I’m sure Tolkein was a great popularizer of this trope. However, I’m still convinced there are other examples of this from works predating those of the good professor. I was going to do some searching today to prove that I’m not a victim here of some strange false memories involving art and literature, but unfortunately my supervisor thinks my computers are actually for payroll and accounts receivable stuff. I considered correcting the poor man, but since this dragon business has already gotten me in trouble at home (the abandoned station wagon), I decided to forgo that for the time being. I did find a couple likely places to look however, and will probably report back on my findings as time allows. Unless this bothersome hunt turns into an outright quest, in which case I will talk to my therapist . . .
I expect to have one or two examples by the end of this coming weekend.
When did Tolkien deny that he’d taken Smaug from Beowulf? I always thought he was well aware that he was recasting European myths into stories in his own world. I believe he claimed to despise allegory (or accusations of allegory in the stories), so was it something more like that or did he really think he wasn’t do what he did?
I’m afraid he did. I don’t have the quote at hand, but I believe it’s cited in The Annotated Hobbit. Tolkien said something like “Bilbo Baggins stole the cup at that point because that’s what the story required.”
In context, he was saying that his use of the thief-stealking-the-cup trope wasn’t inspired by Beowulf. I’ll look it up when I get home.
Why even bring this up? He was a professor of Anglo-Saxon literature. I have no doubt that he was well aware of the story in Beowulf. I only repeat what I’ve seen attributed to him. I thought it was weird at the time, because I also have no doubt that he lifted the story from Beowulf. If I didn’t think it was weird, I’d never have brought it up.
Not a dragon per se, but another famous monster-sleeping-on-treasure story is in Kipling’s second Jungle Book - The King’s Ankus. The monster in question was a monsterous cobra, guarding a king’s treasure long after the king’s city had fallen into ruin.
I don’t think Tolkein’s translation of *Beowulf *has been published (though I would dearly love being wrong here!). I know his translation of *Sir Gawain and the Green Knight *has been used in literature classes for many years, though, and he translated a number of other works into modern English.
I can’t remember which of my books includes “And Fafnir turned himself into a dragon and lay down on the gold”. Until I find that book, I can’t give the exact quote or cite the source of that quote. Was it one of the Eddas?