In The Fellowship of the Ring film during Bilbo's 111th birthday when Merry and Pippin shot off the dragon firework, Bilbo exclaims,

Nonsense! There hasn't been a dragon in these parts in ages!

What dragon(s) was Bilbo talking about and just how long ago was it exactly? Is any of this actually documented/mentioned elsewhere?

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    That should be 111st, shouldn't it? – TonyK Sep 17 '19 at 12:08
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    Well, it’s pronounced “eleventeenth”, so I think that’s right. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Sep 17 '19 at 13:01
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    @ErnestFriedman-Hill it’s “Eleventy first” in the books – Edlothiad Sep 17 '19 at 15:51
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    "Today is my one hundred and eleventh birthday: I am eleventy-one today!" – Charles Sep 17 '19 at 16:01
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    @Edlothiad Confirmed. I stand corrected. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Sep 17 '19 at 16:17

Given this was an invention for the films the scene must be taken with a pinch of salt. The original occurrence in the book, that firework was let off by Gandalf specifically for Bilbo and signalled the beginning of supper:

And there was also one last surprise, in honour of Bilbo ... The dragon passed like an express train, turned a somersault, and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.
‘That is the signal for supper!’ said Bilbo.
Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 1: A Long-Expected Party

The quote from the films, or anything of the like is never mentioned in the books and the only mention of Dragons in the Shire is "The Green Dragon" inn, the only dragon in Bywater.

From this answer we know of only 4 named dragons: Glarung, Ancalagon, Scatha and Smaug. Of those we don't have much reason to believe it was Smaug that was spotted in or around the Shire.

Glarung remained mostly in West Beleriand and would've been unlikely to have been one mentioned by Bilbo, even though he had at times ventured close to the Ered Luin reaching the arms of Gelion.

Ancalagon doesn't have much written about him, although we know he was finally thrown down on Thangorodrim, which again is not near to the Shire.

Finally, Scatha, the most likely culprit, was slain in ca. Third Age 2000 by Fram of the Éothéod; the ancestors of the Rohirrim. Although like the others, Scatha was located around the Grey Mountains and therefore quite far from the Shire.

As such it would seem this was a movie invention, and while there have been many dragons and some may have ventured into or flown over the Shire, there is no mention of them made. As Ted Sandyman says "There’s only one Dragon in Bywater, and that’s Green" (ibid, Chapter 2: The Shadow of the Past)

  • There were many other lesser dragons, mostly to the North of the Grey Mountains. There may have been some seen in the area of Arnor, especially during the wars with Angmar. – OrangeDog Sep 17 '19 at 10:19
  • I'm aware, but it's difficult to say what dragons it was, how long ago and where they'd ventured as very little is known of them. Dragons in the shire isn't actually documented anywhere because it's a liberty the film took. – Edlothiad Sep 17 '19 at 10:49
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    "these parts" doesn't even necessarily mean "the Shire". As a scholar of some note Bilbo could be referring to a much larger area. Additionally "ages" could be literal, and it's the First Age dragons he's referring to. – OrangeDog Sep 17 '19 at 10:56
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    Sure, these parts don't mean the Shire, but I didn't take them to mean the entirety of Middle-earth in the Third Age, or to include Beleriand, because of the death of Smaug and Scatha hadn't been that long ago. I took it to mean Eriador, and while there were unnamed dragons, we know not what areas they roamed in, and it was certainly not well documented. – Edlothiad Sep 17 '19 at 10:59
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    I think the mistake here is to assume that the movies somehow care to follow canon. You may recall that Merry and Pippin didn't have jack to do with the fireworks in the book, so why would this random movie quote by Bilbo be any different? – Amarth Sep 18 '19 at 17:17

What dragon(s) was Bilbo talking about and just how long ago was it exactly?

Nobody knows. This is just a line appearing in the movie, not in the books. There is no canonical evidence what-so-ever that a dragon was ever seen or lived near The Shire.

Everything else is just speculation.

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