The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Race
Not known: possibly related to Dragons
Meaning
'Were' probably comes from the Old English wír, 'man'. 'Worm' in this context is more likely to mean 'dragon' than 'worm' in its modern sense.

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About this entry:

  • Updated 5 August 1998
  • This entry is complete

Were-worms

Mysterious denizens of the Last Desert

"Tell me what you want done, and I will try it, if I have to walk from here to the East of East and fight the wild Were-worms in the Last Desert."
Bilbo Baggins,
in The Hobbit 1: An Unexpected Party

Creatures of an unknown kind, possibly mythical and presumably related to dragons, that were said to dwell in the Last Desert.

Tolkien only ever mentions were-worms once, in the quote given above, so we know almost nothing about them. We cannot even be certain that they actually existed - the Hobbits had a rich folklore peopled with fantastic beings, and were-worms quite possibly fall into that category.

If they did exist, the name 'were-worm' suggests a shapeshifting creature like a werewolf - a being that could take the form of either a Man or of a Dragon. Any discussion of the form or habits of the were-worms, though, must remain in the realms of speculation.


The image conjured by the phrase 'wild Were-worms in the Last Desert' is remarkably resonant of the giant sandworms of Arrakis in the Dune novels. It's appealing to think that this may have had a small part in inspiring Frank Herbert's writing, though of course there is no way we can know whether this is the case.

See also...

Last Desert

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