Smaug. It must’ve started with Smaug. Smaug the Magnificent. As a boy of 8, I think that’s the first time I heard a dragon talk. A Conversation with Smaug by J.R.R. Tolkien is still one of my favourite illustrations. ‘Well, thief! I smell you and I feel your air’, isn’t that how it went? And that was also, I think, the first time that the 8-year-old me heard about a dragon being able to talk. Smaug was red, of course. To this day, it’s my favourite colour.
As an adult, I’m pleased to note that Professor Tolkien also drew on ancient sources, from the ‘night-scather’ in Beowulf to the talking dragon Fafnir of the Völsunga Saga. Fafnir, as it happens, used to be a man, but his greed for gold eventually turned him into a dragon, so one could argue that the seed of Smaug, in a way, was entirely human. Here you see the roots of the myth you’re tapping, a vein that stretches back to the elemental serpents of Ancient China, those noble god-beasts who were often depicted in human form, and one that will surely stretch on long into the future. Continue reading