This isn’t a review of the film or a discussion about the pros and cons of the adaptation to the silver screen. It is simply a basic guide for those who are yet to embark on their journey to Middle-Earth, as well as those who have seen and enjoyed The Lord of the Rings movies but never read any of the books including The Hobbit.
Middle-Earth is the fantasy world created by Tolkien. The events in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey take place a good 60 years before those in The Lord of the Rings and part of them serve as the foundation for much of what is to come in the LOTR trilogy. The Hobbit is actually just one small book and there are many misconceptions about its singular story being stretched over three instalments in this prequel trilogy (the second instalment, The Desolation of Smaug will be out in 2013 and the final, There And Back Again in 2014). The trilogy narrative will not only comprise of the events in the main book but also incorporate a lot of content from the various Tolkien works and appendices to recreate the other parallel stories occurring in Middle-Earth (briefly alluded to in the book) during the main narrative of The Hobbit.
This brings us to the central plot of the films which is very simple in itself. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins of the Shire (uncle of Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings) is persuaded by wizard Gandalf the Grey to go on a quest to the Lonely Mountain with a company of fourteen Dwarves as they seek to reclaim their treasure and lost home of Erebor from the dragon Smaug.
This company is led by Thorin Oakenshield who is the rightful heir to the throne of the Durin’s Folk (the most important and oldest of the seven Dwarf clans).
Hobbits (or Halflings are they are also referred to) as a race are small (3-4 feet in height and very stealthy on their feet), fun, food and party loving individuals who wish for a simple life without venturing outside into the world past their Shire. And yet a rather reluctant Bilbo is convinced by Gandalf to be the ‘burglar’ on the quest, for reasons and intuitions that will be revealed in due time. The company is being pursued by Azog, the Orc chieftain of Moria who has vowed to end the line of Thror (Thorin’s grandfather). Moria, under the Misty Mountains, was the first home of the Dwarves before they were driven out by Orcs (another race in Middle-Earth whose origin stories are varied and many).
Other important characters include the Elf Lord Elrond of Rivendell (Elrond established this settlement in a deep valley not easily accessible. It is also called Imladris and The Last Homely House west of the Mountains), Saruman the White, the head of the Wizard’s Council, Galadriel, the elf Lady of the woods of Lorien and the creature Gollum who is in possession of the one Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron. At the time of this story, Sauron has been defeated and Middle-Earth has been in a state of watchful peace. This forms the crux of the subtle narrative in the backdrop throughout the journey in The Hobbit.
Darkness and evil seems to be stirring again and there are whispers about a certain Necromancer in Dol Guldur (the old stronghold of Sauron before his defeat) who can communicate with the spirits of the dead and is rumored to have powers the likes of which have not been seen in Middle-Earth. The One Ring (thought to have been lost forever in the depths of the ocean) which gave Sauron his power has sensed this and after biding time in the bowels of the earth with Gollum for many years, wants to be found. It takes its chance when Bilbo stumbles upon them in an attempt to escape from a particularly nasty batch of goblins.
The most important thing to be remembered is that this is the first part of three, and that The Hobbit was always intended to be more of an out-and-out adventure tale for young adults and kids rather than the adult epic nature of The Lord of the Rings. The respective contents and tones of both series reflect this in spite of their shared characters and narrative, and yet there is no reason for adults not to revel in the fantasy. The film’s tag-line is apt when it says ‘From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends’. So all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the vicarious pleasure of being a part of this Middle-Earth quest.