Smaug is the great dragon from J.R.R Tolkien’s famous novel The Hobbit. His fearsome appearance and fiery breath have captivated readers for decades. However, despite Smaug’s iconic status, there has been much debate around the exact color of his scaly hide. In this article, we will examine the evidence from Tolkien’s writings, published artwork, and Peter Jackson’s films to determine what color Smaug’s scales are, once and for all.
In the original novel, Tolkien provides several clues about the color of Smaug’s scales:
“His underparts went up in a great glistening mound, and his scaled belly was of a pale leprous green.”
This quote indicates that Smaug’s underside and belly were greenish in color. Later, Tolkien writes:
“The dragon’s scales glittered in the moonlight as he lay coiled upon his hoard.”
The use of “glittered” implies some type of metallic or shiny quality to the scales on Smaug’s back and sides. Finally, when Bilbo Baggins steals a golden cup from the sleeping dragon’s hoard, Tolkien states:
“The worms of Smaug’s hide were crusted with the congealed sheen of gold.”
This suggests that Smaug’s scales had a golden color or sheen to them in places, likely due to his habit of sleeping on top of his gold and treasure. Taken together, these quotes paint a picture of Smaug having greenish-colored underparts and metallic, golden-colored scales along his back and sides. The scales appear to change color depending on the lighting and angle from which they are viewed.
Over the years, various artists and illustrators have created paintings and drawings of Smaug that provide additional visual clues about his scale color. Here are some notable examples:
- J.R.R. Tolkien himself – In Tolkien’s own illustration that appeared in the first American edition of The Hobbit in 1938, he depicts Smaug with fairly uniform coppery or brass-colored scales, with slight highlights of gold.
- Alan Lee – The acclaimed Tolkien illustrator shows Smaug with bluish-gray scales on the back and sides, transitioning to lighter, yellowish-green scales on the belly.
- John Howe – Howe’s illustrations in various Tolkien calendars and books portray Smaug with reddish-golden scales, darker on the back and brighter underneath.
- Ted Nasmith – Nasmith shows Smaug with bright golden scales everywhere except for his pale greenish underbelly.
The published artwork provides a wider spectrum of possible scale colors for Smaug, ranging from brass-like metallic shades to bluish and reddish hues. There does seem to be consensus around the belly being a distinctive pale green.
Peter Jackson’s films
In Peter Jackson’s Hobbit film trilogy, Smaug is realized in state-of-the-art CGI glory. The dragon’s digital rendering allows his entire scaly surface to be shown in great detail. Smaug is portrayed with crimson-colored scales over most of his body, with some variation to a more coppery or brassy tone in places. His underside scales are distinctly pale sea green.
When light shines on Smaug in the films, his scales take on a glowing, almost golden sheen at times. There are also hints of blue along his neck and wings. This combination of warm red, metallic gold, touches of blue, and greenish underbelly aligns closely with Tolkien’s written description and many artists’ renderings.
Based on the textual clues, published artwork over many decades, and recent cinematic interpretation, the overall evidence strongly suggests that Smaug’s predominant scale color is a rich, jewel-like red. This color reflects light to create glimmering gold accents along his back, sides, and wings. His belly scales are a distinctive pale greenish hue. There may also be some bluish tones mixed in along his neck and extremities. The scales appear to change color depending on the light and viewing angle.
In summary, the vivid crimson red scales, with greenish underbelly and flashes of metallic gold, blue, and bronze, create a visual representation of Smaug that matches his power, splendor, and terrible beauty as the last great dragon of Middle Earth. Tolkien’s words come to life through the imaginations of countless artists and filmmakers who have been enchanted by Smaug’s chromatic wings and serpentine coils. It is this melding of text, image, and cinema that has truly captured the many-colored magnificence of Smaug the dragon.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. George Allen & Unwin, 1937.
|Artist||Year||Scale Color Portrayal|
|J.R.R. Tolkien||1938||Coppery or brass overall with gold highlights|
|Alan Lee||1989||Bluish-gray back and sides, yellow-green belly|
|John Howe||1990||Reddish-golden back, brighter golden belly|
|Ted Nasmith||1991||Bright golden overall with pale green belly|
Jackson, P. (Director). (2012). The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. New Line Cinema.
Jackson, P. (Director). (2013). The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. New Line Cinema.
Jackson, P. (Director). (2014). The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. New Line Cinema.