In Chapter 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Shadow of the Past,” Gandalf discusses with Frodo means to destroy (or more accurately, means of not being able to destroy) the Ring, when he states the following:
“It has been said that dragon-fire could melt and consume the Rings of Power, but there is not now any dragon left on earth in which the old fire is hot enough; nor was there ever any dragon, not even Ancalagon the Black, who could have harmed the One Ring, the Ruling Ring, for that was made by Sauron himself.”
I have always taken this passage to imply not just that no dragons now exist that could destroy the Ring, but that there are really no dragons left to speak of (after Smaug, of course). I’ve always assumed that Smaug was the last of the dragons in Middle-earth, or at least the last in any regions in which they could still have contact with people (inclusive of Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, etc.).
Furthermore, on Thror’s map in The Hobbit, there is an arrow pointing off the left side of the map with the text:
“Far to the North are the Grey Mountains & the Withered Heath whence came the Great Worms.”
I’m sure the flaw in my logic here is obvious now, but I’ve long interpreted this to refer to the past – “over there is the Withered Heath, where the dragons came from long ago in those times when we had great troubles with such things.” I assumed that the past tense “whence” referred not just to the dragons having originally come from there in the past, but to have come from there in the past and to no more be coming from there, because there are now no dragons in Middle-earth. I assumed if there were still dragons in Middle-earth, they would still be coming from there, so since the map says “whence came” and not “from where come,” I figured there were no more dragons.
Playing the quests from the Ered Mithrin cycle, many of which include dragons, I imagined the frequent appearance of dragons in these quests to be mere fanciful imaginative license. I approached them as exploring a mere hypothesis of our heroes encountering these dragons, which were thought to have died out long ago.
I recently acquired Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull’s The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, which I highly recommend, and in commenting upon this passage from The Fellowship of the Ring, they point out a letter that Tolkien wrote in 1954, in which he clarifies:
“Dragons. They had not stopped; since they were active in far later times, close to our own. Have I said anything to suggest a final ending of dragons? If so it should be altered. The only passage I can think of is . . . ‘there is not now any dragon left on earth in which the old fire is hot enough.’ But that implies, I think, that there are still dragons, if not of full primeval stature.”
So apparently, the very passage that implied to me that dragons no longer existed was actually written by Tolkien in such a way as to imply that dragons do still exist! I am continually amazed by the faithful representation of Tolkien’s mythology through our beloved game, which is one of the features that keeps me coming back for more. Bravo, Caleb!
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