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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Smaug: Is he red or is he gold?

Grey Havens

Aug 16 2013, 4:04pm

Post #1 of 15 (428 views)
Smaug: Is he red or is he gold? Can't Post

In one of Tolkien's illustrations, Smaug appears to be red with just a hint of gold, but in two other watercolors, he is completely gold.


Aug 16 2013, 4:07pm

Post #2 of 15 (285 views)
Maybe his scales are somewhat reflective [In reply to] Can't Post

so if he is raining down firey hell from the sky, he might look kinda red (or maybe yellow if his fire is more yellow) - and if he is lounging about indulgently in piles upon piles of golden treasure backlit by golden torches he looks a bit more golden.

I am reminded of the finishes on some of the newer cars that can appear as slightly differing shades in different lighting.

Tol Eressea

Aug 16 2013, 6:29pm

Post #3 of 15 (277 views)
Gold may change its hue depending on the color of the light. [In reply to] Can't Post

Golden hair sometimes does the same thing... midday it looks blond, near sunset it looks reddish.

But every word you say today
Gets twisted 'round some other way
And they'll hurt you if they think you've lied


Aug 16 2013, 6:40pm

Post #4 of 15 (281 views)
Yes, and... [In reply to] Can't Post

...particles of gold may appear purple, blue, or even black depending on how fine they are.

Once Gandalf dreamt he was a moth, a moth flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Gandalf. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakably Gandalf. But he didn't know if he was Gandalf who had dreamt he was a moth, or a moth dreaming he was Gandalf. Between Gandalf and a moth there must be some distinction! But really, there isn't, because he's actually Olórin dreaming he's both Gandalf *and* a moth!
-From Gandalfi: The Moth Dream


Aug 17 2013, 1:18am

Post #5 of 15 (230 views)
Multi-colored [In reply to] Can't Post

I vote for red with a golden underside... and then encrusted with thousands of gold coins and trinkets from laying on the hoard of Thror for so many years... that would certainly make him look twinkly in the night sky! The reflection of his fire on all those glittering coins would certainly help turn the north end of Long Lake golden as Tolkien describes.

(This post was edited by BallyWhooo on Aug 17 2013, 1:21am)

Grey Havens

Aug 17 2013, 2:23am

Post #6 of 15 (265 views)
Here are some of Tolkien's illustrations [In reply to] Can't Post


That seems to contradict this:


I suppose my question is this. How can a gold dragon produce a red glow? I'm trying to illustrate Smaug myself, but I'm having a hard time grasping Tolkien's description.


Aug 17 2013, 7:52am

Post #7 of 15 (207 views)
Golden Gold [In reply to] Can't Post

I always thought it was a mixture of both Red and Golden, but the latter mainly due to the presence of the large piles of gold surrounding him, which would have reflected off onto his skin - hence often referred to as Golden and/or Red.

'A Tolkienist's Perspective' Blog
'How Peter Jackson inches closer to making 'The Silmarillion'


Aug 17 2013, 8:07am

Post #8 of 15 (201 views)
like gems and stuff [In reply to] Can't Post

glittery and sparkly and shiny, yo

“I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”


Aug 17 2013, 9:32am

Post #9 of 15 (208 views)
The Justin Gerard watercolor seems closest to what we've seen so far [In reply to] Can't Post

Red, with reflections of gold.

Don't mess with my favorite female elf.


Aug 17 2013, 8:22pm

Post #10 of 15 (199 views)
Tolkien describes Smaug as "red-gold" [In reply to] Can't Post

Even so, I tend to visualize him with darker, more reddish scales on top and lighter in color underneath. As with raptors and other birds of prey, the lighter coloration would make him harder to spot from below, but I am also informed by Tolkien's color illustration of Smaug on his hoard that is sometimes used as a cover for The Hobbit.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring

Tol Eressea

Aug 17 2013, 8:59pm

Post #11 of 15 (189 views)
I agree [In reply to] Can't Post

A red covering and gold belly. Maybe some gold in his articulatory joints?


Aug 17 2013, 11:42pm

Post #12 of 15 (200 views)
Tolkien knew of such things as "red gold" [In reply to] Can't Post

at least as far back as when he was editing Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

From a passage describing his horse's tack:

"And al watȝ rayled on red ryche golde nayleȝ, ŝat al glytered and glent as glem of ŝe sunne."

("and all was adorned with rich red gold nails, that glittered and gleamed like the gleam of the sun.") -- apparently "red gold" resembles the gleam of the sun.

Red gold also appears in a passage describing the pentangle (aka "endeles knot" or endless knot) on Gawain's shield:

"ŝerfore on his schene schelde schapen watȝ ŝe knot ryally with red golde vpon rede gowleȝ."

("Therefore on his fair shield this knot was painted royally with red gold upon red gules.")

FWIW, the Gawain poet differentiated between red gold and your garden variety gold, both of which adorned Gawain's arms and his horse's tack. I think this matters in that like the Gawain poet, Tolkien may have intended that red gold be taken as a specific thing rather than regular gold that looked red in certain light or at certain angles. (According to the Gawain Poet red gold was also a kind of pure gold.)


Aug 18 2013, 12:32am

Post #13 of 15 (183 views)
Red Gold [In reply to] Can't Post

What we know as red gold today is an alloy of various proportions of gold and copper, possibly with a bit of zinc to add hardness. Red gold is widely used in jewelry making. In ancient days, gold often had a reddish tint because of impurities (mostly copper?) in the smelting process. In either case, I agree that Smaug's scales (at least his upper scales) were red-gold in color as Tolkien describes. I still think that his underside would have probably been lighter, allthough his coating of precious jems would have given his chest and belly their own distinctive look.

'There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.' - Gandalf the Grey, The Fellowship of the Ring

Grey Havens

Aug 18 2013, 3:09am

Post #14 of 15 (172 views)
So... [In reply to] Can't Post

We're talking something like this?


I never considered the idea of red-gold being a single color in its own right. That certainly clears up any perceived inconsistencies in the text.

Now I just gotta wrap my head around "green and scarlet flames."

(This post was edited by duats on Aug 18 2013, 3:11am)

Grey Havens

Aug 18 2013, 4:48pm

Post #15 of 15 (163 views)
WHy not colored flames? [In reply to] Can't Post

Recalling the long lost days of my youth - in a Chemistry lab, we identified the chemical composition of compounds based on the colors with which they burned. Green was for copper, if I recall correctly. But there were also purple flames, white flames, and other unusual colors in that particular series of experiments.


has some examples of how to change the color of the flames in your fireplace, and includes a photo of green flames.

We of course are not given by Tolkien any particular mechanism by which dragons produce flames at all, but if we imagine that they secrete chemicals they can then exhale and set alight, there's no reason to suppose the flames would have to be the most traditional red/orange only.


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