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All This Business About Beorn

Image Credit: The Brothers Hildebrandt
Beorn the skin-changer in The Hobbit is one of those characters from Tolkien about whom you can't help but wonder.  He has animal servants and speaks to them in a mysterious language that is not English, he vacates his great wooden house in the night only to be replaced by fearsome bear noises outside, and - oh, yes! - there's the fact that he can change his form into a bear's.

As any fan of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has known for some time, the appearance of Beorn is coming up in the next installment of the three-part epic - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Just a few days ago, announced that they had discovered a very low resolution image - but a legitimate image, nonetheless - of Beorn himself on the back of a 2014 Hobbit calendar.  The picture has made its rounds on the Internet, and although I am not permitted to show it here, it can still be found if one makes a Google search for "beorn the desolation of smaug" and clicks on one of the movie blogs that are linked in the top search results.

The controversy surrounding the image centers around the fact that Beorn appears to have a Mohawk/mullet-type hairstyle that seems attached all the way down his back and dark markings, tattoos, or fur (it is hard to discern via the low-resolution image) on his arms and back.

After viewing comments from the readerships of, and, there seem to be roughly three schools of thought on the Sonic-the-Hedgehog-esque rear shot of Beorn: 1) "I hate it - that does not match my vision of him at all," 2) "I trust Peter Jackson, and I'm excited he's doing something wild and unexpected," and 3) "The picture is too grainy to tell, and I shall withhold judgement."

If you have read my thoughts on how Jackson handled An Unexpected Journey, it will come as no surprise to you that I fall into the second camp, especially after reading up a bit on different kinds of shapeshifters. Shapeshifters sometimes retain attributes of their animal forms while they are in human form, such as glowing eyes, hairy arms, or heightened senses.  Furthermore, Tolkien was obviously passionate about and familiar with Norse mythology, from which we get the Berserker warriors. They were said to wear bear or wolf skins into battle, during which they were overcome with a trance-like rage that enabled them to fight ferociously, without fear of harm to themselves. I can't help but be reminded of Beorn's frightening yet instrumental participation toward the end of the tale...

And ultimately, even though I can't recall exactly how I pictured Beorn when I first read The Hobbit in fourth grade, when I think about it now, judging from all we know about Beorn, he is huge, short of temper, unruly, has thick black hair, and "outdoorsman" would be a gross understatement in describing his lifestyle. Would it not be strange and difficult to picture a completely normal-looking human (except for his size) transforming into a giant bear at night? You can't just take a huggable, Hagrid-type physique and have it change into a bear with bloodlust! Or can you? Thoughts?  Have you seen the image? Is Beorn disgusting? Is he anything like you pictured? Is he mid-transformation in the shot? In any case, we'll see...


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