The Hobbit: could an arrow really kill a dragon?


I like how he tries to rationalize the appearance of the Ballista as a story reason “now the Bard can’t just be anywhere” instead of a "it would look totally ridiculous on screen to have a guy try to fire the black arrow with a regular bow–Tolkien didn’t think this through all the way.

Also, his shock and amazement that the movie prop didn’t get the arrow up to lethal speeds is amusing.

Gah, the real Bard made do with a simple magical arrow; this man is an impostor!


I suppose it’s expected that everyone here is too nerdly to care that dragons don’t “really” exist, So asking if an arrow could “really” kill a dragon is really kind of silly.

Plus spoilers.

and inB4 Vader is Lukes’ father.


Would anybody really name their sled “Rosebud?”

EDIT: Whoops! Spoiler Alert!


When it comes to what is lethal, it boils down to shot placement. There are many myths and misconceptions in firearms (or any projectile weapon) on what it takes to kill someone/thing. From “A .45 will knock a man on his ass.” to “A .22 will bounce off a skull.”, the only sure fire way to kill something it to hit a vital area. There have been people who have died from a single .22lr, and people who have lived from getting shot a half dozen times. Certainly having a larger, faster projectile helps, but luck and where it hits you is what usually determines if you live or die from it.


How can the author both conclude that an arrow shot to the top of a mountain was moving at 14 m/s, and that such an arrow could rise no more than 2 meters?

If the purpose of the exercise is to suspend disbelief and assume that what was shown on the screen really happened, then he can’t start with a contradiction and then prove that it didn’t have enough force to kill a dragon.

A much simpler explanation of the contradiction is that the arrow is shown in slow motion, so his speed calculation simply goes out the window. Everything from that point on is starting from faulty premises.

Sheesh. I guess he could get some Error Carried Forward marks in the exam, though.


Which is why the book makes such a big deal about the hole in Smaug’s armor. Presumably there were also lots of vital organs behind that point as well.

When they brought out the ballistae in the movie, I really didn’t care about speeds of the arrow. My thought was more along the lines of “how are you going to manage to line up a single shot at a small weak point on a fast-moving dragon with something that clumsy to aim?”


Next, you’re going to be telling us that kittehs don’t use lolspeak.


Hwell, they do, but only when they think we’re not listening in. Fortunately for human linguists, cats are too self absorbed to notice.

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Mine just says, “Hewo?”
Kinda freaked me out the first time, not gonna lie.

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Agreed. This could make for a rather entertaining ballistics science fair project for some creative kid out there.

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That was the brand name…

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for what it’s worth, there’s speculation that, judging from the trailers, that the ballista breaks and bard has to resort to his own bow and regular-sized black arrow, thus putting him back in line with tolkien’s original text. as to whether or not an arrow can kill a dragon, well, how much do we really KNOW about dragon physiology? maybe a tiny arrow is all it takes, if it’s in the right spot. hooray, fantasy!


Hello? Everybody knows that the world Tolkien wrote about is in a different universe with different laws. There is no hope of understanding this in terms of our earthly physics. The main difference in the physical laws of Middle Earth is that they bend and adjust to the whims of the author and the needs of the story. Giant hint: no magic at all on regular old Earth.

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Well, obviously placement is going to have a hefty say in the matter for the range of force most projectiles operate in, but, pure kinetics of the projectile kind of get the first and last vote. It doesn’t matter how well I aim my pencil propelled with a standard rubber band stretched with my fingers, Maximum injury tops out around eye injury. I simply have not imparted my projectile with enough kinetic energy to breach any reasonable outer membrane other than the very most fragile, which is what I take the point of the parent article to be (that the apparent kinetic energy imparted to the Black Arrow is below any guess on what possible penetration requirement would be for a dragon, even sans armor). Much like Mythbusters and any time they address a projectile lethality based myth primarily based on penetration power. The assumption is, if it is below any reasonable penetration threshold for the potential target, placement is irrelevant, only once that threshold is passed does placement even become an issue (and one can never definitively prove that from experimental data, it’s only the practical attempt that counts on that one)

Of course, moving beyond the assertions of the article and just to your point, kinetics gets the last word too. Past a certain threshold, placement stops mattering, as long as you hit the target or even come reasonably close, the shock from the passing or impact of the projectile itself introduces enough disruption to the target systems to be fatal, even if the actual point of impact isn’t a critical point.
Obviously, this doesn’t apply in the instant case, being well below those thresholds, but would be the obvious goal, if possible within the technology available, for dealing with a dragon (possibly requiring something on the order of modern artillery, or, more practical, some kind of AA missile. What Bard needs is clearly an F-4 or better, possibly depending on what effect stealth/anti-radar technology has on dragon eyesight, which seems to surpass simple visual spectrum, but, seems to fall short of the concealment properties of the one ring).

I think this is racist. Legolas Greenleaf could do it while snowboarding in the dark and we would be all ‘‘whatever’’

But if a huuuuman does it it’s all ‘‘FAAAAAKE’’ 'n stuff. Racism man. Racism.


It doesn’t have to get deep enough penetration to reach Smaug’s vitals. The arrow is all old and rusty, so unless he’s had a tetanus shot recently even a relatively small wound could cause serious medical complications within a couple of weeks, tops. Watch out, Smaug—by the time Foreyule rolls around you’ll be lucky if you’re not suffering from crippling muscle spasms.

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The canonical answer already exists.

ps- I hate this question and anyone who entertains this question.


I loved that movie, but even at age 9 I wanted to know what the fuck cutting the bridges was supposed to help.

Also, I didn’t remember the voice-acting being quite so Godawful. It sounds like they just grabbed a random guy off the street and said “here, read this into the mic.”