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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A Viewer’s Companion

When it was first announced that Peter Jackson would make Tolkien's The Hobbit as a trilogy of movies, there was a general sense of surprise. Unlike the epic The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is a slim volume that tells a simple linear story, and there hardly seemed enough material there to build three films around.

In the most basic sense, the first movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an adaptation of the first six chapters of Tolkien's book The Hobbit (and, strictly speaking, a couple of pages of chapter seven). That's just a little over one hundred pages, meaning that you could quite plausibly read the source material in less time than it takes to watch the movie. It has to be said that the adaptation itself is remarkably faithful to the spirit of Tolkien's tale, but Peter Jackson has gone further, weaving in more tales that properly belong outside the story of The Hobbit, but fit easily within the framework of the story.

The Hobbit Guides

We also have Viewer's Companion to the second and third Hobbit movies, which you'll find here:

Movie-goer's Guides

If you want to take a look at our 'Movie-goer's Guides' for the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, you'll find them here:

Riddles in the Dark

If you're interested in the development of The Hobbit movies, you'll want to take a look at the Riddles in the Dark project. Tolkien Professor Corey Olsen presents a series of podcasts looking at the adaptations in thorough detail, and lots more Tolkien-related material too.

Tolkien's original tale is framed as the diary of Bilbo Baggins, and so naturally we see the adventure almost entirely from his point of view. The film version takes a similar but more widely expanded approach: now, the tale is a historical account by Bilbo that brings together tales of the history of the Dwarves, meetings of Wizards and Elves, and more. Much of this 'new' material is itself adapted from other works by Tolkien (especially the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings) while some of it really is new, invented by the movie-makers rather than the original author.

This Viewer's Companion is in part an attempt to tease out these different sources and make sense of the film in terms of Tolkien's original story. There's a whole collection of interesting (and often rather opaque) references within the film, too, and we'll take a look at those, as well as other titbits of trivia and curiosities.

This Guide is absolutely not intended to be any kind review of the film, nor a judgement about how closely it follows the book (in fact the main thread of the story is followed remarkably closely, though with a few notable departures that we'll cover as we go).

There's no attempt here to cover every single slight departure from the source material, either: for instance, the Dwarves arrive at Bag End in a slightly different order in the film than in the book, but we won't be worrying about going down to quite that level of detail here.

You'll find the guide divided into a series of sections. Each one is intended to cover a collection of scenes that belong naturally together, like Bilbo's introduction in the Shire or the events at Rivendell. Within each section we'll mention how it ties in to Tolkien's original story before launching into a discussion of what appears on the screen.

A Note on Spoilers

About References

When we quote from the book The Hobbit (or other works) you'll find a number in [square brackets] next to the reference. Check the References list at the bottom of the article for the full source.

If you're reading this article, we're assuming that you've seen the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. If you haven't, and you don't want it utterly spoiled for you, this is an excellent point to stop reading.

We'll also be making references (of course) to the original book of The Hobbit, and to The Lord of the Rings, though we've generally tried to avoid crucial plot points. As far as possible, we've tried to avoid possible spoilers for the next two movies by restricting this discussion to those chapters of The Hobbit covered by the first movie. There are a handful of cases where it's hard to fully discuss something without at least mentioning what's likely to happen in the next two films. In those cases we've marked the possible spoiler like this: [View spoiler]. If you're not concerned about the spoiler, just click the link.

A final warning: though we've been careful about possible spoilers in this article, the main Encyclopedia - which is completely based on the books - has no spoiler restrictions. If you're concerned about being spoiled, then, it's probably best not to click any of the links to Encyclopedia entries.

Bilbo’s Introduction and the History of Erebor

We start with a sequence that connects the story of The Hobbit to the larger Lord of the Rings, with the older Bilbo from the first trilogy writing a full account of his adventures for Frodo. (As Tolkien wrote The Hobbit before The Lord of the Rings, there's naturally no comparable scene in the book). The sequence is set just before the Farewell Party at which Bilbo vanished, and it immediately precedes the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring.

  • Bilbo keeps his writing bound in red leather. This is actually mentioned in The Lord of the Rings: '...a single red case ... that Bilbo gave [Frodo] as a parting gift.' This 'parting', though, is not Bilbo's imminent departure from the Shire, but their parting at Rivendell after the War of the Ring, no less than eighteen years later. If the film follows the same pattern, then Bilbo's cry of 'It's not ready yet' is quite an understatement.

  • Bilbo's handwriting includes a triangle of dots (∴) over each 'a' that he writes. That's the influence of the Elves: Elvish script generally did not use separate characters for vowels, but instead marked them like an 'accent' above or below other characters. Three dots like this usually represent an 'a' sound.

Bilbo's story now moves on to give us a brief history of Erebor and its fall. There's no directly comparable scene in the book where all this information appears at once, though we discover much of it as we go along (and there's a much fuller exposition on the topic in Appendix A III to The Lord of the Rings).

  • The film simplifies the history of Erebor to a certain extent. It had been founded about seven hundred years before the coming of Smaug by Thorin's distant ancestor Thráin I, and it was during his rule that the Heart of the Mountain was found. The Lonely Mountain was later abandoned by the Dwarves, but then refounded by Thorin's grandfather Thrór (whose son and heir - Thorin's father - was also called Thráin). It's perhaps not surprising that the movie distills all these details down to a slightly more straightforward version.

  • There's an unexpected scene where Elvenking Thranduil of the Wood-elves pays 'homage' to King Thrór, though with only the slightest tilt of his head. It's a little difficult to know how to interpret this, as there's nothing comparable in the book. Is he acknowledging Thrór as overlord here, or entering some kind of formal alliance, or merely acknowledging Thrór as a powerful ruler? The fact that the Dwarves seem to expect his help against the Dragon, and see his failure to act as a betrayal, does seem to suggest that there was at least some kind of alliance in place between Thrór and Thranduil.

  • Thrór's dangerously fierce love of gold is mentioned in the movie, but is left unexplained at this point. Just in case the topic reappears in one of the later films, we'll treat the likely reason as a possible spoiler: [View spoiler].

  • Thranduil's appearance at the fall of Erebor is peculiar in a number of ways. His halls are about fifty miles from the Lonely Mountain, but apparently he's able to assemble an army and march that distance in almost no time at all. Having achieved that, he simply turns round and leads his army away again, all while riding a stag (for reasons that remain mysterious). None of this happens in the book; the movie seems to have inserted Thranduil here to give Thorin a concrete grievance against the Elves, which he makes clear throughout the film.

From the wreckage of Erebor and Dale, we transition back to Bilbo writing in the Shire, and he moves on to explain how he became entangled in these events. 'It began as you might expect,' he says: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit'. That is, of course, the famous first line of the book The Hobbit, but more than that, it was essentially the genesis of the entire story.

Tolkien later wrote of a day he was listlessly marking exam papers: 'On a blank leaf I scrawled: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' I did not and do not know why.' From that apparently random line of text grew the story of The Hobbit, which became absorbed into the already-existing Silmarillion narrative to eventually produce The Lord of the Rings. In a certain sense, then, that single line could be said to have given rise to the entire epic story of the Third Age.

  • As Bilbo sorts the replies to his invitations, we see a momentary glimpse of a few lines of a poem he's written. That poem is Errantry, which was published in the collection known as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. It was of course written by Tolkien, but in the preface to that collection he writes that it 'was evidently made by Bilbo' .

  • It's clear that we're seeing the older Bilbo just before his Birthday Party, but it's tricky to pin down exactly how long before. The book The Fellowship of the Ring describes the events referred to here - the notice on the gate and the arrival of Gandalf - as happening several weeks before the Party itself. On the other hand, when Frodo hands Bilbo the replies to his invitations, he says, 'Good gracious! Is it today?', which rather implies that he'd forgotten his own birthday.

  • Frodo mentions that the Sackville-Bagginses are being awkward about their Party invitation. This is a branch of Bilbo's family with whom he has less than friendly relations (Otho Sackville-Baggins was Bilbo's cousin, and would have been his heir if he had not adopted Frodo). They did eventually decide to attend the Party.

As this introductory sequence comes to a close, we see Frodo setting off for Eastfarthing Woods to surprise Gandalf, which must tie in to the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring, where we see him reading in a wood when Gandalf comes along the road (he actually has that book with him as he sets off from Bag End). He has quite a walk ahead of him: 'Eastfarthing Woods' is an invention of the film, but assuming they're in the Eastfarthing (which seems reasonable) Frodo has at least a ten mile hike ahead.

An Unexpected Party

Bilbo's introduction and brief history lesson introduce us to the story itself, and now we move on to the beginning of the tale as Tolkien wrote it. The next sequence - the meeting with Gandalf and the later appearance of a company of strange Dwarves - comes pretty closely from the first chapter of The Hobbit, famously called An Unexpected Party. That's also the source of the name of the entire first film, An Unexpected Journey, though that precise phrase doesn't appear in the book.

  • As we shift back into the past, a caption appears that says '60 years earlier...'. We saw Bilbo writing his tale in III 3001 (the year of his famous 111th Birthday Party) while the unexpected arrival of the Dwarves at Bag End was in the year III 2941: a difference of exactly sixty years. Bilbo was fifty years old when Gandalf recruited him, though it's established that Hobbits tended to age a little more slowly than Men.

  • Gandalf complains about being 'good-morninged by Belladonna Took's son' . That emphasises Bilbo's connection to the eccentric and adventurous Took family, which was part of the reason Gandalf chose him for the adventure in the first place. The Tooks were the hereditary 'Thains' of the Shire; Bilbo could trace his ancestry back through his mother to Thain Gerontius, the famous Old Took, and back further to characters like the Bullroarer, whom Gandalf mentions later.

  • In the book, Gandalf marks Bilbo's door with a distinctive sign interpreted as 'Burglar wants a good job, plenty of Excitement and reasonable Reward' . The film keeps things a bit simpler: he just writes the rune for his own initial 'G'.

  • We've already encountered a few of the Dwarves at the party in The Fellowship of the Ring. The most prominent of these, and the only one seen in the flesh, is Glóin, who is glimpsed briefly at the Council of Elrond with his son Gimli. Later in the same film we see the tomb of Balin in Moria (in the Chamber of Mazarbul, with a light shining down on it) and the book that Gandalf reads from by the tomb was written by Ori.

  • As the Dwarves cause chaos in Bag End, an exasperated Bilbo stops one of them with the words, 'that's grandpa Mungo's chair'. That line is invented for the film, but Bilbo did indeed have a 'grandpa Mungo': the father of Bilbo's own father Bungo.

  • Bilbo has a map on his wall at Bag End, and that's natural enough; indeed he 'loved maps, and in his hall there hung a large one of the Country Round' . What's slightly strange here, though, is that his map is of the country round Sauron's land of Mordor. Perhaps this is meant as subtle foreshadowing of events in the future, but as far as Bilbo knew at this time it was just a desert land with an evil history, a thousand miles away from Bag End - a curious choice of decoration for a Hobbit-hole.

  • Thorin arrives late to the Party because of a meeting with Dwarves of other clans and kingdoms, including those of the Iron Hills. There's a certain logic to the idea that he would try to enlist the help of his fellow Dwarves on his quest (something he doesn't attempt in the book) but it does raise something of a geographical question. The Ered Luin (where the meeting took place) are west of the Shire, and the Iron Hills are away in the east, beyond the Lonely Mountain.

    In other words, for most of their journey home, these envoys would have to follow exactly the same eastward route as Thorin and his Dwarves. It seems to follow that there must be another band of Dwarves on the road throughout the film, presumably somewhere behind Thorin and Company, also heading in the direction of the Lonely Mountain, but planning to go straight past it and home to the Iron Hills.

  • The map that Gandalf reveals is almost identical to that in the original book, except that Smaug (who's represented by a fairly small glyph on the original) has been redrawn to make him much more obvious. One thing to note is that Dwarves draw maps with east at the top, rather than north, so the whole map is rotated ninety degrees anticlockwise from a more conventional point of view.

  • Gandalf tries to encourage Bilbo by telling him the tale of his great-great-great-great-uncle Bandobras 'Bullroarer' Took, who did indeed defeat an incursion of goblins in the Battle of Greenfields. The leader of the invaders - whose head was legendarily knocked down a rabbit-hole - was named Golfimbul, hence the joke about the invention of the game of golf. Gandalf doesn't mention his name, though, so his story about the beginnings of golf seems slightly inexplicable.

The next day the Company sets out, and Bilbo catches up with them. At first he refuses a pony, saying that he's done his fair share of walking holidays, and 'even got as far as Frogmorton once'. Frogmorton was about twenty miles from Bag End; the trip to the Lonely Mountain (taking detours into account) will involve a total journey of about a thousand miles.

The Battle of Azanulbizar

As the Dwarves rest from their journey so far, we take time to catch up on some more of their people's history. The story of the battle that follows is in fact barely mentioned in book of The Hobbit, getting no more than a couple of passing mentions. The more detailed account we see on the screen comes from a much denser version of the story in the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, though it has been altered and simplified a little from that version.

To put things in perspective, the Battle of Azanulbizar was fought in the year III 2799, and we're hearing the story in III 2941, so these are events from 142 years in the past. It's hard not to notice that Thorin has barely changed in that time, and in fact that reflects one fairly significant change in the adaptation: the book's version of Thorin Oakenshield is 195 years old. That's old even for a Dwarf, whose typical lifespan would be about 250 years. In fact, following the book's chronology, Thorin should be older than the white-beared Balin. We can only imagine that the film version of the battle took place in the much more recent past (but in that case why would Fíli and Kíli need to be told about it?)

  • The history of the battle is much more straightforward in the film than in the book: Thrór decides to reclaim Moria, finds it full of Orcs, and loses his head in the ensuing battle. The books have a more elaborate account: Thrór goes to Moria with just a single companion, and finds it occupied by Azog, who cuts off his head and brands the name 'AZOG' on the brow. There follows a nine-year war between the Dwarves and the Orcs, in which Thráin seeks out Azog in vengeance for his father, and the Battle of Azanulbizar is the climactic battle of that war. So, in the book version, the Dwarves aren't fighting to reclaim Moria, but specifically to take revenge on Azog for his murder of Thrór.

  • Balin explains that Azog had sworn to wipe out the line of Durin. That's a reference to the royal line of the Longbeard Dwarves, founded by Durin the Deathless and descending through thousands of years to Thrór, Thráin and Thorin. This is referenced a couple of times later in the film: at one point Thorin asks, 'What in Durin's name is going on?', and we discover in Rivendell that the Dwarves' year begins on Durin's Day.

  • Azog's part in the story has been expanded pretty extensively. The book of The Hobbit mentions his name precisely twice, and tells us almost nothing about him except one fact not yet mentioned in the movies: [View spoiler].

    Azog's title 'the Defiler' is unique to the film (it's presumably a reference to the fact that he branded his name on Thrór's severed head, though in fact he doesn't seem to do that in the film). The reference to him as a 'Gundabad Orc' is also unique to the film, but it makes perfect sense: Mount Gundabad was the northern capital of the Orcs.

  • After the beheading of Thrór, Balin continues the story: 'Thráin, Thorin's father, was driven mad by grief. He went missing; taken prisoner or killed, we did not know.' That rather gives the impression that Thráin disappeared suddenly during the battle and was never seen again. Perhaps that's actually what happened in the movie's version of history, but in the original version he survived the battle (with the loss of an eye) and continued to rule his people for more than forty years. It was only then that he set out on his own foolhardy attempt to reclaim the Lonely Mountain, leaving Thorin to succeed him as leader of his people.

    We do know in fact know what happened to Thráin - in the books, at least - and as that might have a bearing on the remaining films we'll treat it as a possible spoiler: [View spoiler].

  • Thorin, having lost his shield, fights bearing an oaken branch instead; that is, of course, the origin of his title 'Oakenshield'

  • Azog suffers a quite different fate in the two versions. The film has Thorin seriously wounding him, after which he retreats back into Moria (and we later discover that he survived). The book (actually the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings) has Thorin's cousin Dáin fight Azog instead, and we're left in no doubt at all about his fate: 'Right before the doors he caught Azog, and there he slew him, and hewed off his head.'

  • It might seem strange that the Dwarves, after soundly defeating the Orcs occupying their old mansions of Moria, didn't make any attempt to move back in and recolonise it. The film doesn't really explain that decision, but the answer of course is: the Balrog. In the original story Dáin looks into Moria and sees what's lurking inside: 'Only I have looked through the shadow of the Gate. Beyond the shadow it waits for you still: Durin's Bane' .

Radagast the Brown

We move on to meet Gandalf's fellow Wizard, Radagast the Brown. This entire sequence is entirely the invention of the film; Radagast doesn't appear in the book The Hobbit (he's mentioned once, but has no impact on the story at all). Saruman speaks contemptuously of him in The Fellowship of the Ring where he calls him 'Radagast the Bird-tamer! Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool!' The movie seems to have taken those words as a template for his character, though it should be said that he does at least appear capable at times, if not perhaps the 'very great Wizard' that Gandalf rather doubtfully describes.

  • Before we meet Radagast himself, Gandalf gives a little background about the Five Wizards, including a reference to the two Blue Wizards. 'Do you know,' he says, 'I've quite forgotten their names.' Actually, Tolkien himself doesn't seem to have been sure on that point: in some sources they're called Alatar and Pallando, while other references call them Morinehtar and Rómestámo (see here for more on those names). All we know about them for sure is that they went into the far east of Middle-earth long ago, and never returned to the western lands.

  • Now we shift far to the east and south to see Radgast himself, discovering with horror that an evil taint is spreading through the Forest. This is quite a departure from Tolkien's chronology, where the Shadow of the Wood had been growing for nearly two thousand years, and was so well established that the Forest had been long been known as 'Mirkwood'.

    Actually, there are some hints that this scene with Radagast may not fit within the same narrative timeline as the rest of the story, and in fact takes place some time beforehand (though surely not two thousand years beforehand). We'll discuss that idea in a bit more detail as more of the evidence presents itself.

  • Radagast's home in the Forest is named Rhosgobel (which is not mentioned in this sequence, but Radagast does refer to his 'Rhosgobel rabbits' later in the film). The name Rhosgobel comes from rhosc gobel, where rhosc means 'brown' and gobel means 'fenced homestead'. From that name, and other references, we'd expect it to be surrounded by a wooden palisade. On the other hand, since the movie's Radagast is only just learning about the corruption of the Forest, it perhaps makes some sense that he wouldn't have bothered to fortify his home at this point.

  • One curious point to note is that Radagast's forked staff looks very much like the one that Gandalf uses in the movie The Fellowship of the Ring (and quite unlike the pointed staff Gandalf is carrying in An Unexpected Journey). It's hard to be sure whether or not this is meaningful - certainly there's nothing that sheds light on this in the books - but it almost seems to imply that Gandalf will somehow acquire Radagast's staff (or at least one that looks remarkably similar) at some point over the next two films.

Trouble With Trolls

We return to the Dwarves to find them setting up camp at an ominous ruined farmhouse, about to experience the first really dangerous encounter of their adventure. This part of the story comes from the second half of chapter 2 of The Hobbit, entitled Roast Mutton.

  • Right at the beginning of this sequence, Thorin tells Óin and Glóin to get a fire going. That's a nod to the book, where those two brothers are noted as especially good at the lighting of fires.

  • Gandalf and Thorin argue about going to Rivendell, because Thorin distrusts the Elves and wants to avoid the House of Elrond. This comes up a few times during the film, and stems from his betrayal by Thranduil at the fall of Erebor. All of this occurs in the film only: in the original, Thorin raises no objections to Rivendell at all, and Gandalf leads them there without argument.

  • The first sign of trouble is the disappearance of two of the Dwarves' ponies, Daisy and Bungo. Unless there's a remarkable coincidence at work, Bilbo seems to have named these ponies after members of his family: Bungo was his father, and Daisy a distant cousin. Earlier we see Bilbo secretly feeding an apple to another pony, Myrtle, which is the name of yet another distant cousin. The other named pony is Minty, which slightly breaks this pattern, but Bilbo's cousin Myrtle had a brother Minto, who presumably gave Minty his name.

    One peculiarity of this arrangement is the fact that, apart from Bungo, none of these Hobbits actually existed at this point (the eldest of them, Daisy, wouldn't be born for another nine years). So, either Bilbo is being remarkably prescient here, or his extended family would later be so inspired by his story that they named their children after the ponies of the Dwarves.

  • Bilbo's discovery by the Trolls works a little differently between the two versions. In the book, he attempts to prove his worth as a burglar by stealing a purse from one of the Trolls, but the attempt fails when it turns out that the purse can talk: 'Ere, 'oo are you?' it asks as Bilbo removes it, thus revealing his presence. That might have looked a little strange on the screen, so instead Bilbo is accidentally picked up and used as a handkerchief by one of the Trolls.

  • In the book, it's not Bilbo who works out how to stall the Trolls, but Gandalf (who builds up an argument between them by throwing his voice). The whole business with the 'parasites in their... tubes' is entirely an invention of the movie.

  • The downfall of the Trolls in the book is simply their stupidity: they simply keep arguing until the Sun rises and turns them to stone (and that's the story Bilbo tells near the beginning of the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, too). An Unexpected Journey makes things a little more believable (at least, as believable as an account of Trolls turning to stone can be): Gandalf splits a huge rock, causing the Sun to suddenly shine on the Trolls where they might reasonably have expected to have time to finish cooking the Dwarves, if they were quick about their work.

  • These same Trolls make a brief appearance in The Fellowship of the Ring. In a scene after the fight on Weathertop, as Aragorn tends to a wounded Frodo, the three hulking stone figures can be seen in the background.

  • Gandalf says that Trolls hadn't been seen in the land 'for an age, not since a darker power ruled these lands'. That must be a reference to Angmar (or actually to its ally Rhudaur that had once held these lands), which was destroyed almost exactly a thousand years earlier. Actually, they don't seem to have been quite as rare as that suggests: though they did tend to remain in the Mountains, they were seen often enough that this country had gained the name 'Trollshaws' (that is, 'Troll woods').

  • The entrance to the Trolls' cache is remarkably small: it seems barely high enough for even the Dwarves to enter. We have to wonder how the gigantic Trolls, each about four times the height of a Dwarf, managed to make their way into this tiny hole, let alone for three of them to fit inside during the hours of daylight.

  • Examining the swords they find in the Trolls' cache, Gandalf is somehow able to immediately identify them as having been made in Gondolin. That's quite a feat: the city of Gondolin had been destroyed more than six thousand years beforehand, so Gandalf's knowledge of historical swordsmithing must be quite extraordinary (in the book, it's Elrond who identifies them as coming from Gondolin when he has a chance to examine them more closely).

  • The small blade that Bilbo acquires from the Troll-hoard is of course Sting, though at this point in the story it has yet to be given a name (a fact that's brought up later in Rivendell where Bilbo starts to check the sword for any kind of inscription, and Balin tells him not to bother, because 'swords are named for the great deeds they do in war' while Bilbo's is 'more of a letter-opener, really').

Encounters in the Wild

The Company leave the Troll-hole and continue their journey (based on where they find themselves at the end of this sequence, they've actually covered about fifty miles from the Trolls). Now they come across other travellers in the Wild, some friendly and some decidedly less so. This sequence doesn't correspond with anything in the original book.

  • Radagast appears, wanting to warn Gandalf about the darkness encroaching on the Forest. That's an impressive feat: between his earlier scenes and his arrival here, he's made a trip of about a hundred miles from his home to Dol Guldur, and then about another four hundred to reach Gandalf, taking account of the detours he would have to make to cross the Great River and the Misty Mountains. That's another hint that his first few scenes are actually set somewhat earlier than the rest of the film's story.

  • Radagast calls the giant spiders that attacked his home 'spawn of Ungoliant'. Ungoliant was a powerful being who took on the form of a great spider in the ancient past, and fled to Middle-earth after destroying the Two Trees of Valinor (which gave light to the land of the gods). The giant spiders of the Forest were not in fact the literal spawn of Ungoliant, but of her daughter Shelob (the monstrous spider encountered by Frodo and Sam in The Return of the King).

  • Everything Radagast explains here, Gandalf already knows in the books. In fact, he discovered it himself; in the original story, it's not Radagast but Gandalf who goes to Dol Guldur, and thus he's known everything Radagast tells him here for nearly a hundred years.

  • We're told that the Necromancer can summon the spirits of the dead (which is entirely consistent with the name 'Necromancer', though in fact he doesn't do anything like that in the book). As Radagast relates that fact, we see him suddenly attacked by a mysterious ghostly figure. That figure looks a lot like the Witch-king as Frodo later sees him on Weathertop, and he carries a Morgul-blade, so perhaps we're meant to infer that we're seeing one of the Nazgûl in this scene. On the other hand, the Nazgûl are not spirits of the dead (far from it: they're practically immortal) and in theory they should also be completely invisible. Perhaps we'll learn more about Radagast's mysterious assailant as the trilogy develops.

    The discussion at Rivendell perhaps sheds a little more light on this topic, as we'll see shortly.

  • As Radagast prepares to draw off the attacking Orcs, he's warned that they're mounted on 'Gundabad Wargs' and will outrun him; he's unconcerned because he has 'Rhosgobel rabbits'. There's a lot to discuss in this exchange:

    • Gundabad is a mountain in the north that holds the capital of the Orcs (Azog is called a 'Gundabad Orc' earlier in the movie).
    • Wargs are evil and highly intelligent wolves (intelligent to the point that they even have their own language, though that's not portrayed on screen).
    • Rhosgobel is Radagast's home on the edge of the Forest (where we saw him cure Sebastian the hedgehog).
    • Rabbits are pulling Radagast's sledge extremely fast (at least in the film version; he doesn't even have a sledge in the books).

As this sequence comes to an end, the Dwarves have safely slipped away, and the Elves have destroyed the marauding Orcs. That leaves one person unaccounted for: what happened to Radagast? He's right at the entrance to Rivendell, the only friendly house for many miles around, where his fellow Wizards are meeting (and remember he's travelled hundreds of miles just to find Gandalf). That would seem to be the only sensible place for him to go, and yet he just seems to disappear. Perhaps he actually did go to Rivendell, and we just happen never to see him there, or perhaps we're meant to assume that he set out on the long journey back to Rhosgobel.


The Dwarves' visit to Rivendell is taken from chapter 3 of The Hobbit. Entitled A Short Rest, it's also a short chapter: essentially, the Dwarves arrive at Rivendell, Elrond helps them out, and they set off again. The movie version expands on this immensely, with a great deal extra material and a lot more going on behind the scenes than we see in the book version.

  • Thorin and Gandalf seem to take it for granted that the Elves of Rivendell will try to stop them, and they seem to be right (in the end, only a secretive exit from Rivendell allows them to continue their quest). The motivation behind all this is a little unclear: there may be very good reasons why Elrond or Saruman would want to stop the Dwarves, but we're never told what those reasons are, nor why they would have the authority to stop a Dwarf-king returning to his own realm. (There's no comparable problem in the book, where Elrond sends the Dwarves on their way without a single objection.)

  • When Gandalf leads the Dwarves into Rivendell, they're greeted by an Elf named Lindir. He's mentioned briefly in The Lord of the Rings and also has a tiny part in the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, where he appears in a fleeting role at the Council of Elrond, and also as Arwen's escort in The Return of the King. He achieved some considerable fame at the time - he wasn't named on screen in that film, so fans invented the name 'Figwit' for him, and he finally gets a character name in An Unexpected Journey.

  • Lindir greets Gandalf as Mithrandir. That's Gandalf's Elvish name; it means 'Grey Wanderer' and it's used for him by various characters during his stay in Rivendell.

  • As Elrond discovers the Moon-letters on Thrór's Map, he comments on the unlikelihood that the Dwarves would have arrived in Rivendell at just the moment when those letters could be read. 'Fate is with you, Thorin Oakenshield', he says, raising a point that's much more prominent in the book. The questers consistently encounter remarkable good fortune (Bilbo finding Gollum's Ring is probably the most prominent example). Tolkien implies that there are hidden forces at work, helping Bilbo and the Dwarves towards their goal. Elrond's words about fate here are probably the only direct reference to this idea that appears in the film.

  • It was Tolkien's intention that Bilbo acquire a pair of boots in Rivendell, and for him to wear them for the rest of the adventure. In a letter to his American publishers, he wrote 'There is in the text no mention of his acquiring of boots. There should be!' Now we're used to the movies' Hobbits with their huge hairy feet, it might have looked a little strange for Bilbo to wear boots for the rest of the story, but it would have been quite consistent with Tolkien's original intentions (and the production could have made quite a saving on artificial Hobbit-feet).

The action in Rivendell is interrupted by a brief scene in which we discover that Azog in fact survived his wound at the Battle of Azanulbizar and is actively hunting Thorin and the Dwarves. This is quite a change from the book, in which Azog is definitely dead, and there are no Orcs hunting the Dwarves at all at this point. (Though this may seem a fairly major alteration of the story, it actually has relatively little impact on the progression of the plot - at least in this first film of the trilogy).

Now we shift back to Rivendell, where we see a meeting of the White Council (though they're not actually named as such in the film). This exact meeting never took place in the book, but it's not inconsistent with the story as a whole: these characters did meet like this several times, and did take on the roles we see here. Indeed, it's perfectly plausible that a meeting like this did take place as Gandalf passed through Rivendell, but because Bilbo wasn't directly involved, it didn't find its way into his diary.

  • It seems to be generally accepted by the Council that 'Smaug owes allegiance to no-one', but actually this is debatable. In a later account of the events of The Hobbit, Tolkien has Gandalf say, 'The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect.' That implies quite strongly that the Dark Lord had at least some measure of control over the Dragon, though the details are far from clear.

  • Elrond's comments make it clear that the movies are using an entirely different chronology to that in the books. When he says, 'For four hundred years we have lived in peace - a hard-won Watchful Peace', he seems to be implying that Sauron was defeated four hundred years ago (rather than 3,000 years as in the books). There was indeed a 'Watchful Peace' that lasted about four hundred years, but that had ended long ago. The details might contain hints about the upcoming films, so we've treated them as a possible spoiler [View spoiler].

  • Gandalf reveals that the shadow on the Greenwood means that the Woodmen who live there have taken to calling it 'Mirkwood'. This raises a couple of obvious questions:

    • How does he know this? Radagast didn't tell him, but if Gandalf already knew about the corruption of Mirkwood, what was the purpose of Radagast's epic journey across Middle-earth?
    • If the Woodmen have known about this for long enough to give their Forest a new name, how can it be that Radagast (who, remember, 'keeps a watchful eye over the vast forest lands to the east') has only just discovered it?

    These can be reconciled, though with a little difficulty. Perhaps we're to take it that the corruption itself was already well known, but Radagast's important discovery was not the taint itself, but its source in witchcraft from Dol Guldur. That's possible, but it doesn't really fit his earlier scenes, where Radagast really does seem to be seeing the corruption for the first time. Alternatively, perhaps we're meant to see Radagast's adventures as taking place months or years before the beginning of the story itself (so his scenes with Sebastian the hedgehog and the giant spiders is actually a 'flashback' of a sort). That would explain how he managed to do so much in apparently so little time, and his discovery at Dol Guldur would still make it worthwhile for him to seek out Gandalf.

  • Saruman insists that the Necromancer is nothing more than a Mortal Man meddling in black magic. In the original version, the Wise wrongly suspect the Necromancer to be one of the Nazgûl, but in the film Saruman believes the Nazgûl to be imprisoned at this point, so that theory wouldn't make a great deal of sense. At this point in the original story, the Necromancer's true identity was already well established: [View spoiler].

  • Galadriel and Elrond have an exchange that mixes the known ancient history of Middle-earth with some significant departures from the original story. 'When Angmar fell,' says Galadriel, 'The Men of the North took his body and all that he possessed and sealed it within the high fells of Rhudaur.' First, we should take a moment to explain what she's referring to here:

    • Angmar was an evil northern land ruled by the Witch-king (the Lord of the Nazgûl familiar from the Lord of the Rings films). It had defeated and destroyed the realms of Aragorn's ancestors, but then been destroyed itself by the Men of Gondor and the Elves.
    • The Men of the North are presumably the Northern Dúnedain (though Tolkien doesn't use that exact term, so we can't be absolutely sure). These were the ancestors of Aragorn and his people, scattered and defeated by Angmar before its own fall.
    • Rhudaur was a kingdom in alliance with Angmar that ruled the lands west and north of Rivendell. Those were the lands, that is, that Gandalf and the Dwarves have just passed through - so it was most likely Rhudaur that Gandalf was referring to earlier when he spoke of the land once being ruled by 'a darker power').

    All these events happened near the end of the second millennium of the Third Age, and we're now near the end of the third millennium, so (at least following Tolkien's chronology) Galadriel is talking about a period about a thousand years in the past.

    The main difficulty with this account is that the Lord of the Nazgûl escaped the destruction of Angmar (this was when the famous prophecy was made about him: 'not by the hand of man shall he fall' which actually appears in the movie version of The Return of the King). Obviously, history must have been considerably different in the movie universe: instead he was apparently slain and entombed, and his tomb was then sealed with a powerful spell.

    Taking all this into account, together with Radagast's encounter at Dol Guldur, we can assemble a vague theory. It looks very much as though the Necromancer has somehow breached the unopenable tomb and removed the Witch-king and all his possessions (including the Morgul-knife recovered by Radagast) and then brought him back to life, and that it was indeed the Witch-king who attacked Radagast at Dol Guldur. If that's correct, it's a fairly radical departure from Tolkien's original history, but we'll need to wait until the second or third films to (hopefully) discover the full truth of the matter.

After the main meeting, Gandalf and Galadriel speak alone. At the end of their talk, Galadriel tells Gandalf, 'If you should ever need my help, I will come', and then something strange happens: she vanishes into thin air. It's a little unclear whether she really does disappear - Gandalf is preoccupied in this scene, so perhaps he merely fails to notice her walk away. In the context of her last line, though, it almost looks as though we can expect her to appear out of nowhere at some point in the future, doubtless when Gandalf most needs her help.

It hardly needs to be mentioned that Tolkien's Elves can't appear and disappear at will (if they could actually teleport, the entire Quest of Mount Doom would have been resolved rather more easily). Perhaps we're meant to infer that this is some ability granted to Galadriel by her Elven-ring, but there's nothing remotely comparable anywhere in Tolkien's writings.

Into the Mountains

The Dwarves leave Rivendell and make their way into the Misty Mountains. This is the same mountain range beneath which Moria was delved, and the Battle of Azanulbizar was fought in their shadow, but Moria was about two hundred miles to the south of the High Pass used by the Dwarves here.

This next section of the story, covering the Dwarves' journey into the Mountains, their capture by goblins and their escape, reflects chapters 4 and 5 of The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill and Riddles in the Dark.

  • As the Dwarves start their journey into the Mountains, the book mentions in passing that 'across the valley the stone-giants were out and were hurling rocks at one another for a game' and Thorin worries that his party will be 'picked up by some giant and kicked sky-high for a football' . That's the extent of their concerns about the stone-giants, but things look much worse for the Dwarves in the movie, where they seem to find themselves embroiled in a full-scale war, facing very real danger from the clashing giants.

  • Thorin's overt rejection of Bilbo ('He has no place amongst us') doesn't have a direct parallel in the book. In the original, its certainly clear that the Dwarves have very little regard for Bilbo at first, and only gradually develop a respect for him, but nobody states outright that he doesn't belong within the company. (The film version has to make this more obvious, of course, in order to make sense of Thorin's new respect for Bilbo at the end of this instalment.)

  • After Bilbo decides to abandon the quest and tries to leave the cave (something that doesn't happen in the book) he's stopped by Bofur. As part of his explanation he says 'I'm not a Took, I'm a Baggins': that's a reference back to the adventurous Took side of his nature, which Gandalf earlier claimed that he had inherited from his mother Belladonna.

This quiet scene is suddenly interrupted by a goblin ambush. The book version here is much simpler: the goblins emerge in force from a hidden door in the cave, capture the Dwarves, and drive them down underground. The film has made things a little more elaborate, with hidden trapdoors and a system of chutes leading down to a platform deep under the Mountains. The rest of the sequence isn't quite as in the book, but it plays out in a similar way, especially in that Bilbo becomes separated from the others and lost in the dark.

  • The moment where Bilbo finds the Ring is pivotal in the history of Middle-earth, but it's notable for another reason too: it's the only scene that appears in both movie trilogies (we see the same event in the introductory sequence to the Fellowship of the Ring, with Bilbo played there by Ian Holm). Perhaps we'll see Martin Freeman's version edited into any future releases of The Fellowship of the Ring?

We now move on to the Riddle-game between Bilbo and Gollum. Considering that this is just a long sequence with two characters asking each other riddles, the movie stays remarkably close to the book, though it drops a handful of the riddles from the original (for readers of The Hobbit, they're the riddles whose answers are 'sun on the daisies', 'dark', 'fish' and 'fish on a little table, man at table sitting on a stool, the cat has the bones' ). There are just a couple of minor changes worth mentioning:

  • After the 'teeth' riddle, Gollum announces that he only has nine. In the original, he only has six teeth (presumably this was changed for consistency with The Lord of the Rings movies, where Gollum clearly has more than six teeth).

  • In the book, when Gollum asks Bilbo the riddle whose answer is 'fish', Bilbo is stumped until a fish jumps out of the lake and lands on his toes. There's no 'fish' riddle in the movie, so this idea is moved to the 'wind' riddle, where he's prompted to think of the answer by seeing a ripple on the lakewater.

  • The riddles in the game are taken almost word for word from the book, but there's a very small change to Gollum's final riddle. The book starts this with 'This thing all things devours...' , but the film version just has 'All things it devours...' instead.

  • The Dwarves, meanwhile, have been brought before the Great Goblin. If Gandalf's sword-identification skills were impressive back when Orcrist and Glamdring were discovered in the Troll-hole, the Great Goblin's knowledge here is truly astonishing. Though neither of these swords have been seen or heard of for thousands of years, he recognises Thorin's weapon at a glance. Even more impressively, when Gandalf appears in a flash of light, the Great Goblin can identify Glamdring instantly in the dark.

    He uses the swords' other names: Orcrist translates as 'Goblin-cleaver' (and the Orcs called it simply 'Biter'), while Glamdring was the 'Foe-hammer' (or 'Beater' to the Orcs).

  • It's not obvious in the movie exactly how Gandalf finds the Dwarves. The book version is straightforward: he's in the cave when the goblins attack, and follows secretly when the Dwarves are captured. In the film version, though, the Dwarves think they have left him behind at Rivendell at this point; it's not made clear how he located them, or how he managed to make his way into Goblin-town.

  • The Dwarves and Gandalf make a desperate escape from the goblins in both versions, and it does indeed involve some fighting (though the film version has made the escape into rather more of a spectacular roller-coaster ride). The main difference is that book Bilbo has been with the Dwarves all the way up to this point, and its only during the escape that he becomes lost in the darkness.

  • Just before Bilbo makes his own escape, we see him invisibly wrestling with his conscience: should he kill the pitiable Gollum, who is blocking his way to freedom? The film goes to great lengths to show us how much doubt is going through Bilbo's mind at this point, having him line up his sword twice before eventually relenting and leaping over Gollum instead. Bilbo's choice here is emphasised so strongly because it comes up in Gandalf's famous lines in The Fellowship of the Ring: 'Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand...'

Out of the Frying-Pan

The final sequence of the movie comes mainly from chapter 6 of The Hobbit, titled Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire (a phrase which actually appears on the screen in dialogue between Thorin and Gandalf). Actually, the final moments of the film stretch over into the first few pages of the following chapter, Queer Lodgings.

  • The situation here plays out much the same in both the book and the film, but the events leading up to that situation differ between the two versions. The book version has the Company blundering into the Wargs' meeting-place and escaping into the trees, after which goblins from the Misty Mountains - those they've just escaped from - join the Wargs. In the movie we have a different set of Orcs (led by Azog) riding on Wargs and actively hunting the Dwarves. So, the setup works slightly differently in each case, but the outcome is the same: the Dwarves are trapped in trees and troubled by Orcs and Wargs.

  • Having the Dwarves trapped in burning trees, surrounded by Orcs and Wargs, is dangerous enough in the book, but the film has taken their peril up to a new level. Instead of these events just happening around a forest clearing (as they do in the book) they're now set on the edge of an immense precipice.

  • In the earlier scenes in Goblin-town, it was established quite emphatically that the blades of Gondolin glow with a blue light when Orcs are nearby (or at least that Bilbo's blade does so; according to the book, the swords of Gandalf and Thorin should glow too). In this sequence, however, though our heroes are surrounded by Orcs, and later actually fight them, none of these weapons shows any kind of glow at all. (Actually, there are a couple of very brief shots where Bilbo's sword seems to glitter for a moment, but that seems to be a reflection of the moonlight rather than intermittent Orc-detection.)

  • Gandalf spies an opportunity for escape when he spots a moth in his tree, which he uses to send for the help of the Eagles. This reiterates a theme from The Fellowship of the Ring movie, where he uses the same technique to escape from Isengard. This entire moth-Eagle connection is an invention of the movies, and frankly it's a little difficult to see how it would work in practice. Things are much simpler in the books: the Eagles simply see the burning trees and fly down to investigate; recognising Gandalf, they rescue him and his companions.

  • As Thorin strides into battle against Azog, he picks up a log from the ground. This is of course a reference back to the Battle of Azanulbizar, where he used an oaken log as a makeshift shield and thus gained his name Oakenshield. In the original story, that was a unique historical event, but here it seems that shields made of logs are part of Thorin's preferred fighting style. The only trees in the area are pines, so Thorin isn't strictly using an 'oaken' shield here.

After the Eagles rescue the Dwarves from Azog and his Orcs, the movie skips forward a few pages: in the book, we learn a little more about the Eagles, and Gandalf persuades them to carry the Dwarves forward a little on their journey. The movie version jumps over that section, and just has the Eagles land the Dwarves directly on the Carrock (that's the name of the rocky pillar they land on, though it's not actually given in the film).

  • From the wide shots we see of the Carrock, it almost looks as through the Eagles have landed the Dwarves on a steep-sided pinnacle with no possible means of descent. Actually, there are steps carved into the rock leading down to its base; it's possible to glimpse the top of these briefly in one of the later shots.

  • The thrush that Óin spots, which then flies to the Lonely Mountain and knocks a snail shell against a rock, is a reminder of the words that Elrond read from Thrór's Map: 'Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks'. Indeed, the thrush is next to a grey rock-wall at the time, so perhaps this is a glimpse of the secret way into Lonely Mountain (though since the hidden door is meant to be undetectably disguised, it's very difficult to be sure about that).

  • In the closing shot of the Dwarves, we see them looking out from the Carrock towards the Lonely Mountain. It's about two hundred and fifty miles between those two points, so in reality the mountain almost certainly wouldn't be visible to the Dwarves, or at best its summit might be a tiny speck on the horizon - but only if it was taller than Mount Everest! That distance puts the flight of Óin's thrush into perspective: though the film seems to show it reaching the mountain almost instantaneously, it would actually have taken at least eight hours' sustained flying to cover the distance.

Appendix: The Fellowship of the Ring

So, what was happening to the nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring while Bilbo was having his adventures? Well, five of them (the four Hobbits and Boromir) weren't yet born. Frodo was the eldest of these five (born twenty-seven years after Bilbo's quest) followed ten years later by Boromir - and, yes, that does mean that Frodo was ten years older than Boromir, at least according to the books. Then came Sam, and then Merry, and finally Pippin, whose birth was still nearly fifty years away at this point.

Those five aside, there were still four members of the Fellowship alive and well in Middle-earth as Bilbo journeyed towards the Lonely Mountain:


1The Hobbit 1, An Unexpected Party
2The Hobbit 2, Roast Mutton
3The Hobbit 4, Over Hill and Under Hill
4The Hobbit 5, Riddles in the Dark
5The Lord of the Rings Prologue: Note on Shire Records
6The Fellowship of the Ring I 2, The Shadow of the Past
7The Fellowship of the Ring II 2, The Council of Elrond
8The Return of the Ring V 4, The Siege of Gondor
9The Lord of the Rings Appendix A III Durin's Folk
10The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Preface
11Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth* Part Three III, The Quest of Erebor
12The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 27, dated 1938
13The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 163, dated 1955

All by J.R.R. Tolkien; * edited by Christopher Tolkien, † edited by Humphrey Carpenter

For acknowledgements and references, see the Disclaimer & Bibliography page.

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