Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Down, Down, and Into the Dark: Evil in the Hobbit [Part 3]


Part III: Smaug, Satan, the Seven Deadly Sins, and His Answer.


Toward the end of the adventure, the reader and travelers encounter the Lucifarian Smaug: the evilest evil, the trickster, most proud, and exemplar of the seven deadly sins.  Smaug is Lucifarian in the most obvious of ways -- first in that he is a dragon.  The dragon, in the literary tradition as well as in the Bible, is always an image of Satan.  So, drawing on biblical illusions, to speak of a dragon in literature is to refer to Satan.  Bilbo is not encountering a mischievous demon as with the goblins. Bilbo is now encountering Evil incarnate. Furthermore, Smaug’s dragon nature, redness and greatness might bring to mind the great red dragon of Revelation 12.  Second, Satan’s angelic state before his fall from grace, Lucifer, means “light bearer.”  Satan was a bringer of light likely part of the choir of seraphim angels, whose name means “burning ones” (Gigot).  This is of note because not only does Smaug bring light in the form of fire from his breath, but Smaug also glows, “a great glow” (215).  That is, Smaug literally is a light bearer.  Where he goes he bears light;  though the light he bears is a warning of the destruction to come.  Third, Satan is often casually referred to as “the bringer of death,” for it was by his persuasion that death entered the world, and is echoed in Tolkien’s Smaug.  The obvious is that Smaug is a destroyer of towns and kingdoms. The red worm describes himself in the terms of a military battlement, and Smaug’s last statement is that his “breath [is] death” (226).  This calls to mind biblical images of the angel of death who is commonly identified as Satan.  Fourth, Smaug, like Satan who is the prince of lies, the great slanderer, the great deceiver, does his best to trick up the noble burglar’s trust in his dwarven companions.  Smaug begins by telling Bilbo that he’ll “come to a bad end, if [he] go[es] with such friends” and ends by recounting a similar situation in which Bilbo finds himself at the moment (224).  Smaug’s “overwhelming personality” implants doubts as to the dwarves’ intentions; but it is Bilbo’s loyalty to his friends that allow him to see through the lies of the dragon (225).

The evil and Lucifarian imagery of Smaug is further developed in that Smaug is a committer and propagator of the seven deadly sins.  In brief, the seven deadly sins are sins that can lead to the death of a Christian’s soul.  These sins are also known as the cardinal sins because every other sin hinges upon these seven.  Though a long historical development, the current list of the seven deadly sins – coming from Pope Gregrory the Great of the sixth century – are greed, lust (luxuary), sloth, envy, pride (hubris), anger (rage), gluttony.

Greed, the desire to have something to excess while ensuring that others have not, is one of the first things the reader learns about dragons.  As Tolkien writes that dragons seek out gold and jewels, yet they “never enjoy a brass ring of it” and can make nothing from their horde of gold (23).  It is a greed that gives way to a compulsion of an excessive knowledge of something that they themselves do not need.  It is greed for the mere sake of depriving others of the beauty found in the dragons’ hordes.  Likening it to a passage in the New Testament, one might recall the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  The rich man, in all his greed, deprives Lazarus of all monetary assistance to the extent that the rich man is damned to Hell.  St. John Chrysostom, in a series of homilies on wealth and poverty, commented on this passage in which he saw the rich man’s denial to help Lazarus as a form of theft from the beggar (Chrysostom 35-37).  Lazarus’ life was stolen from him due to the greed of a rich man.  Tolkien makes it clear that the dragon is a thief and he steals his treasure from dwarves, elves, and humans, but it is also a theft of hording and depriving the dwarves and humans of what is justly theirs (23).

Lust, known contemporarily as an excessive obsession with sex, sexual thoughts, and sexual desires, was not always associated with sex.  Coming from the Latin luxuria, lust in one of its earlier understanding is an excess of extravagance.  In other words, lust is a sin of possession; it is a desire to possess things not needed and not rightfully one’s own property.  The sin of lust is related to greed in that they are both sins of excess.  An excess of extravagance is something Smaug depicts in a way he himself does not understand, for he has no need for extravagance yet is compelled to seek it.  Smaug has even encrusted himself with jewels of various sorts and seeks to possess extravagant things for no other purpose than possession.  Moreover, the sin of lust, might be further exemplified by calling to mind the lustful of Dante’s “Inferno” who are caught in the strong winds of a hurricane when Smaug says of himself, “my wings a hurricane” (226).  The winds of the hurricane are present in Dante because it makes present the wild lack of self control contained in those who lust.  It is only too clear how Smaug’s lack of self-control leads to his hording and rage, which causes him to destroy towns.

Anger (rage or wrath), the desire to seek out vengeance upon another for a perceived wrong committed against the self, is what leads Smaug to destroy and devour Lake-town.  Tolkien describes the worm’s anger as “the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long and but have never before used or wanted” (217).  The anger expressed by Smaug combined with his pride leads him to blindly burn the Lonely Mountain, its surroundings, and to attack the people of Lake-town.  It is this temporary madness that will ultimately lead to his demise, but not before being a glutton.

Gluttony, the excessive eating of food, is not one of Smaug’s great down falls, but nonetheless it is a deadly sin he possesses.  Smaug comments to Bilbo, “Let me tell you I ate six ponies last night and I shall catch and eat all the other before long” (224).  It is important to note that a pony is not necessarily a young horse.  A pony is a breed of small horse measuring slightly less than five feet in height when fully grown.  Though consuming six whole adult horses the dragon finds himself wanting to devour more, not for the sake of nourishment, but because he is angry and wants to show how frightful he is to others. 

Sloth, the inordinate laziness that prevents a person from performing good acts, is what Smaug exemplifies when Bilbo finds the worm lazily glowing in the dark.  Smaug is a lazy dragon who has spent many years sleeping on his treasure without emerging from his lair.  In fact, Smaug has slept for such an extensive period of time the people of Lake Town have begun to doubt whether or not a dragon actually dwells under the mountain.  Smaug is so lazy one must wonder how often must a dragon feed.  As it appears that until Smaug devours six ponies of the dwarves he had not emerged from his lair to eat for many years.

Envy (jealousy), the resentment of others for what they have and what one does not to the extent that one desires what it is the other has, is the driving force behind Smaug’s treasure stealing.  In brief, he is envious of the gold of men, elves, and dwarves, and he desired to have it for himself.  It is not a resentment and desire to make useful items for being a superior goldsmith as dragons do nothing with their gold but horde it.  Furthermore, his own envy is what drove him to attack the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the men of Dale in order to steal gold. 

Pride (hubris), the viewing of one’s self too highly that faults are ignored, is what leads Smaug to show Bilbo his underbelly.  Smaug, believing himself to be invulnerable, rolls over and in doing so reveals to Bilbo his one weakness  -- “a large patch in the hallow of his left breast” (227).  It is this moment that helps Bard, the captain of the Lake-town guards, in disposing of the flying worm.  It is also Smaug’s pride in his intellect that blinds him into assuming that the men of Lake-town are the driving force behind the dwarven expedition.  Smaug wrongly guesses and is sent off into a fiery rage.

It would be futile to make a poison without providing the reader with the antidote.  Luckily Tolkien gives us such an antidote in the person of Bilbo Baggins.  In the Catholic tradition the seven deadly sins (Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride) have always been balanced by a virtue.  The pairing of a deadly sin with its counter virtue has always varied as one virtue might serve to counter multiple sins, but there has been some consistency to the pairings over the years.  The seven virtues that counter the seven deadly sins are Chastity, Temperance, Charity/love of neighbor, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, and Humility.  Like the seven deadly sins being present in one character, the seven counter virtues are also found in one character: Bilbo Bagins. 

It is important to know that virtues are formed in the pursuit of something.  If the Virtue of Chastity, the virtue associated with right relationships with others,  is to be acquired, Chastity is not pursued.  Instead, knowledge is to be pursued so that chastity will be formed.  Knowledge leads to the understanding of the proper relationships one is to have with others.  It leads to a correct use and not an abuse of another.  Bilbo exhibits his pursuit of knowledge in his fascinations of maps and languages.

In order for temperance to be had in order to counter gluttony, strength of will is pursued.  Bilbo exhibits his strength of will by pushing through tough times.  Though forced into self denial, Bilbo never turns from the pursuit of strengthening his will.  Greed is overcome by the virtue of Charity.  Charity is formed in the pursuit of Generosity.  Bilbo exhibits his generosity in dealing with the dwarves: giving the dwarves plenty of food, goes beyond what the dwarves ask and what the reader expect.  Where most would have given up and left the dwarves stranded to fend for themselves, Bilbo generously rescues them.

To counter Sloth, the most basic remedy is to get up and do something productive.  In other words, doing the right thing at the right time in a manner of diligence.  Therefore the virtue to counter sloth can be either prudence or diligence.  The virtues of prudence and diligence are formed in the pursuit of ethics.  That is, ethics in seeking out the right action, which incorporates an element of justice into the pursuit of the virtue.  As Bilbo is interested in what is rightly owed to others as seen in his releasing the wrongly imprisoned dwarves by the hands of the Mirkwood elves and in the desire to give the humans and elves their gold back that Smaug had collected of the years.

Countering wrath with peace is perhaps one of the more obvious as to what the antidote to wrath might be.  However, peace is not the virtue contrary to wrath.  Patience is the virtue contrary to the vice of wrath, as only time quenches wrath.  Moreover, patience comes from the Latin pati which means “to suffer.”  Implying that where there is wrath so too will there be suffering.  The virtue of Patience is formed by the pursuit of peace.  The prime example when Bilbo pursues peace is when he gives the Arken Stone to Bard in order to ensure that a battle does not errupt between the men of lake-town, the elves of Mirkwood, and the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.

Envy (jealously) is countered with the virtue of kindness.  Kindness is formed in the pursuit of Love.  For where envy seeks to take and devour what another had, love seeks what is best for the other and seems not to take what is not one's own.  Bilbo exhibits the pursuit of love in his relationship with the dwarves, which takes the form of a brotherly love.  His love of the shire which urges him to the end of his adventure and the desire to return. 

Finally, pride, sometimes seen as the root of all sin, finds its remedy in the virtue of humility.  Humility, the virtue in which a person takes a modest view of themselves and sees themselves for who they really are, is formed by the pursuit of modesty.  As it appears to be the case, perhaps due to their statue, that modesty is a virtue that comes easily to hobbits – at least Bilbo anyway.  For Bilbo hides the knowledge of his magic ring until he is required to reveal it.  Even once the little hobbit has the ring in his possession, he does not use it without good cause in the story.  Bilbo seems himself never as a hero but only as a hobbit.

In conclusion, Tolkien gives a defined view of evil using the classical theme of darkness.  He draws a line between good and evil using hospitality, or the lack of, as the measuring rod.  Finally Tolkien presents to his readers the self destructive power of evil in the Lucifarian Smaug.  Tolkien does this by primarily appealing to the exterior actions of characters.  The reader knows a character is evil by how they act or fail to act.  In doing so, Tolkien confirms, decades prior, much of the theology of Pope John Paul II in that persons are people of action.  That is, a person becomes what it is they do:  One who steals is a stealer; one who runs is a runner. Therefore the person who does evil – the person who is a perpetual vacuum absent of good which then might be filled by all sorts of evil things – is in turn an evil creature. 

Lastly, being a children’s tale, the didactic novel given to the reader – as all children’s stories have in nature a lesson – is a simple lesson, but a necessary one that should be repeated over and over.  The simple lesson is that evil is real, and it is present not only in the world created by Tolkien, but also in the world in which Tolkien and we too now live.


Chrysostom, John. “On Wealth and Poverty.” Trans. Catherine P. Roth. Crestoow: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984.
Gigot, Francis. "Seraphim." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 21 Apr. 2011 .
“Goblin.” Shorter Oxford English Dictionlary. Sixth Edition.  2007.

“Murk.” Shorter Oxford English Dictionlary. Sixth Edition.  2007.

New American Bible. Nashville: Catholic Bible Press, 1986

Tolkien, J.R.R. “The Hobbit.” New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.

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