Museoteca - Conversation with Smaug, J.R.R. Tolkien
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Work information

Title: Conversation with Smaug
Artist: J.R.R. Tolkien


After many desperate adventures Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves finally reach the Lonely Mountain, the former stronghold of the Dwarves and are faced by their greatest foe yet, the winged and fire-breathing dragon, Smaug. Described in the very first chapter of The Hobbit as 'a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm' (a description borne out by the skeletal remains of the previous inhabitants littering his lair), Smaug is shown lying on top of his stolen treasure hoard.

A large terracotta jar filled with gold, stands in the foreground: it is so large that the hobbit would need to use a ladder to reach the treasure inside. Its outer surface is incised with a mysterious script which no reader could decipher. This was in fact the first public appearance of Tolkien's invented Elvish script, Tengwar. Tolkien had been creating Elvish languages and legends for over twenty years but none had been published prior to The Hobbit. Appendices in The Lord of the Rings, which was published eighteen years later, provided the necessary tools to translate the script which was a curse on thieves.

Tolkien invented the name Smaug, deriving it from 'the past tense of the primitive Germanic verb Smugan, to squeeze through a hole'. The term Hobbit, on the other hand, was a pure invention written down with no prior conscious thought. Tolkien wrote the opening line, 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit', as he marked a student's exam paper, later declaring, 'I did not and do not know why'. MS. Tolkien Drawings 30. Reproduced with kind permission of The Tolkien Estate Limited for the Bodleian Libraries exhibition Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth.

© The Tolkien Estate Limited 1937.

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