Ancalagon, also known as Ancalagon the Black, is a dragon that appears in the legendarium of the British writer J. R. R. Tolkien, and more particularly in his novel The Silmarillion.
Raised by Morgoth in the depths of his fortress of Angband, he is present during the last battle of the First Age, which sees the fight between the armies of the Valar and Morgoth in order to free Middle-earth from the yoke of the latter. Morgoth seeing that his armies are in rout, unveils, as a last resort, the winged dragons led by Ancalagon the Black.
The latter confronts Eärendil and Thorondor in an aerial battle during which he is shot down, causing the destruction of the peaks of Thangorodrim in his fall and the defeat of his master. This story is probably inspired by the battle between the biblical dragon representing Satan and the archangel Michael in the Apocalypse.
The first flying dragon to appear in the story, it also marks a turning point in the physical evolution of this species in Tolkien.
The name "Ancalagon" is explained in The Etymologies. The name means "impetuous jaws" or "biting storm", from the Sindarin anc(a) "jaw, bite" and alag "impetuous" or alagos "windstorm".
In his Anglo-Saxon version of the Quenta, Tolkien translates Ancalagon as Anddraca, from and-, an oppositional prefix, and draca "dragon". As with other names he has "translated" into Anglo-Saxon, Tolkien does not seek identity of meaning, but rather to obtain sounds close to those of the original names.
The description of Ancalagon is kept to a minimum. Considered "the greatest of all dragons ", he is the first of the winged dragons. His name suggests that he has an impressive jaw. Despite its power, in The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Frodo that Ancalagon would not have been able to destroy the One Ring:
"It has been said that the dragon's fire was able to melt and consume the Rings of Power, but there is now no dragon left on earth whose old flame is hot enough; and there was never any, not even Ancalagon the Black, who could have done harm to the One Ring, the Sovereign Ring, for that one was made by Sauron himself."
- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
At the end of the First Age, in the year 587, a few years after the fall of Gondolin and the destruction of the kingdom of Doriath, Eärendil and Elwing set sail for Valinor to convince the Valar to save Middle-earth from the yoke of Morgoth.
Thanks to their intervention, the armies of the Valar, led by Eönwë, the herald of Manwë, Finarfin, king of the Ñoldor of Aman, Ingwë, king of the Vanyar and Eärendil flying on the Vingilot, march towards Thangorodrim, under which Morgoth's fortress lies, where they are joined by the armies of the Edain.
Morgoth brings most of his armies out of Angband, but they are quickly routed by the Valar forces. Feeling that victory was slipping away, he called in the reserve forces, the first winged dragons, led by Ancalagon the Black. The force of the attack is so terrible that "the armies of the Valar retreated before the thunder, the lightning and the hurricane of flames that preceded the dragons".
However, Eärendil on the Vingilot, accompanied by Thorondor leading an armada of birds, fights Ancalagon and the other dragons for "a whole day and night of doubt", before piercing it. The dragon, shot into the sky, falls on the peaks of Thangorodrim, causing their destruction and ending the War of the Great Wrath. Angband is opened and Morgoth is imprisoned by the Valar, bringing the First Age of Middle-earth to an end.
In the Sketch of Mythology of 1926 and in the first version of the Quenta, from the 1930s, Tolkien makes no mention of Ancalagon. There is a sketch of the attack of the flying dragons, but Ancalagon does not yet exist. Ancalagon appears in the second version of the Quenta, in the role that he will play in the rest of the legend6. In this version, as well as in its later rewriting, the pre-1937 Quenta Silmarillion, Ancalagon has wings of steel.
In later versions, notably in the 1969 essay The Problem of Ros, Tolkien suggests that Ancalagon may have been slain by Túrin, who returned after his death from the outer void of Arda to fight in the Final Battle, according to a prophecy of Andreth. It is not clear, however, whether Ancalagon was slain by Túrin or not.
Nevertheless, it is not clear whether Tolkien is speaking here of the War of the Great Wrath (a hypothesis retained by Christopher Tolkien) or of the Dagor Dagorath, the battle that marks the end of the world (a hypothesis retained by John D. Rateliff).
The figure of Ancalagon is paralleled by the dragon Miðgarðsormr, who confronts Thor in Ragnarök , as well as by its biblical counterpart, the dragon representing Satan, who is confronted by the archangel Michael according to a prophecy told in the account of the Apocalypse according to Saint John.
The reference to Tolkien's linguistic essay, the Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, which appeared in Morgoth's Ring, and which brings into play Andreth's prophecy, serves to increase "the mythological importance of Ancalagon within the legend", as well as the parallel with Miðgarðsormr.
Despite his limited role, the character is of paramount importance, both for his role in the fall of his master, but also for the evolution of the dragon race, as the first flying dragon. Rateliff regrets that the fight between Ancalagon and Eärendil is not more detailed.
According to Kristin Larsen, this confrontation is an evocative rendering of a meteor shower falling on Venus, the star corresponding to Eärendil in Tolkien's mythology. The battle is considered "titanic" and the fall of Ancalagon "cataclysmic" by Evans.
The fight between Ancalagon the Black and Eärendil was illustrated by Ted Nasmith. Jenny Dolfen also drew the dragon.
The dragon has inspired taxonomists. We find listed Ancalagon, a Cambrian priapulid discovered in 1977 by Conway Morris and Ankalagon, a Paleocene mesonychia discovered in 1980 by Van Valen. The name Ancalagon was also taken up by a French pagan metal band formed in 2000.