I’ve always been a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. I read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” for the first time when I was like nine or something. They were the first real series I ever read. I enjoyed Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” considerably, so I had high hopes for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” I saw I the other night with a friend of mine. Overall, we both liked it. We weren’t blown away by it, but we did like it.
For those that don’t know, “The Hobbit” tells the story of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Frodo’s uncle), and the great adventure of his youth when he accompanied the band of thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield on their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon, Smaug. Smaug is, of course, a classic western-style dragon. Big, mean, and nasty. He’s got claws and teeth and breathes fire. He even speaks. Once, years ago, the Lonely Mountain was the seat of a great dwarven kingdom filled with wealth immeasurable. It is this wealth that attracted the dragon, and in one terrible day of fire and death, the dwarves were driven out and Smaug took over management of the mountain. 🙂
Thorin, who is heir to the throne under the mountain, is set on getting his kingdom and his treasure back. So, he sets out with twelve other dwarves and a solitary hobbit “burglar” to help him. Of course, in the beginning adventure, Bilbo has very few skills beyond maybe cooking and is an all-around sorry excuse for a burglar. Oh, there is also the great wizard Gandalf the Grey who kind-of comes-and-goes as he pleases—but he’s there to help the dwarves out here and there.
The company of dwarves plus a hobbit plus a wizard set out from Hobbiton in the Shire. They encounter numerous nifty creatures along their journey. First, there are trolls. Then, there are orcs and wargs (I think this first encounter with orcs and wargs is an addition by Peter Jackson), elves, stone giants, goblins, and a goblin king. Oh, and we can’t forget the legendary Gollum from whom Bilbo acquires the One Ring of Power. Overall, the Hobbit is an excellent modern fairy tale.
Like in “The Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson does do a remarkably good adaption of “The Hobbit.” Still, I have a few complaints. One, I did not like Radagast the Brown very much. He came across as too odd and jerky; his sleigh pulled by over-sized rabbits struck me as simply silly. It might entertain a five year-old, but I would hardly recommend Peter Jackson’s version of “The Hobbit” to the age group. Second, perhaps in some misguided attempt to appeal to the five-year-old age group, there were a couple ironic asides that I could have done without. Still, overall the movie was good. I liked the Pale Orc and his White Warg—I thought they were clever touches. I liked the scenes from Dol Guldur with the Necromancer and his minions even though Radagast was annoying. I’m still withholding judgment on the dragon. We get a few glimpses of him—not in his entirety, but a snatch here or there. I’m not quite sure if I like what I’ve seen yet or not.
Anyway, I’ll give the film four stars out of five.
You know, I call this blog “A Toast to Dragons,” but I don’t write about dragons very often. I do, occasionally, but not so much that the title of the blog is obviously justified. I tend to write more about vampires… but that’s largely because I wrote a fantasy book about a vampire (entitled “Drasmyr”—hint hint)So, in the spirit of designing a blog-specific post, I’m going to rant a little bit about what I think constitutes the “standard dragon.”
There are typically two general variations of dragons: the Western style dragon, and the Eastern style (Asian) dragon. In the west, dragons were largely seen as evil creatures. They would capture fair maidens, sit on piles of treasure, and gobble up all the brave knights who came along trying to rescue the fair maiden or retrieve the hoard. Eastern dragons were different. And to be honest, I am not as well-versed in the lore of Eastern dragons as I am in Western. However, I know this much: Eastern dragons were largely regarded as powerful spiritual forces. Almost like quasi-deities. Generally, they weren’t evil, but they did demand a certain degree of respect and it was very unwise to anger a dragon. I also read recently on the web (here, in fact), that dragons are regarded as a strong Yang force. I used to know a little about Eastern philosophy, not a lot, but a little. The yin and yang were the two fundamental forces of the universe: opposites that germinate within each other: light and dark; male and female; etc… These days I kind of get confused between the specifics of yin versus yang, but it is interesting to note the connection with dragons. Anyway, like I said, I am much more familiar with the Western dragon.
Western dragons were universally evil. As this was the root of Christendom, Western dragons were seen as symbolic of Satan. And that’s not a good thing. There’s that whole bit in Revelations where the red dragon in the sky is waiting to devour the baby. You don’t negotiate with a dragon like that; you either kill it or run away. But if you are going to pit yourself against a dragon, you’ve got to be prepared. To that end, it helps to get an idea of what you might be up against.
Dragons are large reptilian-like creatures… I think I would actually hesitate to call them reptiles because they tend to have a number of “special” abilities. Anyway, like I said, they are huge. They give new meaning to the expression “terrible lizard” derived from dinosaurs. I would pit most dragons against a T-rex any day of the week. Of course, some myths have smaller dragons. I’ve seen old paintings of St. George and the dragon where the dragon in question is only slightly larger than a horse. To me, that’s just a drake. A dragon’s got to be the size of a house or it doesn’t count.
For weapons, they have a few. Specifically, they have clawed appendages (generally at least two sets, or four, or even more); they also have mouths ringed with large saber-like teeth (probably T-rex sized, at least); they usually have wings (this allows them to fly—which is a great advantage—and it allows them to smack the heck out of you if get too close); they can breathe fire (or some other breath weapon according to the tradition: going with the old AD&D dragons, they usually had one of the following breath weapons: acid, poison gas, frost, lightning, and fire—I’m sure there were actually more options, but I can’t remember them all); sometimes (again, going with AD&D) they can use magic… like they really need to, right?; some dragons can polymorph into just about whatever they want; sometimes the dragons generate fear—but that could just be an attack of common sense; and last, but not least, Smaug in particular had his voice: he could kind of beguile into divulging stuff you didn’t want to, just by talking to you. I’m sure the list can actually go on and on. I think the rule of thumb: if you see a dragon, run away. I think Smaug is my favorite dragon of all time. He’s just the classic beastie: great pile of treasure, nearly invulnerable (alas, only nearly), and with an appropriately arrogant and self-serving attitude.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on dragons for the day.
In the interest of furthering human understanding on such an important topic, and in an extension of my previous Fantasy Monster Fights, most notably of the Vampire vs. the Werewolf, we must contemplate the result of a fight between a dragon and… well, anything else. Perhaps I display my biases here, but to me, a dragon is the ultimate killing machine. Or at least, it should be. I have always loved dragons. In my early childhood, I was a great fan of dinosaurs, and this naturally evolved into a love of dragons. Dragons rule! Hence, the name of my website: “A Toast to Dragons.”
Anyway, back to the discussion. What makes dragons so formidable? Well, I think good ol’ Smaug from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” said it best: “My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!” Truly, a devastating array of attributes. And if we go further, and draw from the AD&D tradition, dragons are also capable of spell-use. As if they needed it. What could possibly stand before one?
A vampire? I think not. A full blast of flaming breath would reduce one to dusty ash. A werewolf? Him neither. The dragon has the size and strength to rip him apart with ease. A zombie? Heck, I’ll give you fifty zombies; nay, a hundred, and I’ll still vote with the dragon. Oh, I forgot to mention that dragons can fly. So, it could be a thousand zombies, and as long as they were land-bound (which zombies generally are), they wouldn’t stand a chance. The dragon would just fly above them, and breathe fire, incinerating them in large swathes until all were gone. To be honest, the only creatures that I think would give a dragon trouble, or might actually beat a dragon, would be a demon. Like… like… Lubrochius, the Eater of Souls (hah! I had to get a plug in for my book somewhere! J ) And if you are pitting them against demons, you could just as easily pit them against an angel or a god. But that’s really stretching the monster resource bag. I mean, really? Must we reach into the afterlife to find a sufficiently powerful foe to contend with?
No, dragons are the apex predators. They are just too big, too strong, too well-protected, and too-capable with their breath and spells. Oh, again with the AD&D tradition, there’s also things like generating fear and such. But that doesn’t seem to be so much a magical ability, as it is the preponderance of common sense that overtakes a victim once he sees a dragon. It’s a dragon! Run for your lives!
And so, the dragon is and always shall be the undisputed ruler of all fantasy worlds. In my humble opinion, that is.