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We know that Ancalagon was killed by Earendil, but how exactly was he killed? Ancalagon was so incredibly massive and Earendil was just a dude in a ship with some Eagles.

This image ↓ isn't canon but it probably isn't far from Ancalagon's in-universe size description where he's said to have destroyed 3 giant volcanoes just by falling on them.

enter image description here

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    a virus can kill a person – Dreamwalker Oct 28 '14 at 13:46
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    As Demarini points out, the text states that the towers of Thangorodrim (not the peaks of Thangorodrim) were broken; that could simply mean that Ancalagon's fall destroyed the buildings that Morgoth had created. – Matt Gutting Oct 28 '14 at 16:15
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    @MattGutting - the Silmarillion is actually full of instances where "towers" is used to indicate "mountains" - "Hithaeglir, the Towers of Mist", "the first dawn of the Sun was like a great fire upon the towers of the Pelóri", "they fell in great precipices with faces hard as glass, and rose up to towers with crowns of white ice", "the peaks of Thangorodrim, mightiest of the towers of Middle-earth". The reference here is obviously to the mountains, not to any buildings on them. – user8719 Oct 28 '14 at 19:11
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    @DarthSatan it still doesn't necessarily follow that "the towers of Thangorodrim ... were broken in his ruin" implies "the volcanoes of Thangorodrim were completely destroyed when he fell on them." LOTR has a similar formulation. When Gandalf describes the Balrog's death he says "he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin." But clearly Celebdil still existed after that. – Matt Gutting Oct 28 '14 at 19:24
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    All dragons have a 'voolnerable' spot, which you have a million to one chance of hitting, but luckily million to one chances crop up nine times out of ten. :p – Zoredache Oct 29 '14 at 0:44

10 Answers 10

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There is no canon answer to this. As you point out, literally the only description we have of this is that

Before the rising of the sun Eärendil slew Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of the dragon-host, and cast him from the sky; and he fell upon the towers of Thangorodrim, and they were broken in his ruin.

(The Silmarillion, Chapter 24, "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath")

However, consider the power of the Silmaril that Eärendil wore:

And the wise have said that it was by reason of the power of that holy jewel that they came in time to waters that no vessels save those of the Teleri had known; and they came to the Enchanted Isles and escaped their enchantment; and they came into the Shadowy Seas and passed their shadows, and they looked upon Tol Eressëa the Lonely Isle, but tarried not; and at the last they cast anchor in the Bay of Eldamar, and the Teleri saw the coming of that ship out of the East and they were amazed, gazing from afar upon the light of the Silmaril, and it was very great.

(The Silmarillion, Chapter 24, "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath")

Further, this was the very Silmaril which Beren and Lúthien had taken from Morgoth, and which injured the wolf Carcharoth nearly to death:

Carcharoth looked upon that holy jewel and was not daunted, and the devouring spirit within him awoke to sudden fire; and gaping he took suddenly the hand within his jaws, and he bit it off at the wrist. Then swiftly all his inwards were filled with a flame of anguish, and the Silmaril seared his accursed flesh. ... Of all the terrors that came ever into Beleriand ere Angband's fall the madness of Carcharoth was the most dreadful; for the power of the Silmaril was hidden within him.

(The Silmarillion, Chapter 19, "Of Beren and Lúthien"; emphasis added)

Thus it is probably not beyond reason to believe that the power of the Silmaril aided Eärendil in some way, and perhaps even had some direct part in the death of Ancalagon. But we are never told in so many words.

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To answer this question it's necessary to review the textual history of this passage, because what we have in the published Silmarillion is actually an editorial construct and implies a causal relationship between Ancalagon's fall and the Breaking of Thangorodrim that is weaker in JRRT's own writings.

The slaying of Ancalagon makes it's first entry in what CT labels the "Q II text" of the Quenta Noldorinwa, given in History of Middle-earth 4:

And Earendel slew Ancalagon the black and the mightiest of all the dragon-horde, and cast him from the sky, and in his fall the towers of Thangorodrim were thrown down.

This also appears in the Annals of Beleriand (text "AB I" - same source) as follows:

Earendel came in the sky and overthrew Ancalagon the Black Dragon, and in his fall Thangorodrim was broken.

In the Later Annals of Beleriand (moving on to History of Middle-earth 5) the text is virtually unchanged from AB I:

But Earendel came in the sky and overthrew Ancalagon the Black Dragon, and in his fall Thangorodrim was broken.

And in the 1937 Silmarillion (HoME 5 again) the text reads:

And ere the rising of the sun Earendel slew Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of the dragon-host, and he cast him from the sky, and in his fall the towers of Thangorodrim were thrown down.

The final texts are given in History of Middle-earth 11, firstly from the revised ending of the Silmarillion:

And ere the rising of the sun Earendel slew Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of the dragon-host, and he cast him from the sky, and he fell upon the towers of Thangorodrim and they were broken and thrown down.

And finally from the Tale of Years:

Ancalagon is cast down by Earendil and all save two of the Dragons are destroyed.

There is therefore no authorial warrant for the published text's statement that the towers of Thangorodrim "were broken in his ruin", and the constituent texts leave open the possibility that the slaying of Ancalagon and the Breaking of Thangorodrim were two separate events that just happened to occur at the same time.

This lack of a causal relationship is reinforced further by the opening text of Appendix B of Return of the King, which reads:

The First Age ended with the Great Battle, in which the Host of Valinor broke Thangorodrim and overthrew Morgoth.

Although evidently a summary, the statement that it was the Host of the West that broke Thangorodrim is notably unambiguous. This may be contrasted with Elrond's statement (in The Council of Elrond) which is also a summary but left vague:

And yet not so many, nor so fair, as when Thangorodrim was broken...

The summary of events is therefore:

  1. Morgoth unleashes the winged dragons.
  2. The Host of the West is driven back.
  3. Earendil arrives and fights through the night.
  4. Before sunrise he kills Ancalagon.
  5. Ancalagon falls on Thangorodrim (but only in the final version of the QS text; the earlier versions are not specific about where he fell).
  6. Thangorodrim is broken.

Although a causal relationship between (5) and (6) is certainly implied, it is not required by JRRT's original texts; the editorial change makes it stronger than it originally was. A valid reading of the original texts is that "Earendil slew Ancalagon and then the Host of the West broke Thangorodrim".

All of which is a very long-winded way of coming to the conclusion: Ancalagon need not be as huge as he is commonly supposed to be.

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    I wonder if this is the first recorded instance in fiction where the villain's base collapses when he's defeated by the good guys. :) – RobertF Oct 28 '14 at 20:07
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    With respect to 5. it seems to me that "in his fall the towers of Thangorodrim were thrown down" and similar language suggests quite strongly that he fell on Thangorodrim. Indeed "the towers ... were thrown down" seems to me a stronger statement than "was broken in his ruin/fall". – Matt Gutting Oct 28 '14 at 20:08
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    It may also be of note that none of the language requires that Ancalagon broke Thangorodrim by simply falling on it. He may have fallen and thrashed violently. Similarly, his "fall" may not be his literal descent to the ground, but rather his passing into a state of defeat. Even with a dragon much smaller than the popular portrayals of Ancalagon, a chaotic and violent battle could do catastrophic damage to a mountain. – Fatbird3 Oct 28 '14 at 22:50
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    I don't really agree with your assessment of the original language. All of the other wordings still draw a definite causal relationship between his fall and the breaking of Thangorodrim, as strong as "broken in his ruin". However, as @Fatbird3 correctly observes, "his fall" could mean a lot more than just him descending onto the mountainside in an uncontrolled fashion. – Wlerin Oct 29 '14 at 5:20
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    This makes me think that the dragon was killed by the breaking of Thangorodrim -- ie, they blew up a mountain in order to kill the dragon, not they killed a dragon and broke a mountain with the corpse. As an example, imagine they triggered a volcanic eruption while the dragon was flying above, or made the mountain-side fall upon a low-flying dragon. "In his fall" would be "in the process of killing the dragon", "the towers of Thangorodrim were thrown down" -- the method of slaying. – Yakk Oct 29 '14 at 14:44
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Eärendil's ship Vingilot could fly, and was used during the War of Wrath to fight Ancalagon. It was powered by the Silmaril which possessed great powers. I'm not sure how exactly he was killed, but the ship did play a big part of it. Perhaps they had some great weapon which wasn't written about or they were able to focus the power of the Silmaril against Ancalagon. I believe it was an air battle because when he fell, he crushed the mountains of Thangorodrim.

The Silmarillion is more mythological than The Hobbit and LOTR and there are just so many things which weren't written about.

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Before the rising of the sun Eärendil slew Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of the dragon-host, and cast him from the sky; and he fell upon the towers of Thangorodrim, and they were broken in his ruin.

Is there ever any conformation that he 100% destroyed Thangorodrim? I can't imagine Tolkien would have created a beast that was big enough to destroy things of that magnitude by falling on it...I mean think of how large an object would have to be to destroy Everest completely. It would probably have its own gravitational field...

If I had to choose between thinking that Tolkien meant this as a metaphor or that he literally destroyed Thangorodrim with his weight, I would go with the former. If that's the case, then Ancalagon is probably much smaller than all these pictures, and it doesn't become so unrealistic that he was killed by Eärendil + the eagles.

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This doesn't really answer the question, but as far as I have been able to measure things, in this picture, titled "Conversation With Smaug", by Tolkien himself, Smaug is about 11 times longer than the figure in the shadows and smoke on the right hand side of the image, who I assume is Bilbo.

enter image description here

Tolkien said hobbits rarely grew to be taller than about 3' 6" in the Third Age, and if we assume that Bilbo was roughly that height, then Smaug is around 38 feet long from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail.

In the image you posted, the visible portion of Ancalagon's body and head is at least 6 times longer than Smaug, and it is very likely that the portion of his body which isn't in the picture is at least 3 times that length. That makes him roughly 720 feet long, or about 2 1/2 football fields. By way of comparison, a Boeing 747 is only 250 feet. Ancalagon is almost as long as three 747's laid end to end.

This leads me to two possible conclusions:

  1. The image you posted, and which you acknowledge is non-canonical, is wildly inaccurate, to the point of being useless.

  2. The image you posted is roughly accurate, and Ancalagon is really that big, more or less.

If the latter is true, the only way any human/elf/half-elf could hope to kill such an enormous monster is with magic. Any blade short enough for a humanoid to wield would do little more than annoy the dragon, if it even noticed that it was stabbed at all. Its internal organs would probably be 15 to 20 feet inside its skin, behind several feet of scales, and a couple of yards worth of muscle and bone. To pierce its heart, you would need a spear 50 feet long. Basically, you would have to stand there with a spear too big for you to use it effectively, struggling to keep it upright, and hope that the dragon would be stupid enough to land directly on top of it, with enough force to drive the point deep into its abdomen.

  • @LCIII - Much appreciated. But I'm not sure "it must have been magic" is strictly logical. :) – Wad Cheber Jun 12 '15 at 19:52
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    Wad Chebber - Tolkien wrote a letter in which he stated that Bilbo was out of scale in thepicture, appearing much larger than he was. Measuring Smaug's relative proportions in the picture combined with the the fact that he was unable to squeeze his head into the tunnel indicates that Smaug is more like 200 feet long. – M. A. Golding Aug 27 '15 at 4:17
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I always believed that the fall of Analagon not only destroyed Thangorodrim but also started the series of gigantic earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which eventually destroyed Beleriand, so that everyone would have been periodically shaken off their feet by the recurring series of earthquakes, and sometimes dodging lava bombs, during the remainder of the battle and the evacuation of the Edain to Numenor.

Have you ever seen the coat of arms of Transylvania?

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=coat+of+arms+of+transylvania&qpvt=coat+of+arms+of+transylvania&FORM=IGRE

The horizontal red bar divides it into an upper and a lower image. The seven red objects in the lower image are not wheat sheaves as I assumed at first, but stylized fortresses, castles, or fortified towns, the seven cities of the German name of Transylvania.

If you look at it as a single image, you see a giant eagle rising from below the horizon above the tiny cities on the plain. And that is pretty much the way I have always pictured Ancalagon rising up from behind the mountains in an attempt to eat the sun and the moon.

I think that the image at the top shows Glaurung too large compared to Smaug. Remember that Glaurung's body was slender and thin enough that a sword probably less than six feet long could penetrate to a vital organ, thus making Glaurung probably much less than fifty or twenty five feet thick in the body. And after first reading The Hobbit I have always calculated that Smaug should have been at least ten feet thick in the body and two hundred feet long.

Note that Smaug could smash many tons of rock off the mountain with a swing of his tail. Then calculate the size of Ancalagon necessary to smash the towers of Thangorodrim.

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Reading the passage where the towers of Thangorodrim were thrown down in his ruin as this being the act that killed him makes the most sense to me. I hadn't even considered this interpretation before but now it sounds to me like Tolkien gave us the answer but we were just not reading it. Earendil caused all three of the volcanic peaks to erupt at the same time and the force from this destruction is what killed Ancalagon. Now, if it took causing three simultaneous eruptions to kill Ancalagon I think it would be very hard to imagine him as bigger than the was intended to be. 3 explosions bigger than the most recent explosion of Mount St Hellens to destroy it? Ancalagon must have been huge and nearly as powerful as a Valar. Now that I see this interpretation I can't really read it any other way. This was a BIG dragon by any measure.

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I agree with Jason, I believe that Ancalagon's fall started the sinking of Beleriand, but didn't start it by itself. What I think happened was that Earendil fought Ancalagon AT THE SAME TIME as the rest of the Valar wher battling Morgoth underground, and their battle weakened the earth underneath the peaks and destabilized the ground, so when Ancalagon fell he disturbed the earth, starting a cataclysm deep in the earth, so the Valar took down Morgoth as the disaster started, and then everyone either fled or drowned/was crushed.

Also, technically Thangoridrim themselves were towers. Yes, giant, mountain-shaped towers. I say this because in the Silmarillion it says that Thangorodrim was built out of the slag from Morgoth's forges, which tells me either:

  1. Morgoth displaced so much stone and made so much armour for his armies that the left-over material made mountains.

Or

  1. Morgoth raised up the mountains using his powers and used it as a slag pit, and just decided to make them volcanoes cause it would be to normal to have three "Regular" Mountains around your base.
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Eärendil (legendary hero blessed by the gods) had a flying ship (battle cruiser) with a Silmaril cannon attached to it (Yamato gun). Ancalagon was BTFO.

"Eärendil came, shining with white flame, and about Vingilótë were gathered all the great birds of heaven and Thorondor was their captain, and there was battle in the air all the day and through a dark night of doubt. Before the rising of the sun Eärendil slew Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of the dragon-host."

  • A Silmaril cannon? Does it really say that in the book? – RDFozz Sep 22 '18 at 15:45
  • Of course not. Then again, the entire lord of the rings is summed up in one phrase in the silmarilion, so one must learn to read between the lines and use his own imagination to fill in the gaps and all the details. "For Frodo the Halfling, it is said, at the bidding of Mithrandir took on himself the burden, and alone with his servant he passed through peril and darkness and came at last in Sauron's despite even to Mount Doom; and there into the Fire where it was wrought he cast the Great Ring of Power, and so at last it was unmade and its evil consumed." – Drashkael Oct 1 '18 at 10:03
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I have three suggestions.

1) the silliest one is that Earendil in Vingilot flew around in circles and Ancalagon kept chasing them with his head until he tied his head in a knot right while he was basting flame at them. The knot stopped the flame and the pressure exploded Ancalagon's neck killing him and causing him to fall on Thangorodrim.

2) Earendil flew Vingilot into Ancalagon's ear and into his skull. The power of the holy silmaril to burn evil beings burned Ancalagon. The holy radiation from the silmaril began to vaporize the parts of Ancalagon's brain which were nearest and Ancalagon lost consciousness. Earendil flew Vingilot out of Ancalagon's other ear as the dragon lost his ability to maintain and control his magical anti gravity power. Ancalagon fell onto and smashed Thangorodrim and was killed.

3) Earendil flew Vingilot along Ancalagon's spine between his wings and along his neck to Ancalagon's head. Vingilot hovered over Ancalagon's head and moved with its movements. The holy radiation from the silmaril burned at Ancalgon's brain. Ancalagon lost consciousness and his magical anti gravity power stopped working and he fell onto Thangorodrim.

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