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|Tolkien's legendarium character|
|Book(s)||The Hobbit (1937)|
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.
In The Hobbit, Beorn received Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and the 13 Dwarves and aided them in their quest to reclaim their kingdom beneath 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, Beorn gave them vital information about what path to take to cross Mirkwood.
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 he slew 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. Beorn often left his home during the narrative of The Hobbit for hours or days at a time, for purposes not completely explained.
His origins lay in the distant past, 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. When the Orcs infiltrated the Misty Mountains they killed off all of the skin-changers through sheer weight of numbers, until only Beorn remained alive. Beorn fled across the Anduin river and built a new homestead for himself in an oak wood west of Mirkwood. Beorn also named the Carrock and created the steps that led from its base to its flat top.
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. 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.
Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt plays Beorn in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and in its sequel There and Back Again. Beorn does not appear in the Rankin-Bass animated adaptation of The Hobbit.
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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