms referred to the race of dragons. It was used to refer to Glaurung[20] as well as Smaug.[21] In Gnomish, one of Tolkien's early conceptions of an Elven language, "worm" is gwem.[22] Worm is also an actual old word for dragon,[23] derived from Old English wyrm, Old Norse ormr ("serpent").

Long-worms referred to at least some dragons, although the only named example is related to Scatha:

Frumgar, they say, was the name of the chieftain who led his people to Éothéod. Of his son, Fram, they tell that he slew Scatha, the great dragon of Ered Mithrin, and the land had peace from the long-worms afterwards.

Serpents was used for dragons (properly great serpents),[24] as well as ordinary snakes.

Other versions of the legendarium

In the early Lost Tale of "Turambar and the Foalókë", a legend among Men exists concerning dragons. Whoever tastes the heart of a dragon and can withstand its poisonous blood "would know all tongues of Gods or Men, of birds or beasts, and his ears would catch whispers of the Valar or of Melko".[25]

In the "Fall of Gondolin" it is told that Melko forged mechanical Iron Dragons to carry the armies of Orcs into the city.[26]:169 However, along the battle there are many mentions of fire-drakes and beasts of unclear nature that resemble actual dragons, like the creature of fire with Balrogs in its back.[26]:181

Other fiction

A dragon named Chrysophylax appears in J.R.R. Tolkien's story Farmer Giles of Ham.

In the story Roverandom, white dragons are among the creatures living on the moon. A dragon, called the Great White Dragon, attacks Rover and the moon-dog, and is said to be the origin of all white dragons. In Merlin's time, this dragon had been to the earth, and fought with the Red Dragon in Caerdragon. The Great White Dragon has wings and can breathe fire.[27]

Portrayal in adaptations

1982-97: Middle-earth Role Playing:

Apart from the type of dragons created by Tolkien, additional races include Rain-drakes, Light-drakes, Ash Drakes and several others.[28]

2001-: The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game:

The Dragon, which can have the ability to breathe fire and fly, is a powerful enemy of the Good players.[29] The game also includes the subterranean Cave Drake, a large but agile monster and natural enemy of the Dwarves.[30]

2007-: The Lord of the Rings Online:

Dragon-kind includes several varieties: Cold-, Fire- and Shadow-drakes, Fire-worms, Rock-worms, and many more. Related beasts include the salamander, a weaker and simpler breed of dragons, the pygmy-sized dragonet, and the turtle-like avanc.[31]

2017: Middle-earth: Shadow of War:

There are only two types of drakes in the game, a poison-drake, and a fire-drake. Also featured is a "drake" seemingly made of wood, that is controlled by Càrnan.

See also

External links


  1. How this was done is unclear.
  2. At the height of his power, Morgoth's successor, Sauron was said to have governed all foul things, possibly even a scarce few of the Dragons.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Letter to Leila Keene and Pat Kirke" (letter); quoted in J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "II. The Appendix on Languages", "Note on an unpublished letter", pp. 72-73
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Return of the Noldor"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The War of the Jewels, "Part One. The Grey Annals": §115
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Akallabêth: The Downfall of Númenor"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age"
  8. 8.0 8.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "Durin's Folk"
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Shadow of the Past"
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 144, (dated 25 April 1954)
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Quest of Erebor", "Appendix: Extracts from an earlier version": Glóin: "dragonet new from the shell"
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Many Meetings", Song of Eärendil where Eärendil wielded a bow "made of dragon-horn"
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Choices of Master Samwise": "But Shelob was not as dragons are, no softer spot had she save only her eyes."
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Inside Information": "dragons were softer underneath, especially in the region of the - er - chest".
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Children of Húrin, "The Journey of Morwen and Niënor to Nargothrond"
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad"'
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "The Hoard"
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "Short Glossary of Obsolete, Archaic, and Rare Words", p. 350
  19. J.R.R. Tolkien, "I-Lam na-Ngoldathon: The Grammar and Lexicon of the Gnomish Tongue", in Parma Eldalamberon XI (edited by Christopher Gilson, Arden R. Smith, and Patrick H. Wynne), pp. 36, 54, 74
  20. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Children of Húrin, "The Coming of Glaurung"
  21. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "An Unexpected Party"
  22. J.R.R. Tolkien, "I-Lam na-Ngoldathon: The Grammar and Lexicon of the Gnomish Tongue", in Parma Eldalamberon XI (edited by Christopher Gilson, Arden R. Smith, and Patrick H. Wynne), p. 45
  23. J.R.R. Tolkien; Verlyn Flieger, Douglas A. Anderson (eds.), Tolkien On Fairy-stories: Expanded edition, with commentary and notes, p. 108
  24. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, Part Three: "The Etymologies", p. 370, entry "LOK-"
  25. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "II. Turambar and the Foalókë", p. 85
  26. 26.0 26.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "III. The Fall of Gondolin"
  27. J.R.R. Tolkien; Christina Scull, Wayne G. Hammond (eds.), Roverandom, "[Chapter] 2"
  28. Ruth Sochard Pitt, Jeff O'Hare, Peter C. Fenlon, Jr. (1994), Creatures of Middle-earth (2nd edition) (#2012)
  29. Dragon at (accessed 23 September 2011)
  30. White Dwarf, issue 371 (November 2010), p. 42
  31. "Dragon-kind" at Lord of the Rings Online: Lorebook (accessed 28 October 2010)