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Beorn is a fictional character created by J. R. R. Tolkien. He appears in The Hobbit as a shape-shifter (or, in the actual text, a "skin-changer"), a man who could assume the appearance of a great black bear.
He lives with his animal retinue (horses, dogs, sheep, and cows, among others) in a wooden house between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood, to the east of the Anduin. According to Gandalf, Beorn "does not eat them; neither does he hunt or eat wild animals".1
Beorn was of immense size and strength for a man, and retained his size and strength in bear-form. He had black hair (in either form) and a thick black beard and broad shoulders (in human form). While not a "giant" outright, Beorn's human form was of such great size that the three and a half foot tall Bilbo judged that he could have easily walked between Beorn's legs without touching his body.
Beorn often left his home during the narrative of The Hobbit for hours or days at a time, for purposes not completely explained. It is possible he could have left to drive out or eliminate enemies and other threats from the surrounding lands, or to find edible vegetation from further away. Beorn could be nocturnal as well, as he seemed to leave at night in bear-form. Beorn named the Carrock and created the steps that led from its base to the flat top.
His origins lay in the distant past, and Gandalf suspected he and his people had originally come from the mountains. Gandalf speculated that Beorn belonged to an entire race of men who used to dwell in the mountains, all of whom possessed the ability to shapeshift into animals. However, when the Orcs infiltrated the Misty Mountains they gradually killed off all of the skin-changers through sheer weight of numbers, until only Beorn remained alive and ultimately had to flee the mountains and across to the eastern side of the Anduin river. Gandalf believes this theory about Beorn is correct, because one night from a distance he saw Beorn in his bear-form sitting on the Carrock, watching the Moon as it set behind the Misty Mountains to the west, and heard Beorn angrily growling in the language of the bears: "The day will come when they will perish and I shall go back!" Beorn built a new homestead for himself in an oak wood east of the Anduin River and west of Mirkwood, though he never attempted to cross to the west of the Anduin again because there were too many Orcs. Embittered against the goblins and the last survivor of his race, Beorn did not trust outsiders, did not answer many questions about himself, and was quick to anger, although Gandalf insisted that he was kind enough if humoured.
In The Hobbit, Beorn received Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and the 13 Dwarves and aided them in their quest to reclaim the Dwarves' kingdom beneath Erebor, the Lonely Mountain. He was convinced of their trustworthiness after confirming their tale of encountering the Goblins of the Misty Mountains, and Gandalf's slaying of their leader, the Great Goblin. Aside from giving the group much-needed resupply and lodging after their escape from the Goblins, Beorn gave them vital information about what path to take to cross Mirkwood. As it turned out, Thorin's original plan to cross using the Old Forest Road located much further south would have led them into disaster, as the road had fallen into disrepair and become flooded near the eastern end. Instead, Beorn informed them of a secret path made by the Elves which ran east-west from Thranduil's halls at the River Running at the eastern end, all the way to a western outlet not far from Beorn's home.
Later, hearing of a vast host of Goblins on the move, Beorn arrived at the Lonely Mountain in time to strike the decisive blow in the Battle of Five Armies, in his bear form, slaying the Goblin leader, Bolg, and his bodyguards; without direction, the Goblin army scattered and were easy pickings for the other armies of Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Eagles.
In the years between the Battle of Five Armies and the War of the Ring, possibly spurred by his interaction with Thorin & Company, Beorn stopped being a recluse, and rose to become a leader of the woodmen living between the Anduin river and the fringes of Mirkwood, rallying them against the remaining Orcs in the mountains. His people were known as the Beornings, and they helped defend Thranduil's kingdom at northern Mirkwood. As stated by Glóin in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Beornings also "keep open the High Pass and the Ford of Carrock." He presumably died some time before the War of the Ring itself began, and was succeeded by his son Grimbeorn the Old.
Even though Beorn could have been dead by the time, his death is not included in the chronologies in that book's appendices.
Beorn does not appear in the Rankin-Bass animated adaptation of The Hobbit. In the edition of the book illustrated with art from this film, Beorn was illustrated with drawings in the same visual style, which may or may not have been pre-production art from the film.
The Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt is cast as Beorn in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. While Beorn never actually shape-shifts between man and bear-formA during the narrative of The Hobbit book, comments made by Weta Workshop indicate that in the adaptation will Beorn's transformation from man to bear be a major special effects sequence.
In naming his character, Tolkien used beorn, an Old English word for bear, which later came to mean man and warrior (with implications of freeman and nobleman in Anglo-Saxon society).2 It is related to the Scandinavian names Björn (Swedish and Icelandic) and Bjørn (Norwegian and Danish), meaning bear. The word baron is indirectly related to beorn.
- ^A Beorn is encountered in both forms, but his actual transformation appears "off-screen", away from the point of view of the main characters
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937), Douglas A. Anderson, ed., The Annotated Hobbit, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 2002), ISBN 0-618-13470-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Appendices, The Tale of the Years, ISBN 0-395-08256-0
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