In his letters, J.R.R. Tolkien stated both that he considered LOTR “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work” (no. 172) but that he considered the work “built on or out of certain ‘religious’ ideas, but is not an allegory of them (or anything else)” (no. 283). However, Tolkien was also a medievalist, and understood that texts always contained a multitude of readings as documentary objects that were kept and used in specific ways. Creatures and imagery contained in medieval books provided
information to the reader, as when bestiaries explicate fauna with attributes both real and metaphysical. They thus combine fiction and fact to describe animals with allegorical descriptions alongside their scientific (or pseudo-scientific) analyses. In particular, bestiaries portray dragons as frightening, near-demonic monsters laden with specific Christian symbolisms.

In his legendarium, Tolkien portrays dragons as more animal than monster. Emphatically, he did not write wholly “Christian” dragons into his fiction, and instead he drew from Beowulf and Norse sagas to depict monsters that represented a blending of beast and allegorical symbol. This paper will compare the symbolisms and usages of dragons in texts such as the Physiologus and French bestiaries by de Beauvais and Gervaise to dragons in Tolkien’s work and show that his monsters were less suffused with religious imagery than perhaps even he might have argued, and instead were a more complicated and contemporary kind of creature.



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