Saturday, February 9, 2013

Concerning the Origin of Dragons



            Of all the mysteries that Tolkien left for us to solve, the origin of Dragons ranks somewhere in the middle.  While more wars have been waged over the nature of such characters as Tom Bombadil and Ungoliant, fewer debates are sparked over the shoe-size of Hobbits (that is, if they wore shoes).  The origin-of-Dragons debate is closer in popularity to the debates of how many Balrogs existed, how Orcs breed, and why the Eagles did not simply carry Frodo and the Ring to Mount Doom.
            In this paper, I will briefly outline the cosmogony of the world created by Tolkien, especially concerning the taxis of created spiritual beings; then I will discuss the raiment of these spiritual beings shortly.  Then I will explain the metaphysics of evil in Middle-Earth.  Next, I will categorize the corruptions and perversions of the evil spirit, Melkor.  Finally, I will classify the various theories of Dragon ontology, analyze them, and eliminate all but the best theory.  I intend to prove that Dragons, though not Maiar themselves, originated from the union of Maia and beast. [1]

Cosmogony and Spiritual Hierarchy
            Tolkien created a self-contained mythical world.  This world has a genesis and an eschaton.  It has an efficient cause and a teleological cause.  It has natural and supernatural laws which all the inhabitants must follow according to their stations.  While there are mysteries in this world, there are no contradictions [I do realize there are some contradictions in his writings, but we cannot proceed to make arguments unless we assume the world Tolkien intended was indeed a consistent one], and everything is explainable in terms of the world he created [I do not mean that we can so easily explain his mysteries, but rather, that we cannot use other worlds, say Lewis' Narnia, to explain aspects of Tolkien's world].  The origin of Dragons is one of these mysteries.  Tolkien has never explicitly explained the nature of his Dragons; but because all things must be explained in terms of the world he created, and because this world follows the inviolable laws of logic, a satisfying theory of Dragon ontology is indeed possible.  Therefore, in order to do this, we must start at the beginning:     
“In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Iluvatar[2], made the Ainur of his thought; and they made a great Music before him.  In this Music the World was begun; for Iluvatar made visible the song of the Ainur, and they beheld it as a light in the darkness.  And many among them became enamoured of its beauty, and of its history which they saw beginning and unfolding as in a vision.  Therefore Iluvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Ea.
    Then of the Ainur who desired it arose and entered into the World at the beginning of Time; and it was their task to achieve it, and by their labours to fulfil the vision which they had seen.  Long they laboured in the regions of Ea, which are vast beyond the thought of Elves and Men, until in the time appointed was made Arda, the Kingdom of Earth.  Then they put on the raiment of Earth and descended into it, and dwelt therein.” (Silmarillion, 17)
The Great among these spirits the Elves name the Valar, the Powers of Arda, and Men have often called them gods.  The Lords of the Valar are seven; and the Valier, the Queens of the Valar, are seven also. (Silmarillion, 18)
            The names of the Valar are not important for this topic, except for one whose name is Melkor, the primeval Adversary of Tolkien’s world.  But “Melkor is counted no longer among the Valar, and his name is not spoken upon Earth.” (Silmarillion, 18)
With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar but of less degree.  These are the Maiar, the people of the Valar, and their servants and helpers. (Silmarillion, 23)

Ainur and the Raiment of Earth
            The Ainur, who are naturally ethereal and spiritual, were able to clothe themselves, as it were, with material bodies:
Now the Valar took to themselves shape and hue; and because they were drawn into the World by love of the Children of Iluvatar, for whom they hoped, they took shape after that manner which they had beheld in the Vision of Iluvatar, save only in majesty and splendour.  Moreover their shape comes of their knowledge of the visible World, rather than of the World itself; and they need it not, save only as we use raiment, and yet we may be naked and suffer no loss of our being. . . . But the shapes wherein the Great Ones array themselves are not at all times to the shapes of the kings and queens of the Children of Iluvatar; for at times they may clothe themselves in their own thought, made visible in forms of majesty and dread. (Silmarillion, 11-2)
As this text shows, the Valar (and presumably the Maiar) often incarnated themselves in the forms of majestic and splendid humanoids; but if they so chose, they might put on forms even more majestic or dreadful.

Melkor and the Metaphysics of Evil[3]
            In order to understand Dragons, we must understand the one who devised them.  It was Melkor, the malevolent Ainur who produced the race of Dragons.  We cannot list every evil deed that Melkor did for that would take up too much space.  Instead, we will look at the big picture.  Tolkien writes:
To gain dominion over Arda, Morgoth had let most of his being pass into the physical constituents of the Earth—hence all things that were born on Earth and lived on and by it, beasts or plants or incarnate spirits, were liable to be ‘stained’. (Morgoth’s Ring, 394-5)
He explains:
Melkor ‘incarnated’ himself (as Morgoth) permanently.  He did this so as to control the hroa, the ‘flesh’ or physical matter, of Arda.  He attempted to identify himself with it.  A vaster, and more perilous, procedure, though of similar sort to the operations of Sauron with the Rings.  Thus, outside the Blessed Realm, all ‘matter’ was likely to have a ‘Melkor ingredient’, and those who had bodies, nourished by the hroa of Arda, had as it were a tendency, small or great, towards Melkor: they were none of them wholly free of him in their incarnate form, and their bodies had an effect upon their spirits.
    But in this way Morgoth lost (or exchanged, or transmuted) the greater part of his original ‘angelic’ powers, of mind and spirit, while gaining a terrible grip upon the physical world. . . . Sauron’s, relatively smaller, power was concentrated; Morgoth’s vast power was disseminated.  The whole of Middle-earth was Morgoth’s Ring . . . . (Morgoth’s Ring, 399-400)
            All evil has its source in Melkor.  It must be noted, however, that despite all of the evil disseminated from his own being into the matter of Arda, Melkor could neither create life ex nihilo nor create spirits with independent wills; he could only corrupt and pervert that which already was:
Then Iluvatar said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together the Great Music.  And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thought and devices, if he will. (Silmarillion, 3)
To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren.  He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Iluvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness.  Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Iluvatar.  But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren.  (Silmarillion, 4)        
The Flame Imperishable was the power of life, and although Melkor sought it even before the creation of the world, he could never attain it.  Therefore, he made only mockeries of existing things, as is also demonstrated in the following passage:
Melkor was jealous of him, for Aule [one of the Valar] was most like himself in thought and in powers . . . .  Both, also, desired to make things of their own that should be new and unthought of by others, and delighted in the praise of their skill.  But Aule remained faithful to Eru [Iluvatar] and submitted all that he did to his will; and he did not envy the work of others, but sought and gave counsel.  Whereas Melkor spent his spirit in envy and hate, until at last he could make nothing save in mockery of the thought of others, and all their works he destroyed if he could. (Silmarillion, 20) 
This passage indicates that Melkor’s unfaithfulness to Iluvatar was the cause of his inability to create.  The nature of evil, it seems, is not to give life but to ruin, corrupt, mock, pervert, and annihilate that which is.

The Corruptions and Mockeries of Melkor
            Having discussed the relationship between Melkor and evil, I will now list and discuss his corruptions, perversion, and mockeries.

            The first to be corrupted by Melkor were lesser Ainur, the Maiar:
And Melkor knew of all that was done, and even then he had secret friends and spies among the Maiar whom he had converted to his cause; and far off in the darkness he was filled with hatred, being jealous of the work of his peers, whom he desired to make subject to himself.  Therefore he gathered to himself spirits out of the halls of Ea that he had perverted to his service, and he deemed himself strong. (Silmarillion, 30)

For of the Maiar many were drawn to his splendour in the days of his greatness, and remained in that allegiance down into his darkness; and others he corrupted afterwards to his service with lies and treacherous gifts. (Silmarillion, 26)

            Some of the most powerful of the corrupted Maiar became Balrogs, fearsome fiends of flame, wrapped in shroud and darkness.  “Dreadful among these spirits [Maiar] were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.” (Silmarillion, 26)  Tolkien elaborates:
But in the north, Melkor built his strength, and he slept not, but watched, and laboured; and the evil things that he had perverted walked abroad, and the dark and slumbering woods were haunted by monsters and shapes of dread.  And in Utumno he gathered his demons about him, those spirits who first adhered to him in the days of his splendour, and became most like him in his corruption: their hearts were of fire, but they were cloaked in darkness, and terror went before them; they had whips of flame.  Balrogs they were named in Middle-earth in later days.  And in that dark time Melkor bred many other monsters of divers shapes and kinds that long troubled the world; and his realm spread now ever southward over Middle-earth. (Silmarillion, 46-7)

            Ungoliant, a creature perhaps as mysterious as Tom Bombadil, was the spirit of darkness in the form of a spider that Melkor corrupted long before the awakening of the Elves.
The Eldar knew not whence she came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Manwe, and that in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service. (Silmarillion, 80)

Wolves and Werewolves
            It is likely that some of Melkor’s Maiar clothed themselves in the form of great wolves or werewolves.  Tolkien writes, “Wolves there were, or creatures that walked in wolf-shapes, and other fell beings of shadow . . . (Silmarillion, 106)

            The Maia most like Melkor in power and deviousness was Sauron, the creator of the rings of power:
Among those of his [Melkor’s] servants that have names the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel.  In his beginning he was of the Maiar of Aule, and he remained mighty in the lore of that people. (Silmarillion, 26)
Sauron was known to shift his shape often.  In his battle with Huan, the legendary wolf-hound, Sauron changes his form multiple times:
But no wizardry nor spell, neither fang nor venom, nor devil’s art nor beast-strength, could overthrow Huan of Valinot; and he took his foe by the throat and pinned him down.  Then Sauron shifted shape, from wolf to serpent, and from monster to his own accustomed form; but he could not elude the grip of Huan without forsaking his body entirely.  Ere his foul spirit left its dark house, Luthien came to him, and said that he should be stripped of his raiment of flesh, and his ghost be sent quaking back to Morgoth; and she said: ‘There everlastingly thy naked self shall endure the torment of his scorn, pierced by his eyes, unless thou yield to me the mastery of thy tower.’ (Silmarillion, 212)
And later:
Sauron was indeed caught in the wreck of Numenor, so that the bodily form in which he long had walked perished; but he fled back to Middle-earth, a spirit of hatred borne upon a dark wind.  He was unable ever again to assume a form that seemed fair to men, but became black and hideous, and his power thereafter was through terror alone.” (Return of the King, Appendix A, 1013)

Orcs and Trolls
            Corrupted Maiar were not the only subjects of Melkor.  His armies were comprised of his mockeries of Elves and Ents: 
But of those unhappy ones who were ensnared by Melkor little is known of a certainty. . . .  Yet this is held true by the wise of Eressea, that all those of the Quendi [a family of Elves] who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus did Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest of foes.  For the Orcs had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Iluvatar; and naught that had life of its own, could ever Melkor make since his rebellion in the Ainulindale before the beginning: so say the wise. (Silmarillion, 50)

But Trolls are only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves.” (-Treebeard in Two Towers, 474)

            Melkor also transformed beasts into monsters:
Green things fell sick and rotted, and rivers were choked with weeds and slime, and fens were made, rank and poisonous, the breeding place of flies; and forests grew dark and perilous, the haunts of fear; and beasts became monsters of horn and ivory and dyed the earth with blood. (Silmarillion, 31, describing the blight that flowed from Utumno)

            Finally, though this list is not exhaustive of the evil things Melkor introduced into the world, he brought forth Dragons:
Then the Valar forsook for a time the Men of Middle-earth who had refused their summons and had taken the friends of Morgoth to be their masters; and Men dwelt in darkness and were troubled my many evil things that Morgoth had devised in the days of his dominion: demons, and dragons, and misshapen beasts, and unclean Orcs that are mockeries of the Children of Iluvatar. (Silmarillion, 320)[4]

            From this investigation of Melkor and his corruptions and mockeries, we can note a few important points.  First, Ainur, both Valar and Maiar, were able to materialize or incarnate themselves in various forms.  Second, all evil has its source in Melkor.  Third, Melkor could not create life.  Fourth, Melkor’s Maiar often appeared as beasts or monsters.  Fifth, Melkor’s allies and thralls were not all Maiar; they also included mockeries of existing creatures.  Sixth, the race or species known as Dragons was devised by Melkor.

Models of Dragon Ontology
            The preceding data demonstrate that Dragons were terrible creatures that Melkor produced.  As was his custom, Tolkien left to speculation the manner in which Melkor produced these creatures.  Numerous models of Dragon origin and ontology have emerged over the years, but by careful reading of the texts and simple reasoning, one can determine the most probable and satisfying explanation.  Dragon ontologies can be divided into two broad categories: monster and demon.  The former stresses the corporeal qualities, and the latter emphasizes the spiritual qualities. 

Monster Ontologies
            “Smaug lay, with wings folded like an immeasurable bat . . . .” (The Hobbit, 194)

            Dragons as Simple Beasts
            The theory that Dragons are simply animals, perhaps physically enhanced by Morgoth, is insufficient given their intelligence and powers.  Dragons understand many tongues, and they are known for speaking in riddles.  Dragons are very intelligent, able to lead armies into battle.  Dragons are able to petrify and hypnotize with but a glance of their eyes.  Dragons cast spells and curses.  Some Dragons breathe fire.  These properties and powers are not characteristic of simple beasts.  Even the noblest beasts in Tolkien’s writings (e. g. Gwaihir, Huan, Shadowfax) could not compare with the sophistication and abilities of Dragons.  

            Dragons as Corrupted Eagles
            Among all of the animals of Middle-earth, the great Eagles of Manwe are the most noble and intelligent.[5]  The theory that Dragons are corrupted Eagles, however, is far-fetched.  First, Dragons are reptilian whereas Eagles are avian, so the transformation would be quite extreme.  Second, the first Dragons did not even have wings, but rather, they crawled like lizards or slithered like snakes.  Third, Melkor’s mockeries tend to decrease in power, stature, and intelligence (e. g. Elves to Orcs and Ents to Trolls), but Dragons are superior to Eagles in power, size, and intelligence.  Fourth, there is no accounting for the fire power or the spell casting of Dragons on this theory.  More likely counterparts to Eagles are the fellbeasts of the Nazgul, being more comparable in power, size, and intelligence and both being airborne steeds, though that theory cannot be fully explored here.  

Demon Ontologies
            Dragons are indeed physically powerful, but they are more than mere animals.  Rather, they are spirits in the form of reptilian monsters.  This is clear on just a cursory reading of Tolkien.  “Then suddenly he [Glaurung] spoke by the evil spirit that was in him, saying: ‘Hail, son of Hurin.  Well met!’” (Children of Hurin, 178)  Turin says of Glaurung:
For I do not believe that this Dragon is unconquerable, though he grows greater in strength and malice with the years.  I know somewhat of him.  His power is rather in the evil spirit that dwells within him than in the might of his body, great though that be. (Unfinished Tales, 128)

            Dragons as Created Spirits
            The theory that Dragons are monsters ensouled by spirits created by Melkor is untenable.  Recall that Melkor could not create life, only mock, corrupt, and pervert life.  He sought the Imperishable Flame but it eluded him.   “He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own . . . Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Iluvatar,” (Silmarillion,  4)  “. . . naught that had life of its own, could ever Melkor make since his rebellion . . .” (Silmarillion, 50).  “. . . he could make nothing save in mockery of the thought of others . . .” (Silmarillion, 20).  Melkor could not have created spirits to dwell within the bodies of Dragons.

            Dragons as Sparks of the Spirit of Melkor
            The theory that Dragons are sparks of the spirit of Melkor has merit.  On this theory, Melkor bred monstrous reptiles and poured a portion of his own spirit into them, giving them semi-independent wills and consciousnesses.  This theory is analogous to Sauron and the One Ring.  He poured his spirit and power into the Ring to the point that the Ring had a “will of its own,” always seeking to return to its master.  Melkor’s Ring was Middle-earth itself, and so Dragons could be real “parts” of Melkor.  A key text for this theory is found in The Children of Hurin: “And there right before her was the great head of Glaurung, who had even then crept up from the other side; and before she was aware her eyes had looked in the fell spirit of his eyes, and they were terrible, being filled with the fell spirit of Morgoth, his master,” (208).  It would appear from this text that Melkor’s and Glaurung’s spirits are intimately intertwined. 
            This theory can also be compared to the creation of Carcharoth, the most powerful werewolf:
Then Morgoth recalled the doom of Huan, and he chose one from among the whelps of the race of Draugluin; and he fed him with his own hand upon living flesh, and put his power upon him.  Swiftly the wolf grew, until he could creep into no den, but lay huge and hungry before the feet of Morgoth.  There the fire and anguish of hell entered into him, and he became filled with a devouring spirit, tormented, terrible, and strong.  Carcharoth, the Red Maw, he is named in the tales of those days, and Anfauglir, the Jaws of Thirst.  And Morgoth set him to lie unsleeping before the doors of Angband, lest Huan come. (Silmarillion, 218)
Here, Melkor took an existing beast and filled him with his own power so that it exceeded the natural powers of its kind. 
            Even Melkor’s relation to Orcs could be used to support this theory.  “Now the Orcs that multiplied in the darkness of the earth grew strong and fell, and their dark lord filled them with a lust of ruin and death.” (Silmarillion, 109)
            Despite the appeal of this theory of Dragon ontology, it does not adequately explain all of the textual data.  Concerning Orcs, it is clear that they are not sparks of Melkor, but rather, they are independent-spirited creatures driven by the will of their master.  First, Orcs are derived from Elves whence their spirits come.  Second, when Sauron was defeated, the Orcs did not lose their spirits but were released from his control.[6]  They were enthralled by a powerful will:
As when death smites the swollen brooding thing that inhabits their crawling hill and holds them all in sway, ants will wander witless and purposeless and then feebly die, so the creatures of Sauron, orc or troll or beast enslaved, ran hither and thither mindless; and some slew themselves, or cast themselves in pits, or fled wailing back to hide in holes and dark lightless places far from hope. (Return of the King, 928) 
Presumably, Melkor shared a similar relation to the Orcs as Sauron did.
            Concerning Carcharoth, although the text does say that Melkor’s power was upon him and that he was filled with a spirit, it does not say that he was filled with Melkor’s spirit.  A closer reading of the text clarifies this.  He was filled with a devouring, tormented, terrible, and strong spirit because the fire and anguish of hell entered into him.  Carcharoth was a descendent of the werewolf Draugluin; he was of a demonic race of wolves.  Therefore, he was no beast ensouled by Melkor but a demon-wolf enhanced both in spirit and body by Melkor.  His already-present spirit became filled with anguish and fire at the hand of his master.  He did not become filled with a spirit but he became tormented in spirit.  In support of this is the event in which Luthien confronts Carcharoth: “Lifting up her hand she commanded him to sleep, saying: ‘O woe-begotten spirit, fall now into dark oblivion, and forget for a while the dreadful doom of life.’” (Silmarillion, 218)  This text shows that the werewolf’s spirit was begotten, not created, not imparted. 
            Concerning the text which allegedly unites the spirits of Glaurung and Melkor, a closer reading debunks this theory: “. . . her eyes had looked in the fell spirit of his eyes, and they were terrible, being filled with the fell spirit of Morgoth, his master,” (208).  This does not mean that his spirit was identical with Melkor’s but the very opposite.  The Dragon’s spirit was filled with the spirit of his master just as the Orcs were filled with the hatred, greed, lust, and anguish of their master.  Glaurung was so evil, so dreadful, that he was an image of his master.  Melkor’s evil nature was known through his servant, Glaurung. 

            Dragons as Maiar      
            The theory that Dragons are Maiar avoids many of the problems of the previous theories.  On this theory, Dragons are Maiar, ancient spirits in the form of gigantic, serpentine monsters.  The fact that Maiar have the ability to take on corporeal forms has been established previously.  Melkor’s deadly allies, the Balrogs, were Maiar in the raiment of fire and shroud.  The wizards were Maiar in the form of Men or Elves.[7]
            The problem with this theory is that the Maiar are not a race but an order of angelic (or demonic) beings created before the world began.  They do not procreate one with another.[8]  Their number neither increases nor decreases in the world.  Dragons, however, are known to reproduce.  “And I know where Mirkwood is, and the Withered Heath where the great dragons bred.” (-Thorin in The Hobbit, 19)

            Dragons as Descendents of Maiar and Monsters
            We come now to the theory that Dragons are descendants of the unions between Maiar and monsters.  This theory contends that at some point in time, a Maia, according to the bidding of Melkor, assumed a bodily form genetically compatible with an existing reptile.  Recall that Sauron himself took the form of a serpent: “Then Sauron shifted shape, from wolf to serpent, and from monster to his own accustomed form.” (Silmarillion, 212)[9]  This serpent-Maia mated with the reptile, procreating the first Dragon, Glaurung.  Glaurung then mated either with other reptiles or with other serpent-Maiar in order to reproduce.  Eventually, the Dragons became a self-sustainable race. 
            This theory avoids all of the problems of the former theories, but two possible objections need to be addressed.  First, There is no precedence for a Maia mating with a non-Maia and producing offspring.   This is not true; Melian was a Maia who mated with the Elf King Thingol, and they produced the child Luthien.[10]  Luthien, in turn, bore Dior by the Man Beren; and their line continued throughout the history of Middle-earth including such characters as Elwing, Elrond, Elendil, Isildur, and Aragorn.  Consider also Tolkien’s reflection on the nature of Orcs:   
In any case is it likely or possible that even the least of the Maiar would become Orcs?  Yes: both outside Arda and in it, before the fall of Utumno.  Melkor had corrupted many spirits—some great, as Sauron, or less so, as Balrogs.  The least could have been primitive (and much more powerful and perilous) Orcs; but by practising when embodied procreation they would (cf. Melian) [become] more and more earthbound, unable to return to spirit-state (even demon-form), until released by death (killing), and they would dwindle in force. (-Tolkien, c. 1955, Morgoth’s Ring, 410)
Here we have both a clear and explicit example of a Maia reproducing with a non-Maia, and an explanation of the mechanics and metaphysics of such unions.  
            Second, While it is true that Maiar can reproduce with other races (e. g. Elves and Orcs), they cannot reproduce with beasts.  The examples given in the first objection involved Maiar mating with Elves and Orcs (i. e. corrupted Elves), but there are no examples of Maiar mating with animals.  In fact, Elves are closest in nature to Maiar than any other creatures, and this could explain their ability to cross-breed.  Therefore, the question is Can Maiar reproduce with beasts?  I believe they can.  Although this is nowhere explicit, the werewolves are likely a race produced by the union of Maia and beast.[11]  Consider again Draugluin the father of werewolves and his whelp Carcharoth, both demon wolves, one descended from the other.[12]  A similar thing can be said of Ungoliant and her descendants.  Although I do not believe Ungoliant was a Maia, she was certainly a spirit with the same ability to take on flesh.  A very plausible explanation of her offspring is the union of incarnate spirit and beast. 

            The theory that Dragons are the species begun from the union of Maia and beast is the most satisfying of the many theories discussed in this paper.  It is consistent with the world Tolkien created.  The theory takes advantage of the fact that Maiar, at times, arrayed themselves in forms of dreadful power, even in the forms of beasts and monsters.  It places Melkor as the devisor of the Dragons but not as a creator of life.  And it is fitting for Melkor to have allies and slaves of all kinds, including crossbreeds.  That this theory is most satisfying is not surprising because it is the most impure, unholy theory, involving demons and bestiality; and Dragons are, after all, very evil creatures.  The theory is also reminiscent of the Minotaur from Greek myths and Baal from Canaanite religion, and distantly related to Merlin of Arthurian legend and the Nephilim of Genesis; Tolkien was surely familiar with all of these.
            Finally, if I have accomplished anything in this paper, may it be a greater appreciation of Tolkien’s masterpiece.  And may this appreciation lead to a greater recognition of the truth and beauty which flow from his pen and hint at a greater tale whose themes are woven into the fabric of reality and whose ending is already written but waiting to be read.  



Day, David. A Tolkien Bestiary. London: Chancellor Press, 2001.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Book of Lost Tales I. ed. Christopher Tolkien. New York: Ballantine Books, 1983.

_______. The Hobbit. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

_______. Morgoth’s Ring. ed. Christopher Tolkien. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.

_______. The Return of the King. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

_______. The Silmarillion. ed. Christopher Tolkien. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979.

_______. The Tale of the Children of Hurin. ed. Christopher Tolkien. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007.

_______. The Two Towers. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.

_______. Unfinished Tales. ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980.

                [1]This paper was originally read before a philosophically-trained audience; therefore, I have used philosophical and technical terms that may not be accessible to untrained readers.  I give here some definitions: a cosmogony (or cosmogeny) is an explanation of the origin of the universe and its development.  A taxis is an ordering or arrangement of things into a hierarchical structure.  Raiment is an archaic term often used by Tolkien for clothing or garments.  Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that concerns the fundamental nature of reality.  An ontology is a specific theory of being or existence.

                [2]On account of laziness, I have not included accents on any of Tolkien’s words.

                [3]I do not have room to explore the relationships between evil and freedom or evil and the sovereignty of Iluvatar in Tolkien’s writings, but they are both worthy topics.

            [4]“Many are the dragons that Melko has loosed upon the world and some are more mighty than others.  Now the least mighty—yet were they very great beside the Men of those days—are cold as is the nature of snakes and serpents, and of them a many having wings go with the uttermost noise and speed; but the mightier are hot and very heavy and slow-going, and some belch flame, and fire flickereth beneath their scales, and the lust of greed and cunning evil of these is the greatest of all creatures . . . .” (Book of Lost Tales I, 97)

            [5]Notice that J. R. R. Tolkien did not believe that the Eagles were Maiar, even though they displayed characteristics common to them: “What of talking beasts and birds with reasoning and speech?  These have been rather lightly adopted from less ‘serious’ mythologies, but play a part which cannot now be excised.  They are certainly ‘exceptions’ and not much used, but sufficiently to show they are a recognized feature of the world.  All other creatures accept them as natural if not common.
                But true ‘rational’ creatures, ‘speaking peoples’, are all of human/’humanoid’ form.  Only the Valar and Maiar are intelligences that can assume forms of Arda at will.  Huan and Sorontar could be Maiar—emissaries of Manwe.  But unfortunately in The Lord of the Rings Gwaehir and Landroval are said to be descendants of Sorontar.” (-Tolkien c. 1955, Morgoth’s Ring, 409-410)
                Nor were the Eagles rationally-spirited beings as Elves, Men, Dwarves, etc: “The same sort of thing may be said of Huan and the Eagles: they were taught language by the Valar, and raised to a higher level—but they still had not fëar.” (Tolkien, Morgoth’s Ring, 411)

                [6] “The Power that drove them on and filled them with hate and fury was wavering, its will was removed from them; and now looking in the eyes of their enemies they saw a deadly light and were afraid,” (Return of the King, 927).

            [7] “We must assume that they [the Istari] were all Maiar, that is persons of the ‘angelic’ order, though not necessarily of the same rank.  The Maiar were ‘spirits’, but capable of self-incarnation, and could take ‘humane’ (especially Elvish) forms.” (Unfinished Tales, 394)

                [8]See footnote 3.

                [9]The notion that Sauron could be the spiritual progenitor of the Dragons is indeed intriguing, but this cannot be proven.

            [10]“Melian was a Maia, of the race of the Valar.  She dwelt in the gardens of Lorien, and among all his people there were none more beautiful than Melian, nor more wise, nor more skilled in songs of enchantment.”  (Silmarillion, 57)

            [11] Cf. “Therefore he took upon himself the form of a werewolf, and made himself the mightiest that had yet walked the world . . . .” (-concerning Sauron, Silmarillion, 211)

            [12]“But suddenly some power, descended from of old from divine race, possessed Luthien, and casting back her foul raiment she stood forth, small before the might of Carcharoth, but radiant and terrible.  Lifting up her hand she commanded him to sleep, saying: ‘O woe-begotten spirit, fall now into dark oblivion, and forget for a while the dreadful doom of life.’” (Silmarillion, 218) 


  1. Thank you for an intriguing post.

  2. Yes, thank you indeed. It did make a most interesting read.

  3. "The nature of evil, it seems, is not to give life but to ruin, corrupt, mock, pervert, and annihilate that which is."

    This makes sense if one considers evil as an absence or lack of good rather than as a thing in itself.

    It seems more satisfying to me that dragons should have their own proper spirits rathan than mere "portions" of Melkor's spirit.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This is incredibly interesting. I shall read it again slower to ponder your ideas as they deserve.

    I wanted to comment however for thanking you for sharing it. I am a philosopher and an enthusiast of Tolkien’s works, emphasising the metaphysical construction of his mythical world. However, when people who discuss Tolkien, hardly ever dare to engage in the metaphysics of his cosmology, which I find to be a deciding aspect and an essential dimension of his work.

    May I inquire where this paper was presented?

  6. "This makes sense if one considers evil as an absence or lack of good rather than as a thing in itself."

    That is the basis of modern catholic theology, based on Platonic ideals. The problem is that both Tolkien and Christianity in general forget the notion behind that idea, and see evil as a thing in and of itself, ruining the truth behind the metaphor. Evil indeed is not an absence, if anything it is the other way around: health is the absence of sickness, peac eis the absence of war.

    Tellingly, this doomed Tolkien, because his notions of evil as a perversion tormented him to the end of his days, trying to figure out the origin of orcs and of dragons.

  7. I believe the original dragons were created with a piece of Morgoth's spirit, and this spirit gave the first dragons incredible power, but I believe the spirit was stretched thin, being divided when the dragons procreated, as the spirit must be passed on.
    This is why Glaurung can kill just by looking at you, while Smaug can not.
    I also believe the spirit gives them the ability to breath fire, so cold-drakes, such as Scatha, can not, because their spirit has been diminished greatly.

  8. A wholly satisfying paper to read. It leaves me feeling very supportive of the author's theory of the origin of dragons. The only alternative theory which still intrigues me would have Melkor/Morgoth himself fathering the race of dragons, rather than a mere Maia. This would account nicely for the overlarge increase in all kinds of power which dragons enjoy when compared to other beasts.

    If you were to compare the relative magnitude (if you will allow the term) of a dragon to that of a Balrog, who is itself a Maia, would they not be roughly the same or even in favor of the dragon? Therefore one or more Maia might not provide the necessary magnitude for dragon-genesis, or how could the offspring of Maia and beasts be as great or greater than a true Maia? I suppose it could be that the degradation of the Maia into Balrog could explain this, or perhaps Balrogs are mightier than dragons. As always, it is up to the reader.

    1. Disclosure: I posted the comment to which I am replying.

      As I study further I read in HoME 1 that Melkor/Morgoth did directly father Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs. While this doesn't necessarily rule out that he may also have sired the first dragons, it makes the theory much less elegant. It also muddies the waters in regards to the formerly clear conception that Balrogs are Maia. I may post again another time once I have furthered my study of Tolkien's Middle Earth.

    2. Keep in mind that Tolkien changed his mind on many subjects regarding his works in Middle Earth over the years and History of Middle Earth in particular contains material from a variety of periods in the development of the mythos. While the subject of what is "true" in Middle Earth is quite complicated, suffice to say the concept of the Maia being children of the Valar is one that was eventually abandoned.