With Peter Jackson’s second Hobbit film coming out this week, Smaug is flying right toward us with flames billowing from his maw. J.R.R. Tolkien put years of thought and research in his dragon, shaping the idea of what that “Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities” should be, and setting a standard of intelligence and charisma that all dragons since have had to reckon with.
Thinking about Smaug made us want to look back at some of our other favorite fire-breathers. If there was a fantasy-animal Olympics (and there really, really should be) they would stand uncomfortably close to unicorns on the top of the podium, edging over a few inches at a time to try to claim the whole spot. They can fly, they can breathe fire, they are often hyper-intelligent, sometimes telepathic, and even the cute ones could probably kill us all in a second. But we desperately want them all to be real. (And they totally could be! Look, look at these facts!)