– No ‘The Hobbit’ spoilers
I love dragons. They’re simply the most fascinating creatures in any mythology or fantasy story – capable of breathing fire and roaming the skies (among other things). Modern-day narratives seem to place these beings on the good side, and whilst still intriguing, I rather prefer the good-old evil and nasty creatures from European literature.
Nothing beats the wickedness of Fáfnir from the Volsunga Saga; nor the gold-hoarding dragon from Beowulf; not to mention Tolkien’s own array of scaly beasts; mainly from ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘The Hobbit’.
So why this post?
A couple of things come to mind as to the reason for this slightly complex, but highly fascinating (to me) discussion.
I’ve just acquired (and seen) the Extended Edition to ‘An Unexpected Journey’ (to which I’ll be adding a review very soon) and noticed something particular about Smaug’s design.
My suspicions first arose when the second trailer of ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ was released in October, noticing that the last shot of Smaug throwing fire to the screen had no forelegs – unlike what we had clearly seen in the prologue to ‘An Unexpected Journey’.
But first let’s give a quick introduction to the technical terms in dragonology …
[Spoilers note: I’ll be using a few images from ‘The Hobbit’ that may give a slight glimpse into the shape of the dragon. Most of these are close-ups or darkly lit illustrations – so do not fear to look!]
– “Dragons” and “Wyverns”
At first glance, they look exactly the same. Even I, up to a couple of weeks ago, thought that the two creatures were basically the same – thinking that the two words were simply describing the same being.
But I was wrong, to my glad surprise.
Wyverns are (or were) described in Medieval literature as being these serpent-like creatures with wings, often having spiked tails and mainly used in heraldic emblems
Pretty similar, right? The catch?
Unlike dragons, wyverns often have only two hind legs – using claws attached to their wings to make their way on ground.
Apart from a whole lot of differences currently not relevant to the scope of this article, you need only keep in mind that dragons have four legs in total – whilst wyverns have only two.
– Smaug IS a dragon
Yes he is. There’s no denying. Tolkien clearly states that Smaug was one of the last great dragons to come out of the North.
The man himself even provided his own illustrations for this creature, clearly outlining the four-legs feature.
In the prologue to ‘An Unexpected Journey’, we even see Smaug’s legs grabbing hold of the gates of Erebor as he storms through, stomping dwarves along the way.
So far so good.
– There’s one slight problem
Here is where things start to diverge a bit.
Ever since the release of both ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ main trailer and the extended edition of ‘An Unexpected Journey’, it seems clear that Smaug’s forelegs are absent – indeed turning him into a wyvern-like creature.
Let’s have a look at two shots from both examples:
Darkness and smoke do much to conceal the overall appearance of the dragon, but it’s simply unmistakable. Smaug has only two legs and what appear to be claws at the points where the wings bend a little.
But having already seen ‘An Unexpected Journey’ many many times (hopefully), the keenest of viewers might ask then why we get a prologue in which Smaug clearly seems to use a set of forelegs to burst his way into Erebor.
There seems to be some kind of discrepancy here, no?
Peter Jackson solves this (partially) by altering one, single shot for the extended edition.
Let’s have a look at this shot in the two versions of the film:
In the top image (theatrical) we can clearly see two immense forelegs stomping around and trampling dwarves, whilst on the bottom image (extended), the shot has been altered to replace those legs with claws attached to a wingspan.
Obviously Peter Jackson has had second thoughts in including his dragon with four legs and re-designed (at least partially) the overall appearance of Smaug.
However, although this particular shot was changed, the previous shots showing Smaug bursting into the Mountain have been left the same. And it’s hard to believe that he is using his hind legs to do so.
This begs the question: If they changed the “stomping shot” with the new one, why didn’t they change the others to adhere with the new design?
I simply have no answer; however, I believe it may have been left on purpose to allow a switch between two distinct designs (read about the evolution of Smaug’s appearance below).
Again, it is very difficult to make exact statements on the character, since we have yet to see him in his true form in just under a month. But so far, considering the clues that have been provided in ‘An Unexpected Journey’ and the trailers, it seems as if Smaug is becoming more and more like a wyvern.
Let’s be clear. Smaug in ‘The Hobbit’ is still a dragon, no matter whether he has two or four legs. When I refer to him being more “like a wyvern”, I’m referring to the shape and appearance, which is unlike the traditional four-legged dragon form.
Jackson himself stated, months before the first film’s release, that they were keeping Smaug a secret, partly due to possible changes in his appearance. Rightly so, it seems that the final look of Smaug was not yet locked and was still evolving over the course of release between films 1 and 2.
By giving only a few glimpses in AUJ, the director was able to happily alter some characteristics of the “dragon” without worrying too much about continuity.
That said, the change in the extended edition is pretty obviously nonetheless …
– The two Smaugs
As a film enthusiast with a slight tendency to go into too much detail, this has some profound ‘consequences’ (not necessarily negative) when it comes to viewing ‘The Hobbit’ as a cinematic trilogy.
I would start asking questions like:
-Which version of ‘An Unexpected Journey’ should I watch?
-If I decide on the theatrical edition, then THAT Smaug is not entirely the same as the one in ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ – so technically speaking there’s not one, but two.
We have two of these creatures were one is shaped like a typical dragon and the other like wyvern. Considering ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ adopts the latter concept, then the particular scene of the attack on Erebor in the theatrical AUJ is nullified.
Pardon me. There goes my instinct of analyzing things I care about in intricate detail and complexity.
If a particular creature design has been shown in a trailer but then turns out to be completely different in the main film, that is perfectly fine (see the first teaser for PJ’s ‘King Kong’).
However, it is a different thing when two “final” versions of the film (theatrical and extended) display two differing images.
A film is a story with its own time and space; consisting of specific rules and content pertaining to that narrative. Visuals complement sound and vice-versa, supporting the overall storytelling within a believable world.
When I see these two shots next to each other, I can’t help but think that there are two Smaugs in ‘The Hobbit’ Trilogy – the Smaug as we shall see in the upcoming films and the Smaug which never was (i.e. the four-legged creature).
And yet, the latter Smaug still exists to some extent. He exists within the time-space continuum (sorry!) of the theatrical version of ‘An Unexpected Journey’. And even though we only see glimpses of him, we can image the four-legged dragon residing under the Lonely Mountain – and when we see a foot, a tail, a head or an eye, in that version of the film, we can conjure up the image of that particular dragon.
With the alterations in the extended edition, the imaginary path that started with the first film, kind of branches off into a parallel universe where exactly the same things occur in the narrative, but will in some way create a new path for the rest of the story containing a two-legged dragon.
Please see illustration below explaining my chain of thought, in simple terms as much as possible:
– I love dragons. And wyverns!
As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m in love with dragons. These beautifully depicted creatures that soar into the sky with a roar and scorch the earth as a hobby, are fantastic.
And that is not to say that wyverns aren’t either. Considering their shape, and the lack of any forelegs, makes them look somewhat more sinister (or evil) than their dragon counterpart.
Having four legs instead of two, dragons give me the impression that they have more control over their movements, rather than having to rely on their claws and wings; by keeping the wings as separate limbs, they can much easily and quickly fly or run (not sure what dragons do exactly … gallop?) – seriously making them more powerful than wyverns.
Nonetheless, they too are awesome and I still cannot avoid relating (or momentarily confusing) one with the other.
Hence I have absolutely nothing against Smaug having two legs instead of four – as long as he still retains his “dragon qualities”; with Benedict Cumberbatch providing the right amount of spine-tingling moments with his voice and performance (which seems very promising in the trailers).
Yes Tolkien specifically illustrated the dragon as having four, instead of two, legs and I would still prefer it if Peter Jackson retained the original design.
But unfortunately, I can’t change the man’s decisions.
If you’re still not convinced about the whole two-legged dragon, have a look at a couple of other dragon films that you may have enjoyed but never really realized what kind creatures they had.
– A good dose of consolation …
Remember the Harry Potter films?
You may remember the two dragons found in ‘Goblet of Fire’ and ‘Deathly Hallows: Part II’.
It is only after researching for this post that I realized both of them do not have four legs – and yet, they are still “dragons”.
They still look cool and perform the job of chasing or aiding the characters well.
Let’s not also forget two other films known for their fire-breathing dragons: ‘Dragonslayer’ and ‘Reign of Fire’. In both stories, the dragons are also two-legged, giving them a seemingly more viscous and evil appearance than other similar creatures.
And aren’t we forgetting something from Middle-earth too?
Remember the Ringwraiths in ‘The Lord of the Rings’? After being unhorsed at Rivendell, they acquire fell-beasts to aid them in their search for the One Ring.
I can already hear some of you loudly proclaiming that these are not dragons – and rightly so.
Nonetheless, their attributes and physical characteristics bear a close resemblance to the traditional form of a dragon (at least, according to Peter Jackson’s vision).
Still not convinced?
Then I urge you to wait just four more weeks to see the finished result on Smaug the Magnificent!
[Copyright of all screenshots, illustrations and images belong to the respective studios and artists]
180 thoughts on “Dragons vs Wyverns: The Question of Smaug”
As you noted, there are illustrations of Smaug from Tolkien himself, clearly showing four limbs. Doing Smaug wrong requires a conscious effort, a decision – “hey, let’s do Smaug wrong!” It is not vision or interpretation, it’s just plain doing it wrong. And Smau is not just a character, but an icon. Doing Smaug wrong is like doing Dracula wrong. Dracula is a Transylvanian gentleman who drinks the blood of young women – two-legged Smaug is like young, American Dracula who doesn’t drink blood and sparkles in sunlight. It’s a travesty. That, actually, is an apt description of the Hobbit trilogy in general. The Lord of the Rings movies were bad enough, but at least Sauron had the same number of eyes as in the book.
I feel your frustration towards the “design fault” though I’ve certainly accepted a two-legged Smaug – mainly because of the great performance and CGI work that was done.
I’m not sure if you’ve been through this link David posted a few comments above: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1719502/smaug-hobbit-fx-explained.jhtml
Basically it explains that the VFX artists did consider doing the classical 4-legged dragon, but due to a number of issues, the design was changed. Definitely worth a read.
Though yes, a four-legged Smaug would have looked even more impressive I agree 🙂
This is how Smaug should’ve been designed, I can’t see why the movement would be so difficult to create. If anyone could bring the classical design Smaug to life it would be Weta. When hes on the ground he folds up his wings and uses his four legs, essentially walking like a lizard or a crocodile. When he flies he could tucks his legs into his side. The classical dragon design seemed to have worked fairly well with Draco in Dragonheart. Anyway Smaug was still AMAZING in the film. He’d simply be more amazing if he’d kept all of his limbs. I just wish they’d never shown us those front legs in the first place.
it does not make sense for dragons to have 4 legs.. irrelevant to medieval literature (becuase people back then didn’t know sh*t about animals) dragons to me seem very closely related to creatures such as lizards or dinosaurs or birds. in flying dinosaurs and in birds its the forelimbs that have been altered to produce wings they didnt just get 2 extra limbs out of nowhere!!… so it does not make sense for dragons to have 4 limbs either.. in fact this always pisssed me off when i see dragons depicted with 4 legs + wings.
Hey nick, thanks for your input. 🙂
I guess since we’ve all seenThe Desolation of Smaug, we can conclude that Peter Jackson wisely took the “mid-way” with Smaug’s design.
He’s given us as a dragon with two legs and two arms attached to the wingspan. So I guess he’s a cross between a four-limbed and a two-limbed dragon.
Not bad, in my opinion! 🙂
Haha yeah in fact Ive never heard of dragons with 4 legs and wings until i read as a kid those eragon books, and even then it sounded weird. perhaps because I didnt know in medieval times dragons and wyverns differed in limb number 🙂
nick- Get over it. Dragons are a mythical, magical creature so sorry they don’t fall into normal animal evolution for you.
What doesn’t make sense is for someone to not be able to separate fictitious fantasy from reality, thus erroneously judging a creature impossibly by the rules of our reality. It seems pseudo-intellectual to me — trying to be clever whilst at the same time completely missing the point. A man in Britain made a flying box without thrust, it instead uses internalised quantum thrust via manipulating lasers. Why could a clever wizard, like Morgoth, not have created dragons with a magical alternative to that?
And don’t say bat-like dragons make sense in reality either, as all that tells me is that you know bugger all about ambulatory systems and the pressures involved. Playing by your rules, prattling on about the importance of realism, such a beast would have a heart attack upon taking its first step. People who think they’re clever defend bat-like dragons based on ‘muh realism,’ without having the knowledge of either physics or biology to back that up; those who’re actually clever just accept that it’s fantasy (along with chimeras, centaur, pegasi, manticores, and basilisks) shrug and enjoy it. Sometimes they try and come up with fun explanations, but they realise it takes a lack of self awareness, imagination, and critical thinking capacities to complain that ‘magic and six-limbed dragons of fantasy settings don’t make sense according to a limited, flawed understanding of a reality to which they never belonged in the first place.’
Learn how to understand the boundaries which separate fictitious fantasy from the reality we live in. This is the most erudite wisdom I can share with you.
Haha what actually doesnt make sense is you writing a paragraph rant about it. You assume i have no background knowledge on the subject but I took several courses in the field including comparative chordate anatomy.. Im not going to get into it with you but blood pressure is the least of the problems a creature like that would have when trying to fly. There are fantastic adaptations “possible” to regulate that.
Sure the creator could have also made hobbits have 3 legs and their pigs 7 legs but it looks awkward… and that is the bottom line. Clearly the movie director agreed with me so you can go cry about not seeing your 6 legged dragon somewhere else. Or better yet instead of ranting online and go do something useful with your life
Who said that the dragon’s wing r extra 2 limbs.. They might be an expansion of the skin, just like in instincts.
And whenever I think of dragons.. They typical four-legged creature with wings comes to my mind..:D
You know what else doesn’t make sense, Nick? That argument.
Consider, if you will, that we’re talking about magic. Only a person of profoundly, sordidly limited imagination would try to force compatibility between realism and magic. In magic, one has a person who can shoot patterns/forms/shapes of elemental/arcane energy from their fingertips. So, do tell! How, exactly, is that more “realistic” than a hexapodal creature evolving with the aid of magic? How, pray tell, is a magic missile more “believable” than a creature-smithing wizard crafting a dragon in his tower laboratory?
I think this is an extraverted thing. I remember when Little Big Planet (a video game) didn’t get its name in the USA because the marketing team thought the name would be too confusing for their average demographic. No, really. They believed that people would look at the box and think “Little Big Adventure? Well, that’s just a god damned contradiction of terms. I don’t like that one bit. No, Sir. I’m going to pick another game.”
And looking at your comment, Nick, I can actually understand their line of thinking.
My partner’s father is an extremely extraverted man and he has trouble with Iron Man, he can’t watch any of the movies because they contradict reality too much for him to be able to enjoy them. That’s a sad state of affairs, but not exactly very different to your problem, is it Nick? That’s what I’m getting at. A dragon could indeed evolve or be crafted in a world that operates on magic-infused physics instead of the ordinary, everyday kind.
What bothers me about this is that people who think this way consider themselves to be “smart,” but most intelligent people prefer four-legged dragons because they have the imagination to envision them as something other than a mindless engine of destruction. A dragon’s forelegs (especially since they’re often accompanied by hands with opposable thumbs) allow for a diverse range of expressiveness that’s denied them if they aren’t present. Every person of intellect I’ve spoken with has no trouble exercising their imagination to understand that magic can allow things to happen which are contradictory to our reality, and they prefer dragons being on the more intelligent side, too. That’s just so much more interesting and it inspires more intellectual curiosity than, oh, another war beast.
So unless you’re going to say that all magic is unrealistic, you can’t really have this argument. It’s a highly illogical argument. It’s nonsensical. It’s ill-considered. And it’s just an excuse. It reminds me of the excuses Creationists use to attack feathered dinosaurs (even though we have absolute proof, now). It’s just another regressive backlash. Do you dislike feahtered dinosaurs, Nick? And, I know, it’s funny, right? Creationists used to claim a hatred for dinosaurs, but now that we’ve found out that they’re feathered they’re suddenly invested in defending the integrity of Ye Olde Worlde Dinosaurs.
Yes, dragons with forelimbs is a neologism of dragonkind, it’s a modern expression, a paradigm shift if you will. It began around the ’60s-’70s and was pushed forward by Pern, pen & paper systems like Dungeons & Dragons, et cetera. Why? Mindless engines of wanton destruction are boring. They do nothing to inspire intellectual curiosity. Though the wise old dragon with tales from when the world began, who has a remarkable capacity for the magical arts, and a silver-tongue that can rival the best politicians? Now THAT’S interesting. You can do things with that.
Sorry, Nick, but you’re just making excuses for a regressive backlash. I’ll take the more interesting paradigm shift over your regressive backlash any day. Just as I tell the Creationists who rag on feathered dinosaurs. Let’s be honest, intelligent and expressive dragons are much more interesting than wanton machines of destruction. Just as feathered dinosaurs of celerity are much more compelling than slow, lumbering, stupid lizards who drag their tails.
Your argument is a) not concise or structured b) too long c) supported by data you pull from your @$$ (smarter people prefer 4 legged dragons)
As far as im concerned any writer can make his creatures be what he wants. What if it had 5 legs? Wouldn’t that be strange to you? Just another leg in the middle of his toro… Or what if that guy with magic had 3 arms, one ear and a elephant trunk sticking from his forehead? I bet you’d find it weird if not downright ridiculous.
Regardless of plot elemts (magic, dragons etc) , the less relatable a character is to what we see all around us, the harder the suspension of disbelief.
That’s why directors and writers and video game editors are making 2 legged dragons. You can argue all you want that you’d be fine with having a mage with a n elephant trunk on his forehead but thats a minority opinion.
And really, Nick, if you’re so bothered by this then why not just read historical fiction? All this “fantasy” and “magic” is clearly not for you. It’s all too “unrealistic.” Good grief. I’ve never heard a shallow extravert make an argument that isn’t specious.
Really, you could say you just like two-legged dragons without ridiculous arguments that prove you don’t understand evolution.
unorthodoxplatypus and nick, I’ve allowed your responses to each other as I believe in a good debate. But please do not delve into the personal, or attack the other person’s arguments without basis.
I shall be forced to remove the comments if necessary.
Let’s have a civilised discussion with opposing views 🙂
I am so happy to see someone who saw what I did in the first movie and trailer. I have tried to tell several people and they didn’t notice.
The only real conclusion I can come up with (until I ask Peter Jackson) is that since Benedict Cumberbatch did the motion capture of Smaug it is easiest to have Smaug resemble him instead of the other way around. Benedict crawling around on all fours and flapping his arms like he is flying is is best to just give the dragon arms and wings into one. That is why Smaug seems a little clumsy on his back legs because it looks like a human crawling on his back legs which aren’t designed for that.
Hey Zace, if I remember correctly in the special features of the DoS: EE, there is a reference to the original four-legged design.
I believe the VFX team said that it then became apparent that four legs would be too cumbersome and, from an animation point of view, it was easier to go with a two-legged creature.
Exactly. Its annoying that they screwed up Smaug like that, not only because its not aligned with what Tolkien wrote, but also because dragons have a magnitude that wyverns don’t have, simply bye having forelegs (which may sound odd, but if you look at illustrations of dragons compared to wyverns I’m sure you’d agree), which is fitting for Smaug since he’s supposed to be this indomitable force to be reckoned with.
Yeah a four-legged Smaug would have been fantastic but I guess it all boiled down to the mechanics of the animation (though, to be honest, if WETA can create whole worlds and complex animations, I’m sure they could easily deal with an extra pair of limbs 🙂 ).
I have to admit, not being a conoisseur of dragon forelimbs (rogueish experience tells me that, when you’re trying to steal gold from under them, both varieties are equally bothersome), that I missed the discrepancy while watching the movies!
When I think about it, the four-limbed dragon model satisfies my western fantasy archetype better, and fits more nicely into my ‘medieval’/’knights and dragons and princesses’ thoughtspace, but dragons (wyverns? Dryverns…Wagons? :-D) who use claws at their wing joints instead of forelimbs are somehow more terrifying. Perhaps it’s because they’re that much less familiar, it’s more unsettling. Might be the added ‘batlike’ quality?
It’s a very interesting debate! Thanks for covering it so thoroughly 🙂
Thanks for your input! I agree with you that the lack of forelegs makes Smaug look more sinister and able to do some creepy-crawly-like movements.
I guess the best way to see it is that he still has forelegs in the film version, except that they are attached to the wingspan rather than protruding as separate arms/legs 🙂
i think they went with the whole “four limbed rather than six limbed” thing because Smaug’s animation or whatever was based off of Benedict Cumberbatch’s movements and he unfortunately doesn’t have six limbs. However i was deeply upset because the book clearly states that he was a dragon, and he is not really… although I must say I loved the movie.
Did you notice that they refer to Smaug as a drake? Drakes don’t have wings. Smaug clearly does.
The dragons in game of thrones Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal are also termed dragons but have 2 legs. They are wyvrens then? Even the 3 headed dragon sigil of Targaryen is a Wyvren.
Hey sayan 🙂
I believe you’re referring to the series rather than the books; am I correct?
Because cinematic portrayals of dragons seem to give them two legs rather than four – I believe it’s something to do with the movements produced and that two legs would make it more natural than four.
Thus, the creators/producers don’t seem to make any particular distinction between a two or four-legged creature. If what they need is a dragon, they’d prefer to design it with two legs (for easier interaction/animation) and forget the connection with a wyvern.
But strictly speaking, it would still be a dragon I guess … 🙂
I’ve actually listened to George RR Martin talk about this a few times, and he prefers his dragons with only two limbs and two claws attached to the wings much like the Smaug depicted in the Hobbit movies. I think he even said one of his favorite dragons was from Dragonslayer, who also only has two limbs. Pretty awesome dragon for his day in the movies, if you ask me. I like both versions of dragon for different reasons, but overall I probably prefer dragons with two limbs. It makes them feel more sinister and realistic. But I do believe the dragons in his A Song of Ice and Fire series only have two limbs.
Hey Stephen, thanks for the info on Martin’s versions. I have yet to go through the rest of the Song of Ice and Fire series!
I get the impression that two-limbed dragons are more creepy and evil; whilst four-limbed creatures appear more majestic.
Oh and also: I always thought a wyvern was simply a dragon-like creature that was smaller, and could not breath fire. A drake can breath fire, but is small compared to a full fledged dragon. I think it depends what universe you’re interested in when it comes to dragons. Different artists and different novels tend to describe creatures in their own way. Just look at all the different depictions of vampires…
I don’t care what anyone says. To me two legs + wings means it’s a wyvern and 4 legs + wings means it’s a dragon. End of story
Well actually, the “dragons must have four legs to be a dragon!” is a recent construct, probably in the last century or so. The original western dragon didn’t necessarily look like the stereotype of today, with four legs and two wings.
Don’t believe me? Look at this 17th century drawing: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ef/WingedDragon.jpg
Two wings, and what looks like two front(?) legs. Anyhow, only two legs.
Saint George and the *Dragon* from 1470: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/50/Paolo_Uccello_047.jpg/800px-Paolo_Uccello_047.jpg
I only see two legs.
Different version of the same one, decades earlier: http://www.nga.gov/kids/rogier/dragon.jpg
Yet another Saint George and dragon, late 1800s: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Stgeorge-dragon.jpg
Serpentine body, two *front* legs, two wings.
Another one: http://misfitsandheroes.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/eagle-saint_george_and_the_dragon_by_paolo_uccello_paris_011.jpg
Dragons in heraldry: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c3/Blason_famille_fr_de_Condorcet.svg/545px-Blason_famille_fr_de_Condorcet.svg.png
1400s, fluffy with two legs: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d1/Yvain-dragon.jpg
Dragons may or may not have wings.
They may or may not be able to fly (wings or by other means).
They may or may not breathe fire. (Some breathe ice, acid, or nothing.)
They may or may not have scales. (Some have fur or feathers.)
They may or may not be magical.
They may or may not lay eggs.
They may or may not be intelligent/speaking.
…so what is this fight about whether a dragon has front legs or not?
If I make a creature that flies with wings, breathes fire and is intelligent and scaly, and only gives it two hind legs and two wings – it is still a dragon.
A wyvern is a specific (barbed tail and cannot ever breathe fire), and different mythological creature that may be thrown in the “dragon”-basket like basilisks and cockatrices, but they’re still a very different creature. It’s not in the number of limbs.
Hey Frida! Thanks so much for your feedback 🙂
I must say I’m no expert in dragonology and the like, but I’m really glad you’ve contributed to this article.
You have provided some very interesting information and together with the illustrations, they certainly help in clarifying the subject matter. So thanks!
It would be great if you continued to contribute to other posts on this blog in the same manner – I’m sure people would love to read more 🙂
sorry but wyverns have breathed fire before, even if it was once or twice
Wyverns don’t exist, so it doesn’t matter what they have or have not fictionally done. Case closed.
Hi Rin, everyone in this conversation knows Wyverns are not real. If you do not have the required gray matter to engage in this type of conceptual thinking perhaps it would be better if you did not comment.
To me Wyverns were real and are what giant carnivorous birds like those portrayed in the movie 10,000 BC were called as they became a legend through history.
I am a dragon lover, and I wrote my university dissertation on draconic imagery, its depiction and meaning throughout history in world art and culture.
From what I have found in my research, What one culture describes as a ‘dragon’ can be vastly different to another. This stems mainly from bad translations of their description from one language to another, and very early descriptions being rather less than specific. In some cases, the language has no word specifically meaning ‘dragon’, just a word meaning ‘fantastic or mythical creature’…… so the same name was applied to ALL mythical or abnormal creatures. Further to this, the word Dragon and Serpent are pretty interchangeable in most early cultures.
Secondly, depending on the animals the culture had around them, tended to influence the shape of the ‘Dragon’. So, In South American myths they have the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, yet in india the have a crocodilian inspired god mythos of Makara for example.
Which takes us onto Chimeric or blended animal creatures, such as the chimera, Manticore, hydra, kraken, sphinx and griffin etc……. If your not going to be specific about defining your dragons looks or abilities, then these could well come under the classification of the word ‘dragon’ as well.
So….. I choose to be specific. For me, calling a two legged clearly western Fantasy/medieval/christian inspired depiction of a creature a ‘Dragon’ and not a Wyvern or a worm/wyrm, is a bit like describing a domestic cat the same as a wild tiger. Are they both Cats, Yes, are they both of the same basic animal type, yes. But even given that, they are clearly NOT the same thing, they have many distinct differences.
So instead of lumping everything in the same group, or saying that it just a made up creature, and using both as a cop out, why not take the time to do things properly. I somehow doubt that someone would make a film based on chinese mythic archetypes, and choose to have the dragons looking like Western wyverns. It just doesn’t sit right. If your going to do a dragon type specific to a culture, then do so, don’t namby pampy about with something incorrect.
Film makers are taking the easy way out, and just using the image that someone has a pre prepared and changing it up a bit in horn shape and colour. It’s irksome and insulting. And shows a great lack of imagination.
Which brings me to the ‘How to train your Dragon’ films. These I actually have no problem with, their dragons are of all different types, shapes and sizes, that is half the point of the whole story….. and yet the main draconic character does have 4 legs and two wings. What brings the dragons together is their basic Personalities.
Upon which I will make my final point, Dragons are not necessarily evil, in fact they most often start out as part of creation myths or are beneficent…… the whole evil gold hoarding, maiden eating beast came about in part, because the sublimation of pagan/polytheistic religions and imagery to the Monotheistic christian religion. Basically speaking, the quickest way to get rid of/ or take away power from something culturally is co-op it, but make it evil/aberrant, and have sanctions against its use/meaning.
So, there is my position. Interestingly, on aside note, while doing my uni research I found out that I bit off a bit more of a topic than I thought, as all but two cultures (that I could find info/research on, and this was over 10 years ago) from the whole of earths recorded history don’t have any creatures that can be linked to anything even remotely resembling something recognisably ‘Dragon’ based in looks, personality or story. (And if you doubt me, you are quite free to look into it yourself……. take it from me though, it will take you a good long while!)
very good not a big difference but i believe smaug is a jaculus not a wyvern it is a little thing i know but u may like it
First up, a question. What makes a dragon? I didn’t think that they HAD to have four legs AND wings. And Frida Nyberg made a lovely post to illustrate this fact.
Now moving on, I love the idea of wyverns… purely because from a biological point of view, they seem more realistic. Why? Because I’m a fanatic and I want to believe that dragons are real (and that wyverns are a subset of dragon).
If comparative anatomy has taught me anything, it’s that pretty much everything (excluding arachnids, insects and… octopus related stuff..?) all have four limbs. But the problem with that is that they also only have five finger bones, which is a problem because Smaug needs those bones in his wings AND in his claws…
OKAY I JUST NULLIFIED MY OWN POINT BUT BUT BUT THAT DOESN’T MATTER T-T
Smaug still has four legs and wings in my mind. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense, it just seems a lot cooler. And dragons don’t make sense. Smaug doesn’t make sense.
(maybe dragons can be like crawling pterodactyls..? I mean, flying dinosaurs? How is that not a dragon??! DX)
That aside, if I hadn’t read this post, I would have continued thinking that Smaug had four legs, AND wings with claws, because that was the impression I was under after watching ‘An Unexpected Journey’ AND ‘The Desolation of Smaug’… Well, that just shows that I’m not observant XD
And I don’t know the point of this post. It’s excessively long, but I think I just wanted to say that I’m pretty happy with Smaug’s two leg and two stompy wing/claw design ^_^
You clearly can’t say anything scientific if you don’t know the word “invertebrates” and don’t realise that Pterosaurs are not dinosaurs but reptiles. Because dinosaurs are birds.
He never mentioned invertebrates…
And dinosaurs are reptiles too, so who cares..
And dinosaurs aren’t birds, but birds are also dinosaurs.. Not every rectangle is a square but every square is also a rectangle
So if you have nothing positive to contribute don’t post anything at all.
This is a very stimulating (and perhaps controversial) discussion. It’s great to listen to other’s opinions, so let’s keep everything under control and respect each other’s comments 🙂
I like to think of it in the same sense as squares and rectangles. All wyverns are dragons but not all dragons are wyverns.
you are absolutely right but for one thing i belive strongly that smaug is a jaclus serpent dragon he is to big for a wyvern and he can talk wyverns cant if you look it up let me know what you thing a jaclus maybe a great wyvern and smaug looked awesome but for the way he walked on hes wings he looked like the boy in south park on the crouches jimmy
jaculus is the right name my mistake
Thanks for the clarification, wes. Was wondering what it meant!
so what do you think of the jaculus vs wyvern and western dragons
Truth be told wes, I think the jaculus is perhaps one of the weirdest animals around!
However, I like your connection with a two-legged creature though I have yet to see how one can relate a fantasy being with a real-life animal. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating concept 🙂
crutches for jimmy my computer is bad iam keeping this site on my favorites
we maybe looking at different books the jaculus is a very long serpent with wings and two or no lags in the book monsterology it shows a western dragon next to a jaculus yes its a kids book but it looks like if draco was fighting smaug and the cover of secret of the dragon yes online it looks like a weird animal thank you its awesome you looked it up it would be cool if there was a book or website that had the best movie dragons and monsters next to each other ya iam a nard but its fun
Oops, my bad! Thanks for the clarification. Yes indeed, the jaculus is rather similar to the final design of Smaug. Whatever the dragon, be it two-legged or four-legged, it is always fantastic to see such a creature come to life in a film 🙂
you are awesome James sorry with my words my laptop is not doing and I like all you had to say I am a dragon fanatic if any will like to talk to me i can give my number or e mail have fun and you are vary polite thank you
I used to be a bit bothered by the whole “making a hexapedal dragon work” thing, but now I’m coming to terms with it (I mean, Tolkien himself didn’t seem to have an issue with the placement of the wings, he just stuck them where he wanted them on the dragon’s back). I just tell myself that the six-limbed serpent design is just another “Melkor-ism”: a perversion of Eru’s original quadrupedal designs for his creatures. ‘Cause seriously, Morgoth’s just the type of guy who gets a kick out of breaking the laws of nature and physics!… and yet he never did make those underbellies hard enough! 😛
That’s some serious thinking there Denzel!
ok so what would you rather be if you could choose we are talking about a world with magic
in the book smaug unleashing the dragon peter jackson wanted a dragon never been seen before yes smaug is awesome but there are more movies with dragons with two lags then four. need to remake eragon the right way
Wyvern is not even a name in medieval culture, it’s just a term to describe dragons and it literaly means “serpent-like”. In all of mythologies and medieval cultures, dragons have been represented since centuries as polimorph creatures: sometimes they have 4 limbs plus wings sometimes they have 2 limbs plus wings but THEY ARE STILL DRAGONS.
This is the Kaulon Dragon, one of the most ancient portrait of dragons:
This is a depict of the dragon from the Liber Floridus, the most important medieval bestiary ever found:
This is one of the greatest and most famous portrait of Dragon, specifically Saint George and the Dragon from Paolo Uccello:
The whole idea of “two legs plus wings is a wyvern” was invented in dungeons and dragons and since that game is very popular, other books, cartoons and medias have used the same concept. As I said, in mythology and fables there is no such a distinction, dragons have always been called dragons no matter the number of the limbs.
Let’s also keep in mind here that there’s no definitive “dragon” or “wyvern.” Every ancient civilization on Earth has had a dragon/serpent present in its mythos, and they all define them differently… those ideas have evolved and grown and been represented differently visually a thousand times over.. but we all commonly know them as Dragons. There’s no official authoritive source on what defines the terms… other than groups of “scholars” involved in a pissing contest of intellectual puffery.
That’s why I said on some level this conversation is “ridiculous” because it’s merely arguing semantics… if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…. etc.
The thing is Wyverns were at one time real. Look up: Cassowary. Now think of one much bigger that went extinct back perhaps around the time of St. George. They are based on real creatures.
Thanks Tim for the heads up on the Cassowary. Also, I can think of other animals that seem to have inspired and influenced the creation of dragons/wyverns; it’s just so fascinating really 🙂
Sorry but I strongly believe that the only reason to destroy a dragon and make it a wyvern is film producers being too lazy to make a 6-limbed creature: in term of animating as such + also thinking of ways to make the anatomy believable. LAZYNESS I tell you.
Why P. Jackson gave up the TRUE dragon? LAZYNESS, they stumbled about difficulties when working on a true dragon so they did what? Gave up and just make a great flying bird-pterosaur hybrid. This is nohing but going easy instead of taking up the challenge and doing more work on additional pair of limbs.
true dragons are HEXAPODS. Walk on 4legs + have a pair of wings.
wyverns are just draconic creature but are NOT dragons.
Turning a true dragon into a wyvern is a lazyness that creates confusion among regular people who weren’t into draconic creatures before. Just like the creator of the article, despite being into fantasy, needed much more time to learn about wyverns.
Well, I’m an least an artist and here we often try to use such defining names, at least the 4 most basic ones:
We often distinguish: (western) dragon (hexapod, 4legs+2wings), wyvern(2legs+2wings), drake(wingless 4legged), eastern dragon (Haku-like and traditional Asian dragons + mixtures; 4 legs, walk on 4, can fly even though has 0 wings), + anthro dragons(humanlike, bipedals); some also go deeper into amphiphteres, wyrms/wurms/lindwurms etc. but I’m not that much into so deep classifications yet, especially as they’re rarely used for character desigs and I don’t need those for my fiction either.
Smaug was destroyed. It’s not a dragon, it’s an intelligent wyvern. and the creatures used by Naz’guls? Why P.Jackson lowered Smaug to THEM??? Sorry. A huge NO. He should have thought&worked harder on making a DRAGON work instead of copying all them wyverns already used by the less smart producers who failed to make a true dragon work.
And how P.Jackson’s staff DARED to make this show animation havign Smaug insulting other dragon-productions by saying ‘I’m a REAL dragon’ – when I heard this line I face-palmed hard. Stupid, ignorant, lying know-it-all, that’s what it is.
Smaug is made into a great wyvern. But he’s NOT a true/real dragon, he’s a damn wyvern! It’s like foxes vs wolves, both are canidae, but foxes are vulpines and wolves are canines. It’s the same, wyverns and dragons are draconic creatures(or dragon-like creatures) but wyverns are not dragons… not if you’re not ignorant.
If in a movie I make e.g the dog species called ‘elephants’ by all them noob characters, is that right and make dogs into elephans? Hell no.
To me the main distinctions between dragons and wyverns are intelligence and the presence of a breath weapon. I have always seen wyverns as animalistic versions of dragons; similar to chimps and humans. I have no issue with dragons only having hind legs as long as they retain their intelligence. Walking on wing tips forces the torso lower which gives a baser, ‘slithering’ effect which does make the creature more evil looking. (I guess that comes from a Judao-Christian culture). In relation to Smaug, I remember him being described as a wyrm by people who should know (gandalf). Maybe he isn’t supposed to be a full dragon as he has to leave the north and is born quite late, after the peak of draconic reign. He is referred to as a dragon by those who only have vague legends to go on.
Tbh I have many more issues with the second and third movies than the design of Smaug.
I think Jackson may have been trying to allude to some kind of biological accuracy in his depiction of Smaug in as much as there have never been any vertebrate creatures with more than four limbs. Those vertebrates that did evolve wings did so as modified forelimbs. In this respect I think they’ve done a good job and I find Smaug believable.
Of course, when you start down the road of biological accuracy, then fantastical creatures such as dragons run into all sorts of other problems. Starting with, how in heck is Smaug able to fly? To me he looks to be far too heavy; more than can be compensated for with his wing surface area. But perhaps this is a discussion for another time.
I find the idea of dragons both fascinating and amazing, a creature commonly in fantasy stories, depicted as either scary, dangerous, magical or wise so naturally, I have searched for info on the subject out of curiosity mostly.
Anyone who is interested in a little science on the matter of dragon’s, this documentary is one I like to watch every now and again.
video name (just in case the link fails):
The Last Dragon | A Fantasy Made Real
This documentary I stumbled upon while watching youtube many years ago and it pretty accurately explains many theories on how a dragon or animal of that size would be able to create any sort of lift with the wing span they have, how they would breathe fire as well as look at how different varieties of dragons would have looked.
I will not go as far to say it is fact and that you must believe it all, as many occasions I found myself looking at some of the stuff mentioned as a little far-fetched but many things said are arguably the most brilliant explanations on how a dragon would exist, in my opinion it is well worth the watch for anyone who truly enjoys dragons.
To me, a Dragon and a Wyvern are two different, but similar creatures, A dragon is a large, four leged, fire spiting, and cunning creature. while Wyverns are smallish, two leged winged lizards that are about as smart a a wolf, and just has a poisenous bite.
I appreciate the sincerity of this write-up of yours. Can’t wait to see more!
Please check my blog about There be Dragons
Hope this will help. Thank you