Sure, size doesn't matter—just ask those scrappy, heroic hobbits.
But when it comes to the big-screen version of The Hobbit, it's all about size, baby: Peter Jackson's sprawling adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's book features no fewer than 13 dwarves, three wizards, two elven leaders, a dragon, a sinister ring lover and, of course, the titular hero—all part of an epic adventure spanning three films.
To help you navigate your journey through the first installment of the ambitious trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, we've pulled together a handy guide to the saga's key characters. Clip and save it: It's precioussss.
Bilbo Baggins: The hero of our tale, this pint-size but dogged fellow (played by Martin Freeman) from peaceful Bag End gets drafted into a sweeping quest with a band of dwarves to reclaim their gold from a fearsome dragon. Of course, the invitation to that adventure comes from…
Gandalf: The worldly and wise wizard (Ian McKellen), who would later draft Bilbo's young cousin-turned-adoptive-son Frodo into an even more perilous mission in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is the architect of quest, as he teams Bilbo up with a band of dwarves for their journey to the Lonely Mountain.
Thorin Oakenshield: The leader of the cadre of dwarves, Thorin (Richard Armitage) has a birthright claim to the treasure they seek: It belonged to his grandfather Thror, the great "King under the Mountain"—a title that Thorin is expected to eventually assume. But his headstrong, if stubborn, nature doesn't always work in his favor.
The Dwarves—Balin, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur: Bilbo gets some major backup from this motley crew of oddballs, whose ranks include a longtime battle ally of Thorin's, two of his nephews, and several pairs and trios of brothers. Bonus points if you can say all their names under five seconds without stumbling.
Gollum: A key player in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the creature once known as the hobbitlike Sméagol (again brought to life by motion-capture wiz Andy Serkis) dwells deep in the caves of the Misty Mountains, where he broods obsessively over the ring he's found (later known to be the all-corrupting One Ring). After it inadvertently winds up in the hands of Bilbo, the two match wits in a deadly riddle game that serves as a pivotal moment in the saga.
Smaug: Nope, The Hobbit filmmakers haven't yet revealed a pic of the legendary dragon, who years before terrorized Thorin's ancestors and laid waste to the region, pillaging their vaunted treasure (he's voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). He resides in the Lonely Mountain and keeps sinister watch over those to dare to enter his domain.
Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman: The three, along with Gandalf, come together as part of the White Council to face the growing threat coming from the wood-elves' realm of Mirkwood. (Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee reprise their respective roles.) It is Elrond, however, who helps Bilbo & Co. decipher an important clue that let them gain entry to the Lonely Mountain.
Radagast: A character who originally appears in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this comical "brown" wizard (Sylvester McCoy), who dwells in the forest and communicates with animals, now figures prominently into The Hobbit films, where he susses out a growing menace coming from deep within the Mirkwood forest—apparently the work of a shadowy conjurer known as the Necromancer.
Azog: This albino orc leader (Manu Bennett), who has a bone to pick with Thorin, once met defeat during a great battle between the orcs and dwarves but is destined to once again wreak havoc on Middle-earth.
The Great Goblin: King of the goblins (voiced by Barry "Dame Edna" Humphries) who reside in deep in mountain tunnels, he and his many minions throw a major wrench into the works as the companions try to navigate a dangerous pass over the Misty Mountains.
(Originally published on Dec. 13, 2012, at 9:15 a.m. PT)