Dragons vs Wyverns: The Question of Smaug

Tolkien Smaug Artwork 2

– 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 Β prefer the good-old evil and nasty creatures from European literature.

Nothing beats the wickedness of FΓ‘fnir 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.

WyvernWyverns 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.Tolkien Smaug Artwork 1

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:

Smaug wyvernSmaug AUJ extended

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:

Smaug-(theatrical)2Smaug-(extended)2

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.

eye of smaugHowever, 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.

PAUSE.

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.

Smaug claws 3Jackson 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.

What?!?!

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’).

King Kong Comparison

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 onlySmaug claws 2 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:

mind concept

– I love dragons. And wyverns!

DragonheartAs 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.

Eragon (Ed Speleers) and Arya (Sienna Guillory) marvel at the dragon Saphira.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.

HP dragonHP dragon 2

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.

Reign of Fire dragon Vermithax

***

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.

Now, now…

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).

Fell-beast

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]

179 thoughts on “Dragons vs Wyverns: The Question of Smaug

  1. A fan after my own heart. Thank you for going in depth on an important (to me) issue. Well done.

    It’s hard to talk about Smaug’s design on TORN without most people dog piling on you for criticizing PJ. I think we can speculate, support the film, and criticize without being a Tolkein fanboy or a PJ fanboy. After all, we each have a different Smaug living in our heads right now. The one we see in December is PJ’s version. It doesn’t change mine.

    Thanks again!
    Josh

  2. The thing is the difference between dragons and wyverns depends on the fantasy material it came from. There’s no standard definition between the 2 of them. The description of Wyverns originally came from Dungeons and Dragons. Because Wyverns doesn’t exist in the mythology of Middle Earth, we can’t really say that Smaug has a Wyvern’s appearance.

    • That is very true and thanks for pointing that out … I guess, considering the popularity of Wyverns/Dungeons and Dragons/Skyrim today, people need to be told the differences between what Tolkien originally came up with and what the filmmakers are trying to achieve.

      Thanks! πŸ™‚

  3. I’m bummed! I prefer the less biologically correct 4-legged dragons, and I had thought I was in the clear given Smaug’s appearance in the first film.

  4. Gollum had a complete design overhaul between Fellowship and Two Towers. The original Gollum design still appears in both the prologue and Moria scenes of Fellowship. So, this is far from unprecedented. I definitely agree with your theory.

    • Many thanks Chris! PJ seems to make significant alterations over a short period of time … I’m really curious to see the final, definitive Smaug design next month πŸ™‚

  5. Morphologically speaking no creature on Earth has 4 legs and 2 wings so it may have been difficult for the conceptual artists to articulate Smaugs movements. Otherwise he might have looked like just another of the lame 6 limbed beasts in Avatar. Realistically, any Earth bound creature is constrained by the same evolutionary processes and Smaug would undoubtedly be a tetrapod. I believe the directors, finally, came to the correct conclusion.

    • Fascinating insight Timo – many thanks! I guess you may be right that the filmmakers tried to recreate as realistic a design as possible.

      Either way, I’m still happy if Smaug is indeed 2-legged πŸ™‚

    • There is nothing realistic about a flying creature the size of Smaug whether it is 2 legs & 2 wings or 4 legs and 2 wings. Realism shouldn’t be part of the equation in a fantasy setting. You might as well say it is not realistic when Legolas walks on top of the snow in Fellowship or that Gandalf can cast spells, etc, etc. Oh, and Smaug still breaths fire (which was deleted it Sony’s Godzilla for “realism”), so I think even PJ is aware that realism is not the issue.

      Also, insects have 6 legs and 2-4 wings, so there is morphological precedent on this planet. But, not vertebrates share that build.

      • It’s not just a question of scientific accuracy, though. A book can get away with describing a four-legged dragon, and even an illustrator can do it with a still picture, but for animators creating a CGI dragon that’s supposed to look real alongside actual actors, the bar is *much* higher. They need to be able to realistically model the muscles and bones, and that’s a real problem for a six-legged creature.

      • It’s not really realism in the sense of “do real life creatures have four or six limbs?”, but realism in terms of creating a believable CGI character. Why do you think that characters like Gollum and King Kong were motion captured by actors like Andy Serkis before the CGI was done, and the same goes for Smaug by Benedict Cumberbatch? It’s to capture realistic movement for a creature that’s not really there. Even characters in the video game LA Noire were motion captured by the voice actors. The CGI artists would take Benedict’s movements, but also study real life creatures for an idea of how Smaug would exist, and move. Look a bats, birds, even pterosaurs. None of them had six limbs, so the CGI artists would base Smaug on them and allow themselves to create a realistic musculature and gait for a dragon, rather than take a fictional approach that didn’t look right.

  6. I didn’t notice they changed the shot in the EE. This is all very reminiscent of the Gollum redesign between FOTR and TTT, but at least we had really only seen hands and eyes in any detail in the first movie. I really wish they had stuck with a four-legged dragon if only because, given the examples you point out, it would be the first one in a long time. I think even the Rankin/Bass version had a wyvern (though I love that Smaug). The only reason I can see for making this change is they couldn’t figure out what to do with the forelegs in flying shots, and they didn’t want them in the way for Smaug’s eventual death.

    • Perhaps you a right … I’m really curious as to know why they didn’t change the other shots in the prologue when Smaug bursts through the gate – as it clearly shows him using his forelegs.

      General audience may (or may not) be wondering next December why this difference occurred.

      As long as Cumberbatch’s performance is up to the character level, I wouldn’t really mind πŸ™‚ Though I agree, four legs seems more enticing!

      • I don’t know how clear it actually is; PJ may have left those shots in because Smaug’s feet may be similar to the original’s hands. The new version may have grasping feet like a bird of prey, so there is no reason why the new Smaug couldn’t use his feet to rip the doorway open like a giant bird.

  7. I noticed this as well not too long ago, that at the end of the second Desolation of Smaug trailer, he looked like a Wyvern, however! The shot just before it, right before he says: “Come now, don’t be shy”, it looks like he puts his claw on the pillar, and it looks like a claw with an arm attached, not a wing. Then again, it’s a very dark and quick shot, I guess we’ll just have to wait until December to see whether or not they made him a wyvern! I actually hope he keeps his front legs, I just think it would look better! My opinion only of course.

    • Completely agree Sam! Yes, the final shot of the trailer does indeed show (pretty clearly) the lack of front legs … Now I’d like to know how that will affect Smaug’s overall performance when it comes to movement πŸ™‚

    • Hehe! I’ll be honest and say again that four legs would have suited my taste better – but I’m still not wholly opposed to the two legs concept.

      We’ll just have to wait and see πŸ˜‰

  8. a very interesting article πŸ™‚ I have a question for you: do you thinck that is more “official” the extended edition or the theatrical version? because I think that Smaug should have the aspect of the more “official” version of the film… so if the official film is the extended edition Smaug may be a wyvern, if the official film is the theatrical version Smaug may have 4 legs πŸ™‚ what do you think about my opinion? πŸ™‚

  9. Great post! I initially dismissed the idea of Smaug as a wyvern, but you’ve presented the evidence in a more conclusive way. I’d like him to have four legs, probably because all the fanart I’ve grown up with portrayed him as such, but I’ll likely adapt if PJ has something else planned. Might be that he wants to keep the wyvern design consistent throughout the films for the casual fans’ sake (most people probably won’t know the difference between a fell-beast and a dragon), and I totally get that. Sacrifices must be made sometimes when adapting books to the screen.

    And thanks for reminding me about the other dragons — I especially remember loving the blind one from Harry Potter. My judgement maaaaay be clouded by a childish desire to have Smaug look MY way, you know?

  10. I prefer four legs without a doubt, but perhaps maybe, Smaug has four legs plus claws on his wings? I hope he keeps his forelegs

  11. My only fear is that PJ will go back and change the extended edition again so that I’ll have to buy a third version of AUJ.

    For the record, I am pro-wyvern in this case. Yet I would rather live with the continuity errors than buy a third version.

  12. The questions is which looked more impressive? Those forelegs breaking the very stone of the Gate of Erebor and crushing dwarves beneath them? Or the folded wings with those ridiculously long claws ‘crushing’ dwarves beneath them? To me the forelegs just look SOOO much more impressive. The folded wings just don’t look like they could break solid stone.

    • Yep … definitely. As stated, forelegs seem to provide much more control and power than simply claws on a wingspan.

      And I agree, the shot of one of the forelegs grabbing hold the side of the gate of Erebor is really impressive and a statement of Smaug’s power πŸ™‚

      • I’d imagine it would be difficult for Smaug to navigate his way through Erebor. There are many tight passages throughout the Lonely Mountain’s halls. Four legs would allow Smaug to fold up his wings and fit through the passages much easier. Perhaps they are still not entirely decided on Smaug’s final complete appearance and shape. Perhaps even now they still finalising him. With ‘An Unexpected Journey’, they literally only finished it the day of the premiere. This may be the case with ‘The Desolation Of Smaug’

      • Yes, they are most probably still retouching him – though certainly the two or four-legged design has been locked for quite some time now, considering the tight schedule.

        Though I agree with your comment.

        After all, let’s not forget that Smaug’s name comes from the Germanic word “smugan” – literally meaning, to squeeze through a hole.

        So you’re definitely right about that πŸ˜‰

    • Precisely. And thanks for bringing that up Eric.

      It’s seems to be linked with the fact of having left a couple of shots in the prologue of a clearly four-legged dragon.

      I’m guessing when the Extended Edition was released, they were still experimenting with Smaug’s design … perhaps.

    • This is a literally in-real-universe medieval depiction of a *bat*. Notice it has 4-legs and 2-wings? A dwarven artist not being an expert on dragon anatomy is entirely plausible. Following this line of reasoning, no dragon should be depicted with 6-limbs considering that real flying animals were often depicted with an incorrect number of legs. Medieval artist were remarkably ignorant about animal anatomy, and if dragons had actually existed, they would likely be depicted in the same way as bats.

      • Many thanks for your contribution Sim! That’s a very interesting aspect which I had not realized and is certainly plausible that the filmmakers took that into consideration πŸ™‚

  13. Actually, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as saying four legs equals a dragon but only two legs equals a wyvern. Dragons come in all shapes and sizes depending on which culture you examine. Dragons were envisioned quite differently in the Orient than they were in Europe. Yes, the classic, heraldic dragon with four legs most often comes to mind when you say the word “dragon”, but there were other types of dragons as well. There was the Guivre, which had the body of a massive serpent and the horned and bearded large head of a dragon. The Wyvern of course was two-legged and winged. Then there was the Lindwurm, which was the name for the classic 4-legged dragon of Germanic heraldry. But, I have also seen that name corrupted as Lindworm, or Lindorm, which referred to a creature somewhere between the Guivre and the Wyvern—basically a Wyvern with no wings. Then there was the Amphiiptere, which was a legless but winged serpent. I disagree with the poster who said that the image of the Wyvern was born out of the Dungeons & Dragons game. As you correctly pointed out in your article, the Wyvern was used in Medieval heraldry, long before Gary Gygax and friends created D&D. In “A Complete Guide to Heraldry” by A.C. Fox-Davies, the author mentions that the Duke of Marlborough had Wyverns as the supporters in his crest. He says of Wyverns: “There is no difference whatever between a wyvern’s head and a dragon’s, but there is considerable difference between a wyvern and a dragon, at any rate in English heraldry, though the wyvern appears to be the form more frequently met with under the name of a dragon in other countries.” (page 226). In other words, what is called a wyvern in England is called a dragon in many other countries. So, I think you have to think of the whole dragon family. A T-Rex looks very different from a Triceratops, but they are both part of the Dinosaur family. Likewise, a 4-legged dragon and a 2-legged dragon (or Wyvern if you prefer) and a legless dragon are still all part of the dragon family. So, I think a 2-legged Smaug could be as legitimate as a 4-legged Smaug and, in my mind at least, either way he is still a dragon. I enjoyed your article very much.

    • Hey Kurt, many thanks for such an insightful look into dragons … it really accompanies this post perfectly! πŸ™‚

      As I had stated, when I was referring to Smaug looking like a wyvern, I was primarily considering just the classical shape (i.e. the two legs) – but ultimately still referring to him as a dragon.

      And I agree with you, 2-legged or 4-legged, as long as the character’s performance is good, I’m all for it! πŸ˜€

    • Yes I did and he seems to be using both his legs and arms to “move” around – but then again, it may still not be completely reliable as to Smaug’s final outcome.

      But who knows … πŸ™‚

  14. I know this may sound stupid, but I don’t really think Smaug will be a Wyvern at all. What if those wings were actually used as an extra pair of arms? Just like how bats use their wings and how monkeys use their tails and legs like an extra pair of arms? And I think the images we see of Old Smaug is only the front of him in the trailer. I think he will be bigger than what we see of him in the trailer, although I do like the super sized wings.

    • Nothing stupid there Ryan! πŸ™‚ At this stage, we can’t be exactly certain as to Smaug’s design – until we actually see the film.

      And although we’re getting a number of TV Spots, there’s barely a glimpse of the dragon to give us a definitive look (which is certainly not a bad thing! – no spoilers :))

      • Yeah I’m surprised by the amount of Smaug they’ve shown us. Yeah Ryan I share your thoughts that Smaug might have four legs, but will also use his wings to walk aswell.

      • You’re absolutely right. Besides, the Extended Edition is mostly for show, show of the scrapped ideas Peter had for AUJ. I think the wings part was a scrapped idea.

  15. Hi everybody,
    I compared the sequence between the two versions of the film and this made me imagine another scenario, in addition to the prevalent that suggests a change in the running in design of Smaug. In the extended edition, the paw with whom the Dragon grasps the door to smash him is the same as the theatrical version, and similarly it appears identical in the early steps of Smaug that shows after his entrance to Erebor until nearly stomps Thorin. I imagine that those can be the “legs” of the Dragon, used to break the entry and start to advance. For the continuation of the sequence, where there is a clear edit, my guess is that there was not a change in anatomy of Smaug, but rather an afterthought in the posture that was given while he makes his way inside the mountain: while in the theatrical, Smaug advances erect, and then, actually, walking, in the extended version he relies on “upper limbs”integrated in the wings, which, if you like, it might be even more correct thinking about the possible size of the dragon that, at that point, is advancing in a corridor that could force it to advance bowed. Out of sheer curiosity, I hope Peter Jackson will reveal this aspect once the curtain has been raised on his creature …

    • Hey Marco! Many thanks for your contribution πŸ™‚

      I think that your theory is very much plausible, however, I find it somewhat unlikely that Smaug bursting through the door and grasping the sides of the entrance is using his feet.

      Then again, you may very well be correct and I’m on edge to find out how Smaug’s design will actually incorporate this “difference” between theatrical and extended … πŸ™‚

  16. Smaug that has four legs, or Smaug that has two legs – who cares? Smaug will always be Smaug, and he will be amazing in every way πŸ™‚

    And don’t you think that Smaug could have forelegs, but very short ones, like Allosaurus or something? That would fit: he uses his short forelegs to brake the gate, and later he walks on the wings-claws to be faster (in Extended Edition). The posters and a painting on map also show short forelegs.

    Anyway, we’ll have to wait for the final design of Smaug, and I’m sure it will be awesome πŸ™‚

      • Two weeks for YOU 😦 In my country, we’ll have a premiere at 27th December…
        But I will wait! It’s worth it. πŸ™‚

        And returning to the topic of Smaug’s limbs: As I said, I thought about design of Smaug with short forelegs AND wings with claws. And I have a vision of dragon that can walk on his hind legs and forelegs, or only on forelegs, like theropod, OR on hind legs and wings, holding short forelegs above the ground – it would make him taller and maybe let him jumping to the air, or climbing hillsides.

        I say about something like that:
        https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/YM2GNU7JbIrE_Y0bQyABneIustjLCNmWQdZ8CV56wwk?feat=directlink

        Maybe director had the same idea? Who knows? We’ll see πŸ™‚

    • I agree with you completely, Smaug will be AWESOME regardless, it’s just those forelegs made their impression on me and I hope they’re still part of his overall design. But as you Smaug will still be Smaug, his appearance will still amaze us and his voice will make us tremble. Only two more weeks and we can all satisfy our Dragon hunger.

  17. Tell you what, friend. YOU tell Smaug “You’re not a REAL dragon. You’re just a wyvern.”

    I’ll be standing far away dressed in Nomex and asbestos

  18. Hi James, nice job with this analysis. I just wanted to add one bit of information that seems not to have been covered here. (Spoilers follow, in case any readers are unfamiliar with the story.)
    ……..

    Though Tolkien never outright numbers Smaug’s legs in the pages of “The Hobbit”, there is one description that bears on this matter. When Bard shoots the black arrow that slays Smaug, it is described thusly: “The black arrow sped straight from the string, straight for the hollow by the left breast where the foreleg was flung wide.” The use of the word “foreleg” rather than “wing” suggests–though just barely–that Tolkien envisioned Smaug as possessing four legs in addition to wings.

    Of course this isn’t the ONLY possible interpretation. One could easily reason that since a two-leg concept could feature wings attached fairly high up on the legs, the limb in question could still be accurately described as a foreleg. Fair enough. However, coupled with the various drawings Tolkien did of Smaug, it seems clear that Tolkien thought of Smaug as possessing four legs in addition to wings.

    (The clearest example of this in Tolkien’s own artwork is his sketch for the Death of Smaug, found here: http://heirsofdurin.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/death_of_smaugp.jpg . Other images abound, of course, including the rather abstract ones included in “The Hobbit” itself.)

    Now, this of course means little in terms of what PJ will decide to do. Just because Tolkien sees it this way doesn’t mean that’s what we’ll get in the movies. One would hope that PJ would honor Tolkien’s own vision here, but such hopes have at times been cheated in the other films, so…

    Also of relevance here is the fact that the original dragons, bred by Morgoth some 6700+ years before the events of “The Hobbit”, had four legs and no wings. The winged dragons were not released upon Middle-earth until a few hundred years later. What this says about Smaug’s limb count is impossible to determine, of course; Morgoth could have either modified the early dragons by adding a pair of wings or by transforming their forelegs into wings. It is impossible to say which occurred, though evolutionarily speaking, the latter is far more likely. Regardless, it’s interesting to consider.

    • Hey Lochlann!

      Many thanks for your insightful comments! Yes, I failed to add that artwork you posted to the article – though I did remember to insert Tolkien’s Smaug motif at the beginning – which clearly shows the four legs as you rightly pointed out πŸ˜‰

      I was hoping to delve more intro Tolkien’s dragons in a future post – delineating the different types that existed: worms, cold-drakes, fire-drakes, etc

      Be sure to keep discussing on other topics too! Hope you’re enjoying the blog πŸ™‚

  19. CG’s not cheap, and it takes time. It could just be that a last-minute design change led the artists to insert the new dragon into the extended edition once PJ made a last-minute decision to change it to a 2 legged dragon, probably only in 1 shot for budget/time constraints. (I can imagine how unhappy a lot of the artists were when news that the director wanted a new dragon reached them.)

  20. It’s probably due to the fact that no living creature on earth has four legs and a set of wings. Therefore the movement and physics for making a four legged dragon fly are unknown to us. Wings are technically limbs. A flying creature with 4 legs would look horrible in CG. Think about birds, the muscles that power flight cover the chest, as a lot of power is needed for flight, there is no room for arms anywhere, and if there were there would not be enough muscle for flight, the anatomy of a 4 legged flying creature just doesn’t exist and so it’s incredibly hard to make a flying dragon look realistic.

    A wyvern is a different story though.

  21. Hi! i agree with you, i prefer 4 legs dragon but i think it would be with 2 legs.. what about the fellowship of the rings scene with the fireworks? greetings from Mexico

    • Hey Anyko! Thanks for your opinion πŸ™‚ – it’s interesting that you point out the scene in Fellowship.

      I believe the overall design (especially the face and head) will be very similar to the “fireworks” dragon.

      Unfortunately it’s difficult to see if that dragon has 2, 4 or any legs!

  22. OK, men, I think I got it:
    Well, I’ve discovered, that the paws that Smaug uses when he destroys Erebor’s gate and almost stomp on Thorin are probably his hind legs! I can see it from their shape and the way they’re moving. Also, I noticed that in non-extended edition Smaug has two legs also – in this whole chaos, when he attacks dwarves, I noticed the scene, when he uses his wing to push the dwarves, just like arm. So I can deduce, that he originally had two legs and in basic edition they were shown stomping on dwarves, and in Extended we see his forelegs – wings πŸ™‚

    But it’s only my theory. And there is still a problem with Smaug’s image on the map, where he has 4 legs and wings. Anyway, only a few days and we’ll see.

    • Thanks for your contribution Steve! It definitely is a possibility.

      However, I find it somewhat difficult to believe that he managed to crash the gates and grab hold of the entrance with his hind legs) – how could this be achieved?

      Also, upon further analysis, it would seem that when the dragon enters Erebor and almost steps over Thorin – there is evidence that two fore legs are present in the dust and smoke as Smaug makes his way inside. This shot is also present in the Extended Edition, which then immediately cuts to the dwarf-stomping-claws shot …

      I honestly don’t know at this point! But it’s really fun to speculate (if a bit frustrating too!) πŸ˜€

      • Oh, Smaug could crash the gates with hind leg – have you ever seen a hen or other bird using its leg to rummage in ground or wood? Smaug could rip the gate with his leg as well πŸ™‚

        And yeah, speculating is cool πŸ˜€

    • It definitely does look so – thanks Tommy!

      Then again, they could simply be part of the wingspan and his forelegs may still be present πŸ˜‰ … who knows, who knows!

  23. I am hoping he still retains 6 limbs, maybe the arms got changed to be really small since I recall them saying they are looking at a T-rex for inspiration.

  24. I’ve seen the movie yesterday, Smaug has (Spoiler) two legs and two wings with claws, functioning both as arms and wings.

    Personally I had hoped for four limbs but Smaug looked incredible nonetheless.

  25. I love dragons more then anything in this world. This debate of Dragons vs wyverns has been torn me up in past occurrences. It’s a great shame that people now have created a terrible conjoining of dragons and wyverns. Beacuse true wyverns do not breathe fire, or any other breath weapon. But true dragons have 4 limbs. So this new breed of dragons has been created to please movie makers, for whatever reason. I hope that true dragons come back in style quick, or the legacy of the true dragons may be forgotten.

    • Thanks very much for your input Robert. I agree with your statement; at the same time, I think you’ll find Smaug to be quite THE dragon in the films πŸ™‚

  26. Someone once said all wyverns are dragons but not all dragons are wyverns. Modern fantasy made more of a distinction between the two by saying that wyverns don’t breath fire and are stupid, no such thing was said in ancient times. What I don’t like about modern times is that in order to look “believable” dragons must have a bat-like physique. Considering this is a movie with wizards, a ring that makes you invisible and a dark lord I don’t see the point of making a dragon *that* believable. The audience would accept Smaug with six limbs because he’s a dragon.

    • Yeah a dragon is a mythical/fantasy beast. Giving it a bat like physique doesn’t all of a sudden make it real or ‘believable’. If you wanted to make a creature that is ‘believable’ and seems like it could be real, well then dragons wouldn’t be able to breathe fire, their defining characteristic.

  27. Boo Hiss…not only did they make Smaug a wyvern, but also not a red dragon either…total disrespect to Tolkien’s illustratration…Tolkien could not have described Smaug or illustrated him clearer…totally “Peter Jacksoned”…why he has to have overly long scenes is beyond me…I will say his Smaug was impressive even if all wrong.
    Totally love Peter Jackson films even with there over long scenes. He had those poor T-Rex’s in King Kong swinging in the vines so long I fell asleep.
    Can’t wait to see what he does with Temeraire. Wish he could have landed the rights to the Pern series.

    • Smaug does appear to have been given only 2 legs instead of four – then again, his claws attached to the wingspan seem to be “bigger” than usual – making them almost look like legs in a way.

      Why they decided to opt for 2 instead of 4 legs is beyond me – but I’ve no doubt it’s due to further complexities when it comes to visual effects and the dragon’s movement in such a restricted space inside the Mountain.

      With regards to the colour, it’s true Tolkien’s famous red glow seems to have been somewhat ignored – however, Peter’s Smaug does seem to contain a redish hue to it and I’m looking forward to seeing him “glow” more come Film 3 and what happens there πŸ˜‰

  28. “Interestingly, in the first Hobbit film, Weta Digital made a four-legged Smaug with wings on his back to facilitate scenes of the dragon rampaging through villages. But in The Desolation of Smaug, the character had to be able to emote through his hands – which necessitated a return to a two-legged dragon with wings on his arms.” – Weta’s excuse.

  29. Cameron’s link then suggests it was the animators and not PJ who ultimately wanted to switch it. I lay the blame on the motion capture. Watch the way the “wing/hands” move and you can totally see how Cumberbatch’s arms would have been positioned as he was on his stomach. I think they just wanted to use that rather than try to interpolate it into forelimb movement. If this is the case, it presents a weakness of human motion-capture: it’s really only useful with humanoid body types. The fact that they had a 6-limbed Smaug in the first movie negates the argument of the realists who claim “it couldn’t be believably animated in CG since there’s no real world analog”. So I blame whoever thought it was a good idea to mo-cap Cumberbatch as the dragon. Maybe that’s useful facially a bit, but I think that’s why we’ve got the wing hands that we wouldn’t otherwise have.

  30. BTW., Smaug’s shape isn’t certainly like a wyvern. Wyverns don’t have hands on their wings, they have wings like bats, when Smaug’s wings ale more like a pterosaur – with hands.

    Anyway, Smaug was totally AWESOME. His look, his voice, his SIZE! The best dragon ever!

    • That has been proven now with the release of the film πŸ™‚ – one can look at Smaug’s shape being a blend between a four-legged dragon and a two-legged wyvern … whatever he is, he’s still a Tolkien dragon by all accounts πŸ™‚

  31. I’ve always considered wyverns to be a subspecies (a term I use VERY loosely-I’m no scientist) of dragons, at least within the realm of modern popular culture. Ancient medieval folklore may have its own rules, but unless any given work of newer fiction specifically lays out terms to differentiate wyverns from dragons in its own little fantasy world, then a wyvern can still be referred to as a dragon.

    The subspecies idea seems to hold up, as I’ve never seen a film or read a book where a four-legged dragon is referred to as a wyvern, but I’ve seen enough films and books of wyverns referred to as dragons to feel that the words “dragon” and “wyvern” are interchangeable only when applied to the two-legged variety.

  32. Good article – it appears you were right about the more Wyvern like approach to Smaug’s design… I understand why it would have been easier to have a four limbed dragon than a six limbed one, but I still find it disappointing. Weta could easily have had the time to animate the dragon Tolkien drew if they didn’t bother with the 20 minutes of pointless chase scenes at the finale of the film.
    I’m hoping that this will be explained in full in the extended edition of DOS!

  33. maybe it’s because the prologue is supposed to be like one of the dwarves telling the story of what happened and describing smaug with four legs(over years and years of the story being told, it could have been told wrong or changed) but in reality he really didn’t have the two front legs.

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