Review: Writing Down the Dragon

Tom Simon’s “Writing Down the Dragon” is an excellent resource of essays, musings and research on Tolkien.


This body of essays covers a wide variety of elements that go into Lord of the Rings and related works. There are essays on Tolkien’s love of language, and linguistic feats involved in his works and characters. There is also a great deal of serious and deep thought on the nature of good and evil in these works. My personal favorite was the in-depth thought into the morality of Elves, Orcs and even Dragons.
Tom goes into an analysis of the morality of Elves, where they are superior beings, representing beauty and an unfallen state. He also goes into a detailed account of how they have changed from other Elves, the Elves and Fair Folk of myths before, and how innovate a chance Tolkien made. Both sorts of Elves, Tolkien’s, and the original myths, still shine most of the faerie folk of later literature, all too often lacking in depth are anything of the otherworldliness of the older Elves.


Orcs pose a significant moral question: can they be good? Since Morgoth who made the Orcs cannot create, only twist and warp that which is, Tom gives serious consideration to the morality of these accursed beings. His gives a serious study on neurology and psychopathy, and postulates that the Orcs may be the result to turn a whole people into psychopaths.


Dragons come off not so much as having morality, but being definitive of mental concepts. Smaug, for example, IS greed, and nothing more. Personally, I thought there was a great deal of pride and wrath there as well, and the corrupt old worm seemed to actually relish having someone to talk to (before he ate him, naturally). There is a great piece about the pet dragons of popular literature, and how likely the master/pet relationship would be reversed in any realistic telling. Examining the Asiatic dragons, he integrates myth and the philosophy of the far east to create a very believable nightmare scenario of a dragon empire.
Carefully thought out, deeply researched, and entertaining to read, this is an excellent addition for the Tolkien lover.