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Wednesday, September 02, 2020

A Taxonomy of Dragons


The Forge of Tolkien Episode 6: A Taxonomy of Dragons

When is a dragon "dragon enough" and when is it an example of "draconitas"? In this episode, Professor Rachel Fulton Brown explores the "wilderness of dragons" Tolkien invented for his children's stories and contrasts them with the argument he makes for taking dragons seriously in his essay "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics." How is Smaug like and unlike Beowulf’s bane? And how many dragons are there in a "wilderness"?

Word of warning: if you ever visit The Hobbit Museum in Switzerland, do NOT ask about dragons. You will be treated to a long lecture on the taxonomy of dragons, including a detailed explanation on why the so-called "dragons" of A Game of Thrones are not, in fact, dragons at all.

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29 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous September 02, 2020 1:07 PM  

game of thrones dragons are drakes because they are unintelligent

Blogger Rakshasa September 02, 2020 1:19 PM  

Pretty sure that "dragons" are just the literary manifestation of the reader's raging youthful boner.

Blogger PewienBear(Mac) September 02, 2020 1:36 PM  

Projection?

Blogger ASH September 02, 2020 2:03 PM  

I always saw them as Wyverns because their front legs are also their wings. I recall Smaug having 4 legs and then wings attaching to his back.

Blogger Silent Draco September 02, 2020 2:41 PM  

I can get perhaps 3 minutes of the audio before it cuts off. Think I'll wait for the SSL issue to get resolved, then try again.

Blogger Doktor Jeep September 02, 2020 2:46 PM  

Tolkien went full ham with dragons. Smaug was a LARP compared to the others.

Blogger Cable Salad September 02, 2020 3:05 PM  

How fitting. Each of them’s a lesser creature pretending to be something better, just like their creator.

Blogger Jeroth September 02, 2020 3:44 PM  

I'd worry about getting a lecture on gender and racial equality in middle earth, so that sounds pretty awesome. The benefits of low expectations.

Blogger dtungsten September 02, 2020 4:25 PM  

You will be treated to a long lecture on the taxonomy of dragons

So what's the downside?

Blogger Daniele Grech Pereira September 02, 2020 4:34 PM  

Smaug was nearly invincible, if not for that missing scale right over a vital organ. I always took the slaying of the dragon to represent that one task you had to develop a cunning plan to complete. Bilbo did not appear to have such a plan.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine September 02, 2020 4:37 PM  

Yeah, GoT has drakes or wyverns.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine September 02, 2020 4:39 PM  

IIRC some of the bigger, older dragons in Arda are the size of a middling mountain range. Mostly dug down deep and sleeping long or haven't been seen in ages though.

Blogger A trite re-white September 02, 2020 6:57 PM  

I slayed a dragon or two in my youth. I'm older now and I've put that darkness behind.

Blogger Brick Hardslab September 02, 2020 7:01 PM  

They used to be bigger in Middle-earth.

Blogger Canada78Bear September 02, 2020 8:51 PM  

From the recent discussion on a Darkstream about the Hobbit museum it seems don't ask questions is best approach at the Hobbit museum.

Blogger Cheryl September 02, 2020 9:43 PM  

Delightful presentation. LOTS of info on dragons created by Tolkien, as well as his comments on the dragon in Beowulf. His own dragons evolved from somewhat silly to menacing (while retaining a love of riddles). Another great video! I always feel like Professor Brown is talking directly to me.

Blogger Oswald September 02, 2020 10:30 PM  

Dragons did exist and may still do. The serpent in the garden of Eden likely was a dragon.

Blogger Brute_swayne September 02, 2020 11:57 PM  

Was it a missing scale?
I thought his soft underbelly was crusted with gold and gems from lying on his horde.

Blogger Unknown September 03, 2020 12:05 AM  

18. Brute_swayne September 02, 2020 11:57 PM
Was it a missing scale?


iirc, it was both.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine September 03, 2020 1:56 AM  

His underbelly was scaled, but some scales were missing, most of them were replaced with gems and gold pieces but apparently the missing scale was in a blind spot, or he hadn't noticed it yet.

Blogger doctrev September 03, 2020 4:40 AM  

That's an absolutely fascinating hour about dragons. Smaug is primarily a physical threat, and would have been the kind of force multiplier that could have ended in a successful siege of Rivendell. But in later works, Glaurung is the Father of Dragons- yet his masterwork, the complete annihilation of the house of Hurin, is done without needing a single successful fight. In this as in much else, Martin is actually a number of steps backwards from Tolkien, Sapkowski, and from the advances in re-imagining dragons generally.

The idea of dragons becoming freed from allegory, yet having a spiritual and mental malevolence as pre-Christian villains, is very pagan. I'm not sure that the notion of eventual pagan defeat and the Christian idea of martyrdom and resurrection necessarily have to be opposed. I'd go so far as to say this was a major element in Christianity taking root among the Vikings... and it only occurred to me after a lecture about dragons!

Blogger Cheryl Butler-Drake September 03, 2020 4:57 AM  

This video was so fun and interesting to watch! I loved all the dragon "props"! I want to reread Beowulf now! I had no idea that he and Smaug were related. How awesomely cool is that?! I feel Tolkien; I feel his need to find the dragon bones buried just beneath the surface right on the edge between history and fantasy. They are so real! --But how are they real?

Blogger FrankNorman September 03, 2020 5:04 AM  

20. Azure Amaranthine September 03, 2020 1:56 AM

His underbelly was scaled, but some scales were missing, most of them were replaced with gems and gold pieces but apparently the missing scale was in a blind spot, or he hadn't noticed it yet.


That's conflating the Tolkien version with the Peter Jackson one. Tolkien dragons do not have protective scales on their undersides - it's known design flaw.
Smaug had coated his chest and belly with gems, but that was a patch for the bug on his own part.

Blogger John September 03, 2020 6:24 AM  

Very much worthwhile reading is Michael O'Brien's book: A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind. It presents his concern that contemporary children's literature and culture has strayed from Christian ethics to a more pagan ideology where good and evil is not strongly defined. The book features O'Brien's examination of fantasy works ranging from C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. One of the book's central claims is that any story in which dragons are presented sympathetically rather than as forces of evil is implicitly anti-Christian, because of the traditional use of the dragon as a symbol for Satan. So, I add another reason why not to ask questions at the Hobbit museumiIN Switzerland.

Blogger Silent Draco September 03, 2020 7:06 AM  

*Hmnph*

"All creatures in the World are described as People or prey.

The People are of three types: the Speakers, the Mutes, and the Beastly. In decades of great dearth, the Beastly may be regarded as prey.

...

Of the ground prey, they divide as those on two and those on four legs.

Those on two legs are of two types: George and Tasty.

The George has an armored shell or coat, and can be peeled with care. Many times it has a mount of some sort, also shelled or coated. The George is aggressive, and will attack with missiles of types, long, sharp pointy sticks, and sharp, extensible claws. Of late, they use engines similar to our Fire to hurl missiles, often very sharp or with a nasty edge, at very high speeds sufficient to penetrate our hides.

Under no circumstance should you ignore the attack or threat display of the George, and do not let them engage at claw's length. Use Fire at a distance to soften and melt edges, and boil their shells, perhaps activating those odd engines to the George's detriment. Our cousin Fafnir ... recall his fate.

..."

-- extracts from 'A Taxonomy of the Dragons', with a nod to Gordon Dickson's tongue-in-cheek fantasy tales

Blogger Azure Amaranthine September 03, 2020 9:10 AM  

"The idea of dragons becoming freed from allegory, yet having a spiritual and mental malevolence as pre-Christian villains, is very pagan."

Not at all, Satan is described as "The Dragon", and the words referring to him as a fiery/serpentine are also used for the other seraphim.

Blogger Damelon Brinn September 03, 2020 10:38 AM  

That's conflating the Tolkien version with the Peter Jackson one.

If my childhood memories can be trusted (big if), in the Rankin and Bass version, Smaug was fully scaled except for exactly one scale missing. I'd guess that's how a lot of people my age still picture him.

Blogger Azure Amaranthine September 03, 2020 5:12 PM  

"If my childhood memories can be trusted (big if), in the Rankin and Bass version, Smaug was fully scaled except for exactly one scale missing. I'd guess that's how a lot of people my age still picture him."

Can confirm, I read the book a bit too young the first time and not much stuck. Haven't seen the Peter Jackson version.

Blogger doctrev September 03, 2020 5:43 PM  

Azure Amaranthine wrote:"The idea of dragons becoming freed from allegory, yet having a spiritual and mental malevolence as pre-Christian villains, is very pagan."

Not at all, Satan is described as "The Dragon", and the words referring to him as a fiery/serpentine are also used for the other seraphim.


Absolutely, but I'm specifically talking about the part of the podcast where the Professor discusses the role of dragons in pagan versus Christian myth. Not gonna lie, this podcast was a bit of a slog, mostly because it focused more on Beowulf and scholarly discussion than on Tolkien's work with Glaurung, but overall it made me enjoy it even more.

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