Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes place 60 years before the events in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy but returns to the same setting: Middle-earth. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, famously created a complex world for his novels, dreaming up languages and detailed histories for his characters. Much of that complexity is brought into the movie, a tale about a simple hobbit who sets off on an epic journey.
Lord of the Rings veterans probably have their elves and orcs straight, but for the uninitiated, it is a confusing world. Use this guide to sort out the denizens of Middle-earth.
Appearance: Short and a bit chubby. The men dress like English squires from the 1800s and they prefer to be barefoot.
Habitat: The Shire, a pastoral village of quaint and cozy hobbit holes.
Distinguishing trait: They don’t like adventures. Or do they?
Important Character: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is the hobbit of the movie title.
Should You Fear Them: All these cheerful folks want is peace, quiet, and a snack.
Appearance: Tall and ethereally beautiful. Long hair, flowing robes, elegant demeanor.
Habitat: Impossibly perfect settlements built around waterfalls.
Distinguishing trait: Is someone telepathically speaking to you in a voice tempered by the wisdom of the ages? You are talking to an elf.
Important character: Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) is a guardian of Middle Earth and Gandalf’s friend.
Should you fear them: These immortal creatures are skilled warriors but are slow to resort to violence.
Appearance: There are only five wizards in Middle-earth but their appearances vary. Saruman appears god-like and pristine in white robes, while Radagast has a bird’s nest on his head.
Habitat: Scattered throughout Middle Earth.
Distinguishing traits: Wizards carry a staff and wield magical powers.
Important character: Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) is your friendly neighborhood wizard. If you are planning a quest, you want him on your team.
Should you fear them: Don’t get on a wizard’s bad side.
Appearance: Short, stout, and strong.
Habitat: Mining kingdoms built deep inside mountains.
Distinguishing traits: Beards, axes, an affinity for precious metals and gems.
Important character: Thorin, son of Thrain (Richard Armitage). He’s out to reclaim his ancestral home.
Should you fear them: They are friendly guys but quick to start a fight.
ORCS AND GOBLINS
Appearance: Irregularly shaped and often hairless. Let’s face it, they’re ugly.
Habitat: Ramshackle underground complexes.
Distinguishing traits: Do you have an Elvin sword? Is it glowing? Then there is an orc nearby. Proceed with caution.
Important character: Azog, the Pale Orc (Manu Bennett). This particularly evil orc killed Thorin’s father, and now he’s hunting Thorin.
Should you fear them: These are the bad guys of Middle Earth.Avoid at all costs.
Appearance: These massive and dirty creatures wear filthy loincloths.
Habitat: Holes in the ground. Do not confuse these with hobbit holes. There is nothing quaint or cozy about them.
Distinguishing trait: They turn to stone when exposed to sunlight.
Should you fear them: They’ll eat you, no questions asked.
Appearance: A bit like an orc, but is there something almost hobbit-like in those eyes?
Habitat: Hidden on the outskirts of a goblin settlement.
Distinguishing traits: Even though there’s only one Gollum, he has a split personality … and an obsession with what he calls his “precious,” a powerful ring.
Should you fear him: Maybe. You might feel sorry for him, but he can’t be trusted.