16

Basically, as the title asks. Dragons are often referred to as reptilian in various stories, but I don't think I remember Tolkien ever specifying this about Smaug. I looked a bit, and couldn't find any info, other than this spiny southern African lizard named after Tolkien's Smaug.

Anyway - any authoritative word/hint on Smaug's class?

  • 6
    This is a little roundabout, but Glaurung (the Father of Dragons) is also called the Great Worm at times (or some variant of that). While you typically think of earthworms when you hear that term, it stems from the Old English word “wyrm” (which has seen more popularity recently in poetry and fantasy), which means “serpent.” “Worm” itself used to share that meaning, or the meaning of something creeping or crawling, and still occasionally is applied to limbless lizards. – Turambar Sep 21 '17 at 12:05
  • 1
    @Turambar The way Tolkien drew dragons as well, points closer to a "crawling" type of creature than the modern Charizard type dragon that sits upright. Many of Tolkien's dragons didn't have wings at all. – Nacht Sep 21 '17 at 23:16
33

Although Tolkien never makes any outright claims to Smaug being reptilian he does make a few statements about Smaug being a Lizard or lizard-like

“Oh yes, very much so. Except no, Fafnir was a human or humanoid being who took this form, whereas Smaug is just pure intelligent lizard.”
The History of the Hobbit - Endnotes, Note 10

Tolkien clearly thought of Smaug as some form of lizard, less like Fafnir, who was humanoid but took the shape of a dragon, but more like a real dragon, similar to a dinosaur (but not a dinosaur). Tolkien mentions of the relation between snakes and lizards and his dragons, although again makes the clear distinction between dinosaurs

“He describes dragons as ‘legendary creatures founded on serpent and lizard’, unlike the dinosaurs ”
The History of the Hobbit - Endnotes, Note 5

In the published book however, the only mention to lizard is claiming that either Men are evil or Smaug is not a dragon but a lowly-lizard (as pointed out by @Nacht in the comments below).

Lake-men, some nasty scheme of those miserable tub-trading Lake-men, or I’m a lizard.
The Hobbit - Chapter 12, Inside Information

Although Smaug enjoys talking in riddles it seems abundantly clear here, he does not consider himself a lizard, but a dragon of great majesty.

In conclusion, Smaug is decidedly reptilian and has been described as a lizard by Tolkien, although Smaug (and Tolkien) make it clear he is something different to a lizard.

  • 11
    I think the last quote from Smaug himself is saying that he is not a lowly lizard, like the small ones, but that he is a majestic dragon. It's not a statement on biology. – Nacht Sep 21 '17 at 7:09
  • 3
    @Nacht, indeed, that was the point I was trying to convey, Tolkien also isn't saying "Smaug IS a lizard" He's saying he has lizard like attributes, which suggest Smaug is of reptilian nature. – Edlothiad Sep 21 '17 at 7:19
  • 7
    The “…or I’m a lizard” line seems analogous to a human saying “…or I’m a monkey.” We’re much more interesting and impressive than most monkeys, and as such, we like to think of ourselves in distinction from them, and in colloquial usage we don’t include ourselves in what we mean by “monkey” — but still, in biological terms, we are monkeys. – PLL Sep 21 '17 at 10:11
  • 2
    @PLL I am not a scientist of any form, but when I looked up the term "cladistics" it says this is a grouping based on common ancestors. Since monkeys are not a human ancestor I don't see how you can claim that "we are monkeys" even using that system of grouping. Sure, apes and monkeys share a common ancestor (~40mya), but if you go far enough back by that line of thinking, we're all single-celled organisms. – Paul Sep 21 '17 at 18:18
  • 3
    @sumelic I think that when we start using terms like "monophyletic group," "cladistic nomenclature," "paraphyletic," and "scientific taxon," it's time to take a step back and remember that we are talking about a fantasy world with talking tree people. Within these parameters, people aren't monkeys because monkeys are small, furry, and have tails. Tolkien was the type to invent a Quenya language, but not a dragon genome. – Misha R Sep 22 '17 at 0:02
4

Merriam Webster defines a reptile as:

1 :an animal that crawls or moves on its belly (such as a snake) or on small short legs (such as a lizard)

2 :any of a class (Reptilia) of cold-blooded, air-breathing, usually egg-laying vertebrates that include the alligators and crocodiles, lizards, snakes, turtles, and extinct related forms (such as dinosaurs and pterosaurs) and that have a body typically covered with scales or bony plates and a bony skeleton with a single occipital condyle, a distinct quadrate bone usually immovably articulated with the skull, and ribs attached to the sternum

3 :a groveling or despised person

I seriously doubt that any fire-breathing creature can be considered cold-blooded, thus Smaug would not meet the second given definition of reptile. But since we have no direct quote from the books about his body temperature, this is an educated guess.

Since he has wings, I don't see him crawling about on his belly, although Glaurung certainly would have as he had no wings.

Dragons are a hole in our taxonomy, as there aren't any in our fossil record, but I would say that he would fall into the same category as the dinosaurs, who we currently believe to have been warm blooded, yet still classify as reptiles. He would be an exception to the cold-blooded rule, but would still be a reptile as he is closer to that family than he is to Fish, Amphibian, Mammal, or Bird.

  • 11
    Re "I seriously doubt that any fire-breathing creature can be considered cold-blooded", Why??? Do you think the fire comes from body heat, cause I don't. – ikegami Sep 21 '17 at 8:13
  • 4
    There was an interesting fictional documentary movie a while back (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Dragon_(2004_film) ) that examined this kind of paradox. The explanation they came up with was that dragons used some catalysed chemical reaction to spit fire, which wouldn't strictly require dragons to be warm-blooded. – Sty Sep 21 '17 at 9:27
  • 6
    I remember reading warm and cold blooded is a bad name for what it describes. Cold blooded doesn't mean their blood temperature is lower – Mikey Mouse Sep 21 '17 at 9:52
  • 1
    Don't cold-blooded reptiles need to lie in the sun until they are warm enough to start hunting? Then a reptile that can start an internal fire somehow would have a great advantage: it would be able to hunt or attack at night, or be active underground. As for the source of the heat -- Melkor had a great affinity for fire (he started his career on Arda as a smith) and he like to work with animals. He must have used his powers to hotrod some lizards. – Elise van Looij Sep 21 '17 at 13:39
  • 1
    Cold-blooded means that the creature does not have it's own internal way of regulating it's body temperature, it must rely on it's environment in order to do so. Even if as posited by ElisevanLooij Melkor took some lizards and 'hotroded' them by making them warm, this would then give them a way to regulate their body temperature, and thus would go from cold-blooded to warm-blooded. @OhBeWise, this entire thread is mainly trying to apply a scientific classification to a mythical creature, so the argument is the core of it, not moot in anyway. – Daishozen Sep 21 '17 at 17:24
-2

As far as I know Smaug is not a reptile as he was based on the old myth of English/ European dragons but I may be wrong because as you say Smaug is never defined in the books as anything but a dragon "with his chest encrusted with the gold and jewels he so often lay upon"

  • 4
    You seem to be implying English/European dragons are not reptiles. Citation? – jwodder Sep 21 '17 at 12:36
  • @jwodder, I always believed English/European dragons were fantasy creatures, and therefore being non-existent. As reptiles do exists, I guess dragons are not reptiles. Or in popular wording: FAKE-reptiles. – Hans Janssen Sep 21 '17 at 15:09
  • 2
    @Geliormth That seems pedantic. Wizards don't exist, but they are human. Phoenixes don't exist, but they are birds. – Misha R Sep 21 '17 at 15:59
  • 3
    @MishaRosnach in MiddleEarth, Wizards are not humans. ;) – Paul Sep 21 '17 at 18:21
  • @Paul Yeah yeah :) – Misha R Sep 21 '17 at 18:53
-3

I'd be inclined towards no. While Dragons have many qualities associated with reptiles (scales, lays eggs etc) I think it's highly unlikely that fire breathing dragons are cold blooded.

  • 1
    Different setting, different rules. Viserion is also undead, a condition which takes something outside normal zoological (or cryptozoological) classification. – John Palpatine Sep 21 '17 at 8:34
  • 2
    This is true, but you said dragons. Anyways on a more constructive note, normal zoological classification doesn't really apply to dragons, but statements can be made based on notes from the author or text in the books. On Science Fiction & Fantasy we usually encourage people to use sources for their answers. Out-of-universe/analogical answers are accepted, but in this case the OP is asking for a purely in-universe answer. – Edlothiad Sep 21 '17 at 8:39
  • 2
    No. The question asks if Tolkien has ever commented on whether Smaug was reptilian. The universe in question is Tolkien's Legendarium, and you should approach the character as fictional, as reptiles can exist in a fictional world too (and do). Tolkien's dragons have scales, the also lay eggs, they are also reptilian, and they also produce fire (some of them, cold wyrms exist too). "They produce fire therefore not cold blooded" but real reptiles lay in the sun to warm up because they're cold-blooded. This means dragons can be free from the sun, yet warm up. While still being cold blooded. – Edlothiad Sep 21 '17 at 9:26
  • 3
    By "authoritative source" I meant something that is authoritative in relation to Smaug. This almost certainly means JRR Tolkien, although if the African lizard I mentioned were called "Smaug" before he wrote The Hobbit, that would have been an example of evidence as to Tolkien's intent. Biological nitpicking is probably not going to be that authoritative when discussing the Tolkien universe. – Misha R Sep 21 '17 at 13:32
  • 3
    Loose "biology" for something that doesn't exist isn't much of an answer about a specific character/type of dragon from a specific work. – Matthew Read Sep 21 '17 at 15:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.