Recently The Hobbit came out in theaters, and many people took an immediate liking to it and flocked to see it. There are several Lord of the Rings fans who loved it and love the story surrounding it. The story features a dragon named Smaug, who invaded Erebor/The Lonely Mountain and stole a vast amount of gold until *spoiler alert* he is killed. In the Lord of the Rings story, and briefly mentioned in the Hobbit, there is a cursed ring as well.
Little do many people know that this story actually has significant roots in Scandinavian lore, and Smaug is actually very connected to the dragon known as Fafnir. I'd like to share the story of Fafnir, simply because I am nerdy and I love the tale! I think it's neat to see where Tolkein finds some of his inspiration, so feel free to read this and see if you can figure out where some of the characters from LoTR came from.
Fafnir began life as a dwarf. He was brother to both Otir and Regin, and son of Hriedmar. Hriedmar was known to be a very powerful magician, called the King of the Dwarves, who had quite a fancy for shiny things. His house was made of gold, encrusted in gems, and watched over very closely. He loved his sons almost as much as he loved his gold. Out of the three brothers, Fafnir was the strongest and most aggressive. He was in charge of watching over the house while his brothers worked on it.
One day Odin, Hoenir and Loki were out and about when they stumbled in Otir. Otir, being able to shapeshift during the day, had assumed the form of an otter and was working in the creek. Odin, Hoenir and Loki were decidedly hungry and thus Loki killed the otter with a stone, and the three of them proceed to skin and eat him. After they ate, they continued their journeying and eventually ran across Hreidmar's home. He invited them in and to show their thanks, they showed him the skin of the otter. Immediately he recognized this as his son, and took the Gods as his prisoners by catching them in unbreakable chains that only the dwarves could make. Odin and Hoenir turn to Loki and tell him to remedy the situation.
Hreidmar demands that Loki take the otter skin and stuff it with gold. Loki, being the sassy deity that he is, simply went and stole the gold from another dwarf. He steals from Andvari, a very wealthy dwarf who can transform himself into a fish to swim in the waterfall in which he lives. Loki gets a net from ran and catches the dwarf while he is in his transformed shape, then steals from him. Andvari angrily curses the gold. He also places a dark curse on his precious ring, Andvarenaut. He warns Loki that the bounty is cursed and will bring death to anyone who possesses it. To which Loki, essentially, replied: "Well hey man, it's not for me, so I don't really care". So Loki took the cursed gold and the ring back to Hreidmar, and quickly left with Odin and Hoenir.
Things at first seemed very normal, and life continued on as it had though the family grieved the dead Otir. However, slowly Hreidmar began to become less interested in his craft and his pride in his sons, and became more and more obsessed with the ring, Andvarenaut. His two remaining sons began to feel jealousy in their chest, watching their father with his gold, and thus plotted to kill him. When the deed was done, and their father lay dead, both brothers fought over the ring. Fafnir became so crazed that he began to transform, and turned himself into a giant dragon to scare his brother away. Once he had transformed, he did not transform back. Regin ran away, and Fafnir guarded his treasure.
Being insanely possessive and paranoid, Fafnir breathed poison and toxins into the land and air around him in order to keep people away. Regin watched anxiously, still envious of the ring, and plotted on how to kill Fafnir and take the treasure for himself. Regin called upon his foster son, Sigurd, and began to teach him how to kill Fafnir. They planned to dig a pit in the ground in the middle of a trail Fafnir took and hide, then when Fafnir slid over the pit as he headed to get water, Sigurd would plunge his sword (Gram) straight into Fafnirs heart. However, Regin became scared and ran away, leaving his son to take up the task.
Odin, who had been watching this whole thing unfold, came to Sigurd in the form of an old man. He told Sigurd that he must dig multiple trenches so that Fafnir's blood did not drown him. Suddenly the ground began to shake as Fafnir approached. Sigurd waited until Fafnir crawled directly over him, and stabbed him in the shoulder. He succeeded in mortally wounding the dragon. Fafnir sat, dying, and spoke directly to Sigurd to find out who had sent him to kill the great dragon. When he realizes his brother had betrayed him he grows very bitter. Sigurd tells Fafnir that he plans to go and take the dragons treasure. Fafnir warns him that the treasure is in fact cursed, and will bring its owner destruction. However, Sigurd replies that all men are meant to die and that many men would rather be wealthy than live a long live, so he intends to take the gold anyways.
Fafnir dies. Regin reappears, applauding his son, but is secretly plotting on how to kill him now so that the treasure will solely be his. Sigurd cooks Fafnir's heart, and tastes both it and some of the dragons blood. In doing this, he gained immense wisdom and the ability to understand the birds in the area. He immediately learns of Regin's plot to kill him, and takes Regin's life instead by beheading him with the sword. Eventually Sigurd goes on to get married, keeping the gold with him, but in the end both he and his wife die. The gold is left in a cave, which Andvari (who had been longing for his precious ring) finds. There is, however, no ring and no trace of where it had gone, and Andvari is very disheartened.