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Why was Smaug slain with an arrow not a sword?

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message 1: by Karl (new) - added it

Karl Tradionally dragons have their heads lopped off? Whats with the arrow? Is it a sign of the dawn of a less heroic age?


Micaela It's kinda hard to get close to an angered dragon so that you can hit him with a sword and also I bet that J.R.R.Tolkien wanted to change it up a bit.


Will IV The "dawn of a less heroic age?" The events following are the trilogy, where the one ring of power is destroyed by two hobbits (with help) in the fires of Mount Doom, thereby releasing Middle-Earth from the evil power of Sauron! Less heroic?


message 4: by Sara (last edited Dec 18, 2011 11:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara The "less heroic age" reference is certainly apt, since Tolkien talks about the end of the time of the elves and the era of magic and a transition into the era of man.

But also remember that Smaug was invulnerable to blades on all but one small spot, so an arrow was a logical method of destruction for the dragon.


Cecile I don't think the arrow is the sign of a less heroic age coming, even though I agree it is coming as Sara pointed out. I see that more as the times of cunning heroes winning over brute force.

Anyway, Smaug wasn't stupid, he would never have fought from the ground, when he's certainly more at ease in the air. The dragons of legends that were slain on the ground by armoured knights were probably dump or asleep.


Teresa Edgerton Outside the Nordic/Germanic tradition, dragons were usually slain with a lance or a spear anyway, not a sword. The dragons look pretty earthbound, and St. George or whoever it might be is riding on a horse.

The arrow seems more heroic to me, because it gives Bard so little advantage over Smaug


message 7: by Starr (new)

Starr I thought it had more to do with where Smaug was vulnerable having scales that could resist any weapon except for one small spot. And who wants to get that close to a dragon?


Gwynhwyfar Tolkien did draw on Nordic and Germanic traditions but not for all the people of Middle Earth--mainly the Rohirrim. I don't know which tradition (he knew many) he used for the people of Laketown, but no matter. Since Smaug could breathe fire (unlike the Fell beast that Eowyn kills in RotK), he had to slain from a distance. And there was the armor of jewels thing, with his weak spot. He had to be airborne to get at it!


message 9: by Liv (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liv Plus, if you are going according to real mythology, the "worms" (a version of dragons) did have a single soft spot on their underbellies that would be quite difficult to reach with a sword unless you somehow managed to get it to sit up and beg for you . . .

However, the point about a "less heroic age" is a quite interesting one. I'm not sure about "less heroic", but perhaps "more advanced" or "more practical" might be better terms. Of course it would be more "heroic" to lop a dragons head off, but isn't it both more advanced mentally and just downright practical to wait until it's a safe distance away from you and then shoot it with an arrow? A transition from the dark ages to the age of enlightenment might be seen here, and not necessarily as a bad thing.


Melissa It seemed to me that Bard's arrow was a sufficiently heroic weapon given three factors: Bard's descent from ancient kings (commonly accepted heroic attribute), the difficulty of the shot--hitting an extremely small, erratically moving target at a significant distance--and the relative skill required by the weapon. Fighting a dragon with a sword, assuming you could get in under the ring-melting fire to the soft spot under the arm, is more a question of bashing with a heavy sword--no special skill required--whereas the bow demanded a very high degree of skill.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

Ahem. After you approach a vicious dragon with a sword and get close enough to kill it without becoming human bacon, you can ask this question. ;)


message 12: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Maxy wrote: "Ahem. After you approach a vicious dragon with a sword and get close enough to kill it without becoming human bacon, you can ask this question. ;)"

Oh yeah, did that last weekend. Piece of cake.

This weekend, I'm looking to conquer Cerberus. Any dead relatives you want me to say hi to while I'm there? ;)


message 13: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 27, 2012 09:29PM) (new)

Haha. XD

To add to my previous reasoning, dragon scales are supposed to be just about impenetrable, so Bard couldn't "lop off" his head. The idea is that Smaug has a single chink in his armor that Bard hits with an arrow.


Anastasia  Nichole Hurin wrote: "How can you slay a dragon with a sword if it's in the air?
Damn, what a question."


I agree completely. Otherwise ol' Smaug wouldn't be dead....


Sosen My question is: why didn't Bilbo kill the dragon? It really seemed like the entire book was building up to that!


message 16: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz Bilbo was never supposed to be that type of hero. He's a burglar and his job is to sneak in quietly and steal things. The dwarves brought Bilbo along because they never really intended to face Smaug head-on in a fight. They wanted to find the secret door and take away the things they wanted, possibly kill Smaug while he was sleeping.

As for the comment about a 'less heroic age,' I don't think Tolkien was trying to say that the Age of Men that is beginning is any less heroic than the Age of Elves. It is a very different age, perhaps less magical, but not less heroic.


message 17: by Richard (last edited Jan 29, 2012 06:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Richard Grenvile Pardon the philology, but Tolkien was one. A philologist that is.

In Mezopotemian literature dragons and lions (plains dragons) are often the hero's quest to prove his divinity. Ironically bows are referred to as serpents (dragons) using the term shibbu. In one passage, one of the Lords of Heaven threatens to kill a dragon using his serpent (bow) of floods.

Give that Tolkien's middle earth is a rough analog to the Eurasion Steppes and Saruman's kingdom is the middle east, it's fitting that Smaug the serpent is killed with a serpent and dies from a flooding wound.

Besides, an arrow fits into a chink in his scales better than a broadsword. :PPPPP


message 18: by Liv (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liv o.O Richard, wow. That's awesome!!


Mikaela no one would be able to get close enough to smaug to kill him with a sword, besides smaug was flying, so really the logical way to kill him is with an arrow


Mikaela Liv wrote: "o.O Richard, wow. That's awesome!!"

i can't tell if your being sarcastic or not?


Richard Grenvile i can't tell if your being sarcastic or not?"

Obviously you are underwhelmed by my observation. :)

I was being cheesey, but my underlying point is that unless you look into the mythological purpose to Tolkien's choices, you risk over thinking the issue. ;)

Bilbo as a hero, is a thief, not a robber or warrior. Mythic thieves don't win in pitched battle with a sword. It's the cunning and sneakiness that makes Bilbo a hero. First he tricks the riders, then the trolls, then Gollum. Each time it's his sneakiness and thieving being refined leading to his triumph theft from under the dragon's nose.


message 22: by Richard (last edited Jan 31, 2012 08:28AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Richard Grenvile I like the choice of Bard killing Smaug, because it adds to the subplot of magic going out of the world by the rise of man. If one of the magical creatures had done it that point would have been muddied. And naturally Bard the bowman needs to use a bow.


Mikaela Richard wrote: "i can't tell if your being sarcastic or not?"

Obviously you are underwhelmed by my observation. :)

I was being cheesey, but my underlying point is that unless you look into the mythological purpo..."


i still can't tell?


message 24: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara Richard wrote: "I like the choice of Bard killing Smaug, because it adds to the subplot of magic going out of the world by the rise of man. If one of the magical creatures had done it that point would have been mu..."

I wonder if it's significant that the character's name is "Bard." The magic and hope of the future lies in story (the bard's profession--story in song), perhaps? Just because there's change in the world doesn't mean that beauty has to die.


Melissa I think this might be the most erudite discussion on the entire Goodreads site. Trust JRRT to elicit this level of dialogue.

(perfectly serious; not satirical--just in case anyone wasn't sure).


message 26: by J.M. (new) - rated it 5 stars

J.M. Ney-Grimm Sara wrote: "I wonder if it's significant that the character's name is "Bard." The magic and hope of the future lies in story (the bard's profession--story in song), perhaps? Just because there's change in the world doesn't mean that beauty has to die."

Brilliant! Sara, thank you for sharing that thought.


message 27: by Sara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara J.M. wrote: "Brilliant! Sara, thank you for sharing that thought."

Brilliance. Just one of the many services we offer here. ;)

You're welcome. It's nice to see a discussion that actually encourages thought rather than the average "OMG Edward is soooo hawwwwwt" that has a proclivity to revolve around...you know...certain books.


message 28: by J.M. (new) - rated it 5 stars

J.M. Ney-Grimm In truth I have not read the Twilight series.

What do you think of Tolkien's contention that he could not publish the tales from The Silmarillion because there were no "Hobbits" to mediate between the reader and the more emotionally inaccessible legendary material?

I did find The Silmarillion, when made available by his son, to be interesting (very much so), but less gripping.

(Or . . . should I be starting a new thread for this question? I'm new here at GoodReads. Forgive me, if I'm making a faux pas!)


message 29: by Sara (last edited Feb 02, 2012 07:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sara J.M. wrote: " In truth I have not read the Twilight series.

What do you think of Tolkien's contention that he could not publish the tales from The Silmarillion because there were no "Hobbits" to mediate betwee..."


I would suggest that your question is probably worthy of its own thread. It's certainly true that further questions will almost always come up in the course of a discussion, but I think it might be worthwhile to try to get new people in on discussion of the question you've posed here by making it the star of its own thread.

I don't know that it's a faux pas, exactly, but it's more of a question of what would serve the idea best, and giving it its own opportunity to form a new thread would probably do it more justice.


message 30: by J.M. (new) - rated it 5 stars

J.M. Ney-Grimm Thanks for the pointer. I've started a discussion thread under The Silmarillion.


Vimes Because dwarves use axes anyway. Though I bet thats already been pointed out.


2 Mathurin S Cole wrote: "He took an arrow in the knee...ha I had too...yes i know it's old but I picked up Skyrim and started playing again!" YEAH SKYRIM!


2 Mathurin S i made gandolf in skyrim took hours


message 34: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 14, 2012 05:03PM) (new)

I admit, I was a little disappointed that Smaug was not dispatched in a more dramatic way. When I first read the book, anyway. But now I realize that old fashioned dragon slaying takes too much stuff to fit in the end of The Hobbit.

Tolkien would have had to added:

1.) an heirloom sword for Bard,
2.) a clever, valiant steed for Bard,
3.) a suit of armor for Bard,
4.) a battle cry for Bard,
5.) an epic, huge scale, three day battle in which Bard killed the dragon.

Altogether, too much Bard, who is not a main character anyway. Having Bard come into the narrative fairly late and wage a tremendous battle with Smaug would have taken the focus off Bilbo and the dwarves, causing the reader to wonder who the story was intended to be about after all.


message 35: by John (last edited Nov 15, 2012 01:23PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

John If someone could just lop Smaug's head off, he would have been dead long ago. Only Bilbo's discovery of the vulnerable spot on Smaug's chest allowed him to be killed at all. And then only because the thrush relayed the information down to Laketown.


message 36: by Chris (last edited Nov 16, 2012 04:27AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chris Following on from Richard's mythological comments above, I see no loss of heroism from using 'new' technology as opposed to direct hand-to-hand (or should that be hand-to-claw?) combat. It's not as if using a bow-and-arrow is akin to using a drone to strike your target, is it? (Or is it?)

In any case, since much of Tolkien's inspiration was from northern mythologies (not exclusively, I know, Richard's references to Middle Eastern lore is appropriate) it may be worth noting that the 'new' technology of using such projectiles has been around since at least the Neolithic, using flint arrowheads (described as 'elf-shots' in Scottish tradition when such objects have come to light). Some arrowheads found in Neolithic long barrows in Britain (four or more millennia ago) may even have been unintended for practical use, having some symbolic value.

In any case, claims have recently been made that such technology has been around for over sixty millennia in South Africa. That's mind-boggling.


James Rhodes A lot of great comments here but all missing the point that Smaug is only vulnerable in one spot that is underneath him on the left side. Quite difficult for a right handed swordsman to get to. Tolkein has created a monster that can only be killed by the bravery of an ordinary bowman, a hero of the people. This is a recurring theme in his work, it is not heroes that win wars it is ordinary people and as Gandalf says heroes are hard to come by.


Chris James wrote: "A lot of great comments here but all missing the point that Smaug is only vulnerable in one spot that is underneath him on the left side. Quite difficult for a right handed swordsman to get to..."

If Smaug's vulnerable spot is on his left side, that would theoretically be accessible by a right-handed swordsman. The human heart of course is placed slightly left of centre, but I can't vouch for where it is on a dragon of Smaug's venerability.


2 Mathurin S gotta have skill to hit him in one small spot


Michael If there is a big bad-ass dragon coming to my town I'd take the option of picking it off with arrows, than standing valiantly with my sword. But yeah, Smaug had his weak spot on his underbelly so the arrow, fired by a ordinary man with courage, was the best bet.


Rachel If you think about it, the longbow was the pinnacle of killing technology for centuries.


Roseanne Melissa wrote: "It seemed to me that Bard's arrow was a sufficiently heroic weapon given three factors: Bard's descent from ancient kings (commonly accepted heroic attribute), the difficulty of the shot--hitting a..."

This made me and my hubs laugh out loud!!


message 43: by William (last edited Nov 21, 2012 11:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

William Murakami-brundage I think that Bard isn't a common man - he is of the heritage of kings. In some ways, Bard had to step forth and slay Smaug in order to fulfill the myth of the dragon-slayer. Bilbo wasn't capable, and Gandalf couldn't directly battle Smaug due to his semi-divine status (and mandate of non-intervention).


Garry Hodgson I think it was pretty heroic of bard to stand there exposed as he took aim, whilst an angered seemingly invulnerable fire breathing flying creature of death and destruction flew around blasting his town into ash. In today's terms its facing a tank with a spit ball after being told it will be OK as long as you hit this tiny spot right there.


Jessica Liz wrote: "Bilbo was never supposed to be that type of hero. He's a burglar and his job is to sneak in quietly and steal things. The dwarves brought Bilbo along because they never really intended to face Smau..."

I like your explanation b/c I was also shocked when suddenly when this newly introduced character ended up slaying the dragon and creating new plot turns. I expected Thorin to slay the beast.


message 46: by J. (new) - rated it 5 stars

J. Smith It is quite a twist on the old dragon legends. The littlest and least adventurous of the party, Bilbo, sees the weakness of the dragon. Bilbo is also the one to talk with the dragon while the more heroic dwarves are hiding outside. In the end the arrow is borrowed out of regular myth - Achilles was invincible except for a spot on his ankle that was pierced by a sharp arrow.


message 47: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken Sapp Richard wrote: "i can't tell if your being sarcastic or not?"

Obviously you are underwhelmed by my observation. :)

I was being cheesey, but my underlying point is that unless you look into the mythological purpo..."


Unfortunately, too few people realize the true assets of the heroes in the various mythologies. Strength of arms was incidental, the true mark of a hero was cleverness, wisdom, the ability to see a solution that others could not. How did Heracles clean the stables? He redirected a river through them. The strength which made the feat possible was not the great feat, but rather the cleverness which allowed him to conceive of the idea. Very few heroes showed a lack of wit (I can't think of any at the moment).


Alexandra I find the whole implication that the bow is less "heroic" than the sword quite puzzling. After all, Robin Hood is an ARCHER par excellence, even the old stories make it quite clear that he is also quite handy with a sword.
In English tradition, we have Arthur, the noble hero with his sword, Excalibur, and Robin Hood, the yeoman hero with his longbow.
Tolkien was creating an English myth, in the sense that he drew on English themes (even if he had abandoned his original conception of writing a creation myth for the English people).
So we have Aragorn as the analogue of Arthur, and Bard as the analogue of Robin.


message 49: by Chris (last edited Nov 30, 2012 06:47AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chris Alexandra wrote: "I find the whole implication that the bow is less "heroic" than the sword quite puzzling. After all, Robin Hood is an ARCHER par excellence, even the old stories make it quite clear that he is also..."

Don't forget, too, the legend of the Norse god Baldr, killed either by a spear or, in a later version, by an arrow made of mistletoe (at the instigation of Loki). Hunters wielding bows and arrows were depicted in Scandinavian rock art from the Bronze Age onwards, and even earlier the mummified remains of Ötzi the Iceman, found in 20th century along with evidence that he hunted with a yew bow (he had 14 arrows in his quiver), date from 3,300 BC, over five millennia ago.

So the use of such weapons in Europe has a long history of which Tolkien would have been well aware.


Bruce Deming um i think he was at a distance is why.


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