Daughters of Smaug

John Howe 2002
Smaug, John Howe 2002

The king god of all fantastical creatures is irrevocably and without question the Dragon. In my childhood, this creature stole into my dreams, making them a delight and as often a nightmare, for there could be no force quite like a dragon on a rampage. When I looked to create this beast in my own fantasy world, I did what I often do. I went into what was known, learned what I could, and created my answer. This is a humble attempt to take you on that same journey.

My first real exposure to a dragon came to me in  the form of the animated movie The Hobbit. I had yet to read the book, as I was five. But this beast left its claw-mark on my heart at that young age. His name, as many of you know, was Smaug. He was known as Smaug the Golden and Smaug the Magnificent, and a few other names as well. Smaug can be judged by his works and by the way he is depicted in the book. His seminal work was the taking of the Lonely Mountain, the home of the dwarven kings. It was the hub of their industry and held their considerable wealth. When I saw him in his lair, he sat atop an immense hoard of gold, gems, and works of art wrought in mithril, gold and silver—and he knew it all. When a burglar stole even the slightest of his treasures, Smaug knew exactly what was missing. He had lain upon his treasures so long that gold and gems had become embedded in his scales. Smaug was the embodiment of avarice, Tolkien’s example to us of the heart of greed. Smaug’s fate, I will not dwell upon, but what he meant to me would never dull in my mind. For even now, as I sit here, my blood still chills at the idea of that much power coiled under the mountain.

As I grew, the dragons of the eastern world gathered my attention. They were creatures built on the wonders of others. The dragon of eastern culture is comprised of the body of a serpent, the head of a camel, the horns of an elk, the talons of an eagle, the claws of a tiger, and the scales of a fish. They are able to take the form of all manner of creature, from great to meek—including the human—though every form they take, they are the most beautiful and most kind of that species. Their breath forms the clouds, and they are the givers of rain. In this mythology, four great Dragon Kings dwell in crystal castles beneath the waves of their four great kingdoms: the North, South, East, and West seas. This culture differed from the western dragons, as they were known to be the masters of water instead of fire.

In college, I found the beast haunting me again in the form of the epic poem by Edmund Spenser, “The Faerie Queene.” The Redcrosse Knight finds himself embroiled in conflict with this beast in defense of the Damsel Una. He fights the dragon three times. The first day, he is hit by the beast and believed dead. But the knight falls into a lifesaving well that reinforces him and, on the second day, he emerges to do battle again. He gets hit again, and again is believed dead, when he lands in a sacred tree that revives him. Not until the monster opens its jaws and takes him in its mouth can he smite it to its death. On the third day, the Redcrosse Knight finally vanquishes the dragon and saves his Damsel. This is a device used by Spenser to invoke the defeat of Sin and Death by Jesus Christ when he arose on the third day, to the salvation of the world. In Spenser’s mythology, the Dragon is a symbol of Death and Sin, the blackest and most pure evil of the world. The Redcrosse Knight was not able to defeat it until he was taken into the mouth of death.

George R.R. Martin wields the dragon in his epic fantasy series The Song of Ice and Fire. His dragons are a symbol of royalty and purity of blood. Only one family can control the beasts, one family destined to rule over his world with the use of dragons. These dragons bear the power of a king or queen, with all the temperaments of royalty. This dragon is not a thinker like Smaug. It cannot take on the forms of other creatures. It cannot control the rains. It is a beast of whim and fury. The series is not complete, so I know not whether this beast bears a weakness yet unseen. But I will be watching with bated breath for the next installment.

My incarnation of the dragon was born of these four sources. All told, five dragons exist in my world, and there will never be more. To date, I have written of two dragons, both female. They both possess a power that humbles me. In the creation myth of my world, a malevolent force summoned the great dragon, Ember, from another plane. The god of inspiration and creativity had created Ember, and she was then being used against him. She later came to the world in the form of a human queen and nearly decimated a continent before being killed. Her daughter, as well, was a force of destruction. The word I use most to describe dragons is not greed or royalty or sin or life—it is wrath. They are capable of a level of wrath saved only for the gods. Only one thing humbles a dragon in my world. One thing can tame this fiery spirit, and that is love. Love can drive them insane, or lift them to purity. They are prone to fall in love with humans. No lover is more loyal than a dragon. Ember’s daughter still protects the nation that her lover founded—over 100,000 years later.

My daughters of Smaug are creatures of wrath and love. They are the most devastating creatures in my world. This is my contribution to the dragon myth.

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