The Dragons of Middle-earth
“Never laugh at live dragons.”
J.R.R. Tolkien ~The Hobbit
The Dragons in Tolkien’s Legendarium come in many shapes and sizes, those with wings and those without, those that breath fire and those that do not, some are four legged long worms, while others have winged forelegs like bats. Though all of these great beasts are said to have cunning and intelligence and are able to shape the minds of men with Dragon-spell. They were also long-lived, with lives that spanned centuries.
The origin of these creatures comes directly out of the pits of Angband, where they were bred with dark sorcery by the hand of Morgoth. Created in secret by the first Dark Lord, they were bred deep underground in his dungeons and when unleashed,these wicked beasts rained death and destruction upon Middle-earth. The first was the great worm Glaurung, a giant wingless beast that crawled out of the pits of Angband with a belly full of fire and a rage in his heart. From his seed was spawned the entire race of dragon-kind that troubled Middle-earth for many an age.
Over the course of the wars in the First Age of Middle-earth, Morgoth bred many forms of these Great Worms. Fire-drakes and Cold-drakes, Long-worms and Winged dragons to plague the earth. They were mighty beasts indeed, protected by unassailable dragon scales that covered their hides, but one weakness they all shared and that was a soft underbelly. They would often cover this exposed area with iron scales and hard gems, from the vast hoards of treasure they plundered.
After the War of Wrath and the fall of Morgoth in the First Age, many dragons survived and lay hid in the desolation of the North. This barren territory had once been known as Dor Daedeloth, but these lands were destroyed in the breaking of Arda and became known as the Northern Waste. Crawling out of the Withered Heath among the Grey Mountains, these dragons descended upon many of the dwarven realms and took their hoarded treasure as their own.
In the Second and Third Ages, the Seven Rings helped the Dwarves increase their vast treasure troves, which unfortunately drew the mightiest of dragons to come down from the wastes and plunder their wealth. Over the years, many of the treasure hoards of the Dwarves were stolen by the worms of the north and certain of the Seven Rings were devoured by dragon-fire. This would eventually lead to the War of the Dwarves and Dragons, which was bitterly fought in the years 2570 to around 2589 of the Third Age.
The most fearsome dragon of the Third Age was Smaug, who laid waste to the Dwarf-realm of Erebor and the nearby town of Dale. This devastated the area and sent Durin’s Folk into exile. Smaug remained in the abandoned halls of the Lonely Mountain for many years until the coming of Thorin and Company and their “burglar”, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins. Thus began a chain of events that led to Smaug’s death at the hands of Bard the Bowman.
Although Smaug was the greatest of the dragons of his day, he seems not to have been the last of his kind as Gandalf told Frodo that “there is not now any dragon left on earth in which the old fire is hot enough to melt the Rings of Power”, indicating the presence of other, lesser dragons.
The dragons were huge and longeval, with their lives spanning centuries. They shared a greed of treasure (especially gold), subtle intelligence, immense cunning, great physical strength, and their eyes and words had a hypnotic power called “dragon-spell”. Those who did not wish to be compromised by a dragon’s speech did never give directly information, but talked vaguely and in riddles, since denying an answer, would anger it to violence.
When the first great fire-drakes emerged from the pits of Angband, his coming was like a storm…
There after, there was peace for many years, and no assault from Angband, for Morgoth perceived now that the Orcs unaided were no match for the Noldor; and he sought in his heart for new counsel. Again after a hundred years Glaurung, the first of the Urulóki, the fire-drakes of the North, issued from Angband’s gates by night.
From The Silmarillion in the chapter ‘Of the Return of the Nolder’
The last host of Morgoth issued forth from Angband during the War of Wrath with black wings and fire…
Then, seeing that his hosts were overthrown and his power dispersed, Morgoth quailed, and he dared not to come forth himself. But he loosed upon his foes the last desperate assault that he had prepared, and out of the pits of Angband there issued the winged dragons, that had not before been seen; and so sudden and ruinous was the onset of that dreadful fleet that the host of the Valar was driven back, for the coming of the dragons was with great thunder, and lightning, and a tempest of fire.
From The Silmarillion in the chapter ‘Of the Voyage of Eärendil’
In the last years if the third age, when Gandalf became aware the Necromancer of Dol Guldur was indeed the ancient enemy of old, Sauron, he began to worry that the long silent dragon in Erebor might be wakened.
Among many cares he was troubled in mind by the perilous state of the North; because he knew then already that Sauron was plotting war, and intended, as soon as he felt strong enough, to attack Rivendell. But to resist any attempt from the East to regain the lands of Angmar and the northern passes in the mountains there were now only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills. And beyond them lay the desolation of the Dragon. The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect. How then could the end of Smaug be achieved?
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘Appendix A’