The Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins' adventure, to retake the dwarf-kingdom of Erebor. Gandalf the wizard organizes a company of 13 darves, lead by Thorin Oakenshield. They hire the hobbit Bilbo as master-thief to help them chase off Smaug, the terrible dragon from the Lonely Mountain. On their journey, the company has to fight against three hungry trolls, escape from a horde of orks and pass by Rivendell, the last homely house west of the Mountains and Elvish outpost. In Rivendell they feast and regather for the cumbersome travel across the mountains, where they unintentionally become part of a battle between stone-giants and as a result, get caught by the orks of Moria. Bilbo, being a hobbit and therefore very small, can escape and finds himself along with the creature Gollum. Gollum has lost a precious ring, which the hobbit finds by accident. By chance and luck, the dwarves together with Gandalf and the Hobbit, are able to escape using the help of the great eagles of Middle-Earth.
The Hobbit movies are prequels to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, both separated by about 60 years. The intermediate years between the two stories are described in detail in the fifth and last part of "The Silmarillion" by J.R.R Tolkien, the author of the stories. Producer and writer of the movies made a point to generate overlaps in both trilogies, and there is more of those than one would guess at first glance:
Bilbo Baggins: Bilbo is not only 'the Hobbit', but also the uncle of Frodo Baggins, the main character of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Bilbo found the one ring in the the cave of Gollum and passed it to Frodo after his last big birthday party in the Shire, the home of the Hobbits.
Gandalf the wizard: With his long beard and pointy hat, he is responsible for Bilbo's involvement in the journey to the Lonely Mountain. In Lord of the Rings, he is the leader of the war against Sauron and eventually is transformed from Gandalf "the grey" to Gandalf "the white"; the leader of the wizard order in Middle-Earth. He has many names, Elves for example call him Mithrandir.
The creature Gollum: Gollum is the keeper of the master-ring at the beginning of the Hobbit. Forged by Sauron in order to gain dominion over all free people of Middle-Earth, the ring is engraved: "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them". After the ring falls into the hands of Bilbo, Gollum is driven by the thought to get his "precious" back.
Sauron, master of darkness: While he is the main-thread for Middle-Earth in the Lord of the Rings, he is struggling to regain some of his power during the Hobbit. However, he is in the first Hobbit-movie as a side-story: The neuromancer, who inhabits an old fortress and is discovered by Radagast, the brown wizard.
Elrond, master of Rivendell: As master of Rivendell, Elrond welcomes many travelling companies in Middle-Earth. Among them is the dwarf-company with Bilbo and Gandalf during 'the Hobbit' and the fellowship of the ring, during 'Lord of the Rings'. Together with Galadriel, the beautiful Elven queen (also appears in both movie trilogies), he is part of the white council, a group of keepers of the freedom of Middle-Earth.
There are many different characters in the books written by Tolkien, and many of them have different motives and reasons for their doing. This is no different in 'The Hobbit':
Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarf-company, is the lost son of the kingdom Erebor. He wants to retake his home and kingdom from Smaug, the dragon. The twelve other dwarves follow Thorin, whom they consider to be their king. Among the dwarfes is Gloin, the father of Gimli, who becomes part of the fellowship in the ring-trilogy.
Gandalf the wizard, is one of the safeguards of Middle-Earth. While helping the dwarfes, he constantly tries to understand, why more and more foul creatures (Orks and Trolls) are seen in Middle-Earth. His intention is to help the dwarfes gaining back their kingdom, so that they will help guarding the boarders from the lonely mountain towards the east.
Bilbo the Hobbit does not know his motivation at the beginning of the unexpected journey. But after his escape from the Goblin-tunnels, he realizes that his main intention and purpose is to help his dwarf-friends find a home. This, and saving Thorins life, enables him to find his place among the company.
Smaug the dragon lives from the suffering of people in his surrounding. By taking Erebor, he was able to chase off the dwarves into the wild and, because he hoards his wealth, throw the surrounding countries into poverty.
J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of both, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, refused to sell the filming rights of his stories to Walt Disney. Tolkien had always had concerns about adaptations and openly critizized Walt Disney for his style. As a consequence, while the books might be considered to be child-stories, there are plenty of characters and creatures depicted in a very plastic and vivid way, so that the movies could cause some sleepless nights for youngsters.
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