I’m back! I’ve survived the last month, which has been grueling at work, which has as consequence cut into the time I could spend on WP. I am still trying to get back on track, but I have managed to write some longer pieces for my friends over at The Grey Havens Group (http://greyhavensgroup.com/). This first series continues my discussion of the Book of Lost Tales, Part II. Enjoy!
* * * * *
The power and influence of dragons throughout mythology and fantasy literature is often termed Dragon Glamour. To understand this draconic characteristic and how its nuances define the nature of evil, the origin and meaning of the word “glamour” must be investigated. The word may be derived in part from the Scottish word “gramarye” which means “magic, enchantment spell” or it may also refer to scholarship and learning as in the word “grammar” (dictionary.com). Only the first meaning remains explicit in the modern definition, while the second shows no apparent relation. As a philologist, it can be assumed Tolkien was aware of the historical development of the word. He uses both of these meanings in his conception of Glaurung, the Father of Dragons. Glaurung’s primary power beyond his breath and strength lies in his “great cunning and wisdom” as well as the hypnotic quality of his gaze (TBoLT II 86). In this, the two seemingly unrelated origins of the word and its modern meanings, with regards to fascination and charm, are fused into a singular power. In using the word glamour, the inherent weakness of evil is also expressed as glamour may mean allure and elegant look, only skin deep.
The dual nature of this conception of glamour mirrors the somewhat paradoxical nature of evil as reflected in the dragons of Middle Earth. Particularly in their earliest form found in The Book of Lost Tales, dragons are a study in the Manichean and Boethian conceptions of evil. The basic premise of Manichaeism is that “Good and Evil are equal and opposite and the universe is a battlefield” (Shippey 141). Evil is a tangible force, capable of creation and action of its own volition. At the other extreme, Boethius claimed “’evil is nothing’, is the absence of good, is possibly even an unappreciated good” (Shippey 140). According to this conception, evil is no more than the absence of good, just as darkness is just the absence of light.
Tolkien’s depiction of evil often walks a fine line between these two philosophies, though more often favoring the latter. Frodo himself states “’the Shadow…can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own” (LotR 893). Ilúvatar, following the Music of the Ainur, declares that “no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in [him]” and ultimately leads to “the devising of things more wonderful” (Silmarillion 17). The creation of the dragons, however, is unclear. They appear to inhabit a grey area somewhere between.
In the Tale of the Fall of Gondolin, Tolkien describes the creation of a great dragon host by Melko. Unlike Glaurung, Ancalagon or Smaug, they are described like machinery “of iron and flame,” “dragons of fire and…serpents of bronze and iron” (TBoLT II 171 & 177). Being made, it would seem contrary to the Boethian conception of Evil, for evil cannot create. Yet observing these “dragons” of the Fall, they appear to be mindless machines of war, not living creatures, wholly different from the nature of Glaurung, though he too was made by Melko (TBoLT 86). All other creatures of evil in Middle Earth are corruptions of Good: Balrogs from Maiar, Orcs from Elves, Trolls from Ents. If evil cannot create new life, what corruption gave birth to the dragons?
Or, are dragons created, and like the Ents of Yavanna and Dwarves of Aulë? Though created by the thought of Aulë and Yavanna, the ents and dwarves gain life through Ilúvatar (Silmarillion 44-6). Devoid of this breath of life, the dwarves are little more than extensions of Aulë’s thought, incapable of free action (Silmarillion 43). Logically, then, Glaurung is an extension of Morgoth’s will, which may be seen in his actions to fulfill the curse of the Children of Húrin.