Chapter Seven: Queer Lodgings
When I first considered this project I did a quick review of the book to try and identify specific parts that were candidates for removal when translating the story to film. Back when this was to be a two-film series, this next chapter seemed like it should be at the top of that list. It was certainly a casualty of the 1977 Rankin/Bass adaptation. As part of the book, it’s a staple. As part of a film, however, I considered it to be expendable. So naturally I was surprised when I found out that the part of Beorn had been officially cast.
The events of “Queer Lodgings” accomplish two things: introducing the character Beorn and providing a reason that the company should choose a less traveled road through Mirkwood. While an interesting character, the skin-changing Beorn does not enter into the story again until his last minute appearance at the Battle of the Five Armies.
Therefore, I determined that it could be removed completely without drastically affecting the rest of the plot. Since his presence doesn’t really do very much to move the narrative forward, the skipping over of this chapter would have been understandable. The information that the goblins were searching for the Dwarves (thereby diverting the journey northwards to avoid them) could have come from other sources.
In light of the “3 film” announcement, however, it’s obvious that not only would this chapter be fully recreated but it’s possible that it could even be expanded in some way.
It seemed plausible to me that Radagast the Brown could have been the means of introducing the company to Beorn. Indeed, in the book it is Gandalf who mentions his “good cousin Radagast” to Beorn when explaining that he is a wizard. Of course this was before I was aware of the use to which Peter Jackson would put Radagast in “An Unexpected Journey”.
Admittedly, it is pretty standard rule in film making that you don’t typically waste screen time recounting a story of what the audience just saw unless you do it from a completely different perspective. Therefore, one might expect that Gandalf’s ploy of introducing the Dwarves gradually while explaining all of their adventures up to that point might be unnecessary. But it is more likely that Jackson will do his best to use this incident to comedic effect.
In this chapter, Gandalf and Bilbo make the first overture to Beorn and, as his account of their exploits against the Goblins keeps getting interrupted, the Dwarves appear in the following order: Thorin and Dori, Nori and Ori, Balin and Dwalin, Fili and Kili, Oin and Gloin, Bifur and Bofur, and lastly, Bombur. Beorn actually recognizes the lead Dwarf as Thorin, son of Thrain. Incidentally, I’m curious as to whether or not Gandalf (or Thorin) will refer to Azog by name. Will Beorn be familiar with him?
The company joins Beorn for dinner at his dwelling and it is here that Tolkien gives a description of how several animals assist in preparing the dining area for them. At first, I was skeptical that any of this would be shown. But, having seen the animals at Rhosgobel (not to mention the rabbit-driven sleigh of Radagast), I’m guessing we shall see ponies, dogs and sheep carrying torches in their mouths and pushing benches up to the table. Though how they’ll be presented handling bowls, platters, knives and wooden spoons is questionable. Tolkien states that at least the dogs could “stand on their hind-legs when they wished, and carry things with their fore-feet.” This might be pushing the boundaries of absurdity, even for Peter Jackson.
During dinner there is a song about the wind and the Lonely Mountain that probably won’t be seen but Beorn shares stories about Mirkwood that may be used in the film as a support for the accounts that Radagast has already provided. In fact, these tales could be the catalyst for Gandalf’s imminent departure from the company.
As I re-read this chapter I thought to myself how reminiscent it was to the encounter with Tom Bombadil in “Fellowship”. In both cases, the travelers get shelter from danger, are given ponies and other provisions for their journey, receive advice on how to proceed and spend more than one night to find that the next morning their host is not present. It wouldn’t surprise me to see some of minor elements of the Tom Bombadil encounter (which was eliminated from that film) to find their way here.
During the second evening (though I’m sure we will only see one of them), Beorn, in his bear form, comes across a goblin riding a Warg and it is here that he learns of the size and scope of the goblin army that is pursuing his guests. Because of this threat, he suggests to the Dwarves that they continue off the beaten path and directs them to a less hospitable route in the Northern part of Mirkwood, warning them of an enchanted stream that they must cross. The more well-traveled “old forest road” is known by the Orcs and the eastern end has fallen into disrepair, becoming essentially a dead end.
It is interesting to note that although in the book Beorn’s shape-shifting capability always takes place “off screen” it has been reported by representatives of the Weta Workshop group that his transformation will be a major special effects sequence. Now in the book, Beorn’s role in the Battle of the Five Armies is critical. So, considering the plans for the transformation effects, I would expect the full visual impact to be saved for that moment rather than showing it at this point in the story. It will be enough to know that Beorn is a “skin-changer” and capable of becoming a large black bear. We get a hint of this from a promotional poster released by New Line Cinema depicting Gandalf seemingly converse with a bear.
As to the origin of Beorn, there are some interesting bits of information included in "The Annotated Hobbit". Note 4 to the chapter states:
“The name Beorn is actually an Old English word for “man, warrior”, but originally meant “bear”; it is cognate with the Old Norse bjorn, “bear”.”
Note 5 lists several other examples from Norse mythology that undoubtedly inspired this character. Tolkien mentions in one of his letters that Beorn, though “magical”, is definitely a man and, by the time of The Council of Elrond where he is briefly mentioned, is dead. There is no other reference to him that I could find in any of his other writings or any of the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings (including “The Tale of Years”).
At the entrance to the path into Mirkwood, Bilbo and the Dwarves are told by Gandalf that he needs to part from the company to attend to “pressing business away south”. What will Gandalf’s pressing business be? In the book the purpose was to meet with the White Council, but he has already done that at Rivendell. I am guessing that it will be to investigate Dol Guldur himself since we see several shots of him in the trailer walking through what looks like this location.
This raises additional questions. At what point will he summon the White Council again? How much of the Necromancer will we see? Radagast, Saruman and Galadriel are all listed as part of the cast of films two and three. In the appendices, it is explained that Gandalf encountered Thrain in Dol Guldur at which point he acquired that key and the map of Erebor but at this point in the film series (as in the book) he already has them.
The story as it has been laid out so far seems to suggest that a journey by Gandalf to Dol Guldur will confirm his suspicion that the Necromancer is indeed Sauron. Likely, he will obtains some sort of evidence that will convince the White Council as well and create the need the drive this evil from Mirkwood, a scene that I suspect will be shown in the final film.
As Gandalf departs, I wonder how much of his business – if any – he will share with the Dwarves, being as he would be sharing it with the audience as well. Bilbo asks the wizard if they really must go through the forest. Gandalf replies “you must either go through or give up your quest”. This reminds me of Gollum’s direction to Frodo at Shelob’s Lair that he must “go in…or go back”. In both cases there be spiders ahead.
In the last paragraph of the chapter, the text reads “Now began the most dangerous part of all the journey”, which continues in “Flies and Spiders”.