August 22, 2001
Make Room for Dragons
People sometimes ask why there are no dragon stories from the Second Age. In the development of Middle-earth, the Second Age was almost an after-thought, and it didn't really call for dragons, although we have to assume for the sake of the pseudo-history that they were always there, in the background, waiting for an opportunity to make their appearance.
Dragons, like so many other literary devices, appear only rarely in the pages of Tolkien's fiction. Only two dragons are featured prominently in the tales: Glaurung and Smaug. Glaurung had a high purpose. He was one of the prime characters in the tragic story of the children of Hurin. Smaug, on the other hand, was just an adventure. A goal for the Hobbit and Dwarves to reach. In the earliest versions of The Hobbit, all which came after Smaug's death was quickly summarized. The dragon was the capstone of the story.
There are two more named dragons in Tolkien's Middle-earth tales: Ancalagon the Black and Scatha the Worm. Ancalagon has no real story attached to him. Or, rather, he is barely more than a footnote in a much longer tale, The Silmarillion. He appears briefly in a final assault upon the Host of Valinor before Earendil slays him in the sky, culminating a night-long battle. Scatha is the core of a story told only as an anecdote about the Northman hero Fram, who slays the dragon and recovers a hoard taken from the Dwarves. Scatha's death does not end Fram's tale, however, for the Dwarves demand that he return their hoard and he refuses, so they kill him (or arrange for his death).