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The Hobbit cheat sheet

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

Pierre Vinet/New Line Cinema

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

Is “The Hobbit” a prequel to “The Lord of the Rings”?

In a way. Rather, “The Lord of the Rings,” published in 1954-55, was intended as the sequel to “The Hobbit,” which appeared in 1937. Tolkien only teased his imaginary world of Middle-earth in “The Hobbit,” and the dwarves and Bilbo’s quest was a modest tale. With “Rings,” Tolkien expanded his vision into serious epic.

“The Hobbit” is just a kids’ story, right?

The tone is more jovial and less dark than the “high fantasy” mode of “The Lord of the Rings,” because “The Hobbit” began as a bedtime tale that Tolkien told his children. That doesn’t mean the themes of bravery, sacrifice, greed, fellowship, and the nature of honor, leadership, and power, don’t come into play.

Wait, “The Hobbit” will be a trilogy?

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Whereas the length of the “The Lord of the Rings” (about 1,200 pages) justified its three-part movie treatment for many, at 300 pages “The Hobbit” hardly seems worthy of one film, let alone more. When Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. announced in July that their original two-part film would be a trilogy, industry watchers reacted strongly and the Tolkienverse shuddered. The final two installments will be subtitled “The Desolation of Smaug” (expected Dec. 13, 2013) and “There and Back Again” (July 18, 2014).

Where did the filmmakers get the extra material to stretch the “The Hobbit” into a trilogy?

When Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings,” he also wrote extensive notes about his world, and the events surrounding “The Hobbit.” He published these bonus plot developments in appendices at the end of “The Lord of the Rings.” Jackson and his screenwriters have also taken additional liberties with the material.

What’s with this 48 frames-per-second thing?

We’re used to viewing films shot at 24 frames-per-second (fps), and increasingly in 3-D. Jackson shot the entire “Hobbit” trilogy in 3-D at 48 fps, the first major release filmed in this format. A double frame rate is supposed to create a sharper image, but some find the visual quality too hyper-realistic and even nausea-inducing.

What, no Viggo? But there is “Figwit”

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Sorry, Viggo Mortensen will not be returning as Aragorn (sniff, sniff). Neither will Arwen (Liv Tyler). But Frodo does appear, and another “Rings” hottie, Orlando Bloom (Legolas) will return in a later “Hobbit” episode. Better yet, Bret “Figwit” McKenzie is back. In “Rings,” the “Flight of the Conchords” singer played an elf dubbed by fans “Figwit” (an acronym for “Frodo is great — who is that?!?”). Here, McKenzie plays the elvish-speaking Lindir, and speaks elvish with Elrond.

Is Gollum’s ring the ring?

Yes, the ring that Bilbo finds in Gollum’s cave is the same “One Ring” that all of Middle-earth fusses about later. But get this bonus tidbit: When Tolkien first wrote “The Hobbit,” he didn’t know Gollum’s “birthday present” would take on such significance in his sequel. He had to fix future editions of “The Hobbit” to better match that story arc.

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