At the time of the action of the novel, he lives in the halls of the Lonely Mountain (also known by its Sindarin name of Erebor) in Middle-earth, from which he had in the past driven out the former occupants, the Dwarves of Erebor, to appropriate their wealth, after destroying the city of Dale, located at the foot of this mountain and populated by Men.
Worried about Sauron's return to Middle-earth, the wizard Gandalf wonders what role Smaug could play in Sauron's plans for conquest. At the same time, he receives a visit from the Dwarf Thorin, who has come to seek advice on how to recover his lost heritage.
Gandalf offers to arrange a meeting between Thorin's company and the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (also Bilbo Baggins or Bilbo Bessac). This is how the Quest for Erebor is organized, which will allow the Dwarves to get back the treasures that belong to them, while freeing the north of the Rhovanion from the influence of the dragon.
Despite Thorin's death, the quest is a success, with Smaug being slain by an arrow fired by Captain Bard during his assault on the city of Esgaroth, and the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor being restored.
Smaug has often been compared by critics to the dragons of Norse mythology. Indeed, The Hobbit draws much of its inspiration from works of Norse mythology, in particular Beowulf, to which J. R. R. Tolkien has devoted an academic work. According to this approach, Smaug can be interpreted as a figure of greed.
The name Smaug is derived from the primitive Germanic verb smugan: "to crawl into a hole", an etymology that Tolkien called "a philologist's bad joke ".
According to Tom Shippey, the name Smaug may have been derived from the mysterious phrase sm'eah-wyrm, "penetrating worm," found in Bald's Leechbook, a tenth-century Anglo-Saxon work, a suggestion supported by Tolkien's statement to The Observer, in which he said that Smaug was derived from the phrase wid smeogan wyrme, "against the penetrating worm".
Shippey adds that the name refers more to the spirit than the physicality of the dragon, as the meaning of smeagan also refers to cunning, a name that is therefore fitting for Smaug, "the most sophisticated intelligence in The Hobbit. "
More distantly, Smaug is also related to the name of the creature Sméagol, a derivative of the Old English smygel "burrow, place to crawl into," from which Tolkien also derived smial, the name given by the hobbits to their most luxurious holes. Smaug is supposed to represent the name Trâgu, which has the same meaning in the language of Dale, also related to the authentic Westron name of Sméagol: Trahald.
Smaug is a winged dragon, with a golden red color. He has a very keen sense of smell, so much so that he can determine the number of members of the company, just by smelling. His chest is covered with inlaid gems and stones, except for a small part in the "hollow of the left breast which is as bare as a snail without its shell6 ". His armor thus gives off a warm red light.
Smaug is described as "particularly greedy, strong and wicked, " "the most powerful of his time. In the first chapter of The Hobbit, we learn that Smaug was already "five feet tall, " when he was just a young dragon.
Smaug first appeared in the year 2770 of the Third Age, during the reign of King Thrór. At that time, the dwarf kingdom of Erebor was living in opulence, with the halls dug into the heart of Mount Solitaire overflowing with "armor, jewels, gems and cups. All this wealth was known in the land, so much so that the dragon Smaug, greedy, strong and wicked, "the most powerful of his time, " eventually heard about it.
Smaug then flies from the Dried Brand to Mount Solitaire, which he destroys. He attacks the city of Dale on the mountainside, killing everyone he meets along the way. Thrór, his son Thráin II and his grandson Thorin II Oakbone managed to escape, along with many dwarves, and went to settle in the Ered Luin.
In 2841 A. D. A., Thráin II left alone, determined to return to Erebor. In 2845, he was taken prisoner in the fortress of Dol Guldur by Sauron, who stole his ring, the last of the seven allocated to the dwarf lords. Five years later, Gandalf enters the fortress, discovers Thráin dying, and receives confirmation that Sauron has returned.
Gandalf begins to fear that Sauron will send armed forces to retake the ancient Kingdom of Angmar from the north and thus reach Eriador. This fear is reinforced by the absence of dwarven and human forces, destroyed by Smaug, in the north of the Rhovanion , forces that could have stopped him.
Finally, Gandalf fears Smaug all the more because Sauron could have used him as an ally in the future War of the Ring. He therefore considers a way to get rid of the dragon.
In March 2941 A. A., Gandalf meets Thorin on the way to the Shire at Bree. Thorin takes Gandalf's advice on how to get revenge on Smaug and get his throne back. Gandalf promises Thorin to think about his problem, then returns to the Shire.
There he finds Bilbo Baggins and discovers that he is eager for adventure. Gandalf then sets out on a quest for Erebor, reuniting Thorin and his company with Bilbo, relying on the fact that Smaug does not know what a hobbit is.
The company travels through Middle-earth, finally arriving in Erebor in the fall of 2941. After some research, they discover a secret door that served as an escape route for Thorin's grandfather and father during the dragon attack. On Durin's Day, the last moon of autumn, the secret door is revealed and the dwarves open it.
Bilbo is sent alone into the heart of the mountain. The deeper he goes, the hotter he feels. He hears a noise that turns out to be the dragon, sleeping on a pile of gems and riches. Bilbo takes advantage of Smaug's sleep to steal a two-handled cup and then runs back up into the open.
He has just enough time to find the dwarves and show them his booty, that Smaug wakes up and discovers the cup stolen. Enraged, he climbs out of the mountain and flies off with the idea of catching Bilbo. Smaug perches on top of the mountain and pours fire down its sides.
The dwarves and Bilbo barely have time to take cover in the secret tunnel, but the door is destroyed and they are trapped. Smaug, after this outburst of fury, finds his pile of gold and goes back to sleep. Bilbo decides to go back down into Smaug's lair, hoping that he has fallen asleep. Having passed his ring of invisibility, he goes down the tunnel.
Despite his invisibility, Smaug senses Bilbo. After a dialogue in which Smaug tries to learn more about the hobbit and his companions, Bilbo escapes, not without noting that Smaug has a chink in his armor at chest level, which he informs the dwarves about. A thrush that was following the company also learns of the dragon's weakness and flies off to Esgaroth.
Smaug, for his part, emerges from the Erebor and tries to bury the dwarves by causing rockslides on the mountain side, before heading for the lake city of Long Lake (Esgaroth).
The archers of Long Lake, seeing Smaug coming, try to shoot him down, but he is too well protected by his armor of gems. He sets fire to several Esgaroth dwellings, before the thrush following the dwarves alerts Captain Bard, heir to the throne of Dale, to Smaug's weak point.
He shoots the dragon with a black arrow, inherited from his family, in the left breast. Smaug crashes into the city of Esgaroth, causing the water to swirl and boil. The water where Smaug lies is feared by the people of the area, his bones remain untouched in the middle of the ruins for several centuries, and no one dares to dive for the gems of his armor.
J. R. R. Tolkien has stated that he does not remember the exact date when he began writing Bilbo the Hobbit, although he tells us in a 1955 letter to W. H. Auden how, one summer when he was busy correcting English literature papers, he wrote the first sentence of Bilbo the Hobbit on a blank piece of paper:
"In a hole there lived a hobbit," without knowing where the idea came from. Michael Tolkien, the author's second son, suggests the year 1929 as the beginning of the novel: some of his own writings from this period are clearly inspired by Bilbo the Hobbit.
Michael Tolkien, the author's second son, suggests the year 1929 as the beginning of the writing of the novel: some of his own writings from this period are clearly inspired by Bilbo the Hobbit, a novel that his father read to his sons during its development.
Nevertheless, John D. Rateliff, in The History of the Hobbit, suggests that the writing of the story did not begin until the summer of 1930. In the very first draft of The Hobbit, The Fragment of Pryftan, the dragon first appears as Pryftan .
The name Smaug only appears in the revision of this chapter entitled The Adventure Continues, which dates from the second phase of writing The Hobbit. Tolkien then corrects the occurrences of the name Pryftan in the previous chapters.
For a long time, Tolkien remained undecided about the fate of the dragon. Thus, in a draft, he envisages Smaug being killed in his sleep by Bilbo , only to settle on death during the Battle of the Lake. In this same draft, we find, for the first time, the reference to Smaug's golden red color.
Smaug is "a good Western dragon " . He therefore has links with the dragons of Norse literature. Douglas A. The dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug, when they meet, in which Bilbo refuses to accept the fact that he is a dragon, is a very interesting example of this.
The dialogue between Bilbo and Smaug, when they meet, in which Bilbo refuses to give his real name, is a reminder of the conversation between Sigurd and Fáfnir. This exchange is also reminiscent of the dialogue between Ernest and the giant toad in Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen's short story Ernest, published in 1869 in Stories for My Children.
Tolkien notes, however, in a 1965 radio interview that "Fafnir is a human or humanoid being who has taken that form, whereas Smaug is just a purely intelligent lizard. "
However, despite Smaug's intelligence, he is nothing compared to the Necromancer, and this difference mirrors the difference between the lightness of Bilbo the Hobbit and the seriousness of its sequel, The Lord of the Rings. Compared to Glaurung, Smaug "is just as dangerous and just as capable of creating desolation" but does not possess the same majesty as Glaurung.
The main difference he has with the latter is his freedom of action. In contrast to Glaurung, who is dependent on Morgoth, Smaug is a "free agent" who is not accountable to any master. He is closer to the White Dragon of the Moon present in Roverandom, especially in character.
The connection to Beowulf is emphasized by the scene where Bilbo steals a cup from Smaug's pile of gold, which directly recalls a similar scene in Beowulf. When Tolkien is asked about this, he replies:
"Beowulf is among the sources I hold in highest esteem, although it was not consciously present in my mind while I was writing, and the episode of the theft presented itself naturally (and almost inevitably) in view of the circumstances. It's hard to imagine any other way to continue the story at that point. I like to think that the author of Beowulf would say much the same thing. "
- J. R. R. Tolkien, letter to the editor of the Observer
Smaug thus mirrors in many ways the dragon of Beowulf, and Tolkien uses him to put into practice some of the literary theories he developed around the portrait of the dragon in the Anglo-Saxon poem, endowing the creature with a bestial intelligence beyond its purely symbolic role.
According to Jane Chance, Smaug expresses "spiritual sin" through his pride and greed. According to Jane Chance, Smaug expresses "spiritual sin" through his pride and greed. In the case of the dwarf's "bewilderment," the corrupting power of the treasure over the dwarves, especially Thorin, who refuses to share the treasure, Smaug also embodies the role of the dwarf as a "bewilderer.
Smaug also embodies the role of the tempter in the image of the serpent of original sin in the Bible, who tempts Adam and Eve. He is also compared to Leviathan, the sea monster described in the Book of Job of the Jerusalem Bible, which Tolkien knew well because he participated in its English translation from Hebrew.
Smaug the dragon and his stores of gold can be seen as a reflection of the traditional relationship between evil and metallurgy, as brought together by the description of the Pandemonium in John Milton's Paradise Lost.
According to Ross Smith, Smaug converses "with the charm and wit (and accent the reader imagines) of an educated member of the British upper class " but especially with the "aggressive politeness characteristic" of that class.
Tolkien illustrated Smaug many times. One of his drawings, in color, entitled Conversations with Smaug, illustrates the meeting between Bilbo and the dragon.
The illustration appeared in 1937 in the second English printing of the first edition of The Hobbit and in 1938 in the American edition, where Tolkien's monogram was removed from the drawing . In both these editions, the printed title is "O Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities ".
In 1973, in The J. R. R. Tolkien Calendar, there is the illustration Death of Smaug, which shows the dragon pierced by the black arrow, above Esgaroth. This drawing had already been used to illustrate the cover of the 1966 English paperback edition, despite Tolkien's reluctance to use it. According to Tolkien himself, this sketch was made in 1936, for the first edition of The Hobbit.
Smaug is also depicted on the map of the Wilderness that has graced the novel of Bilbo the Hobbit since 1937, and which was published, along with an earlier version, in Artist and Illustrator. A poster colored by H. E. Riddett was published in 1979.
On these cards, Smaug's depiction is very similar to that of the White Dragon of Roverandom's Moon. Smaug also makes an appearance in the illustration for Santa's letter of 1932, where he is drawn on the wall of the goblin cave. Smaug has also inspired other authors to create a new image of the dragon.
Smaug has also inspired other illustrators, such as John Howe. In 1985, for the 50th anniversary calendar of Bilbo the Hobbit, John Howe illustrated The Death of Smaug, and in 1990, he was commissioned to illustrate Smaug the Golden to adorn the cover of the novel.
In The Hobbit, the 1977 cartoon adaptation of Bilbo the Hobbit, Smaug is dubbed by Richard Boone, while in the 1978 radio adaptation The Hobbit, he is Francis de Wolff. James Horan lends him his voice in the video game Bilbo the Hobbit, released in 2003.
In the film adaptation by Peter Jackson (2012-2014), it is the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch who was hired to embody and interpret the voice of the dragon. That said, the latter is, in the film adaptation, in the strict sense, a "vulture" because it does not have front legs, like a bat, these are replaced by wings with claws.
In 1964, Carey Blyton, an English composer, adapted The Hobbit as a concert overture, with Tolkien's enthusiastic permission. In it, Smaug is represented by "abrupt tutti chords and trombone glissando, and his death should be immediately recognizable as a pizzicati plucking of strings as the fatal arrow is fired, followed by more suffering in the brass and a descending pizzicato in the strings. "
Smaug gave his name to astrophysical analysis software that allows the reconstruction of spatial distributions of hydrogen, temperature, and metal abundance in clusters of galaxies.