This month, J.W. reviews The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad. Meanwhile, he tackles the tough questions (“Why three Hobbit films?” “Why was Beorn in a Lord of the Rings commercial?”) in his mailbag section below.

J.W. Braun’s Mailbag:

OK I have to ask: Lord of the Rings, over 1000 pages, three films. The Hobbit, 300 pages, three films. What’s up with that?! – James

Truth be told, if The Lord of the Rings films hadn’t been made until this decade, the filmmakers might well have decided to do four movies, perhaps following the precedent set by Harry Potter and Twilight by splitting the last book into parts 1 and 2. (Actually, with the extended edition of The Return of the King spread over two discs, and with each half being about two hours long, I sort of think of that one as two movies anyway – and I’m not sure it would have been a bad thing had it been released as ROTK Part 1 and ROTK Part 2 in the theaters – so long as they didn’t wait a year inbetween and instead did the winter/summer release schedule they’re planning for the latter two Hobbit films. But I digress.)

Here’s the thing: you can’t get too hung up on the number of pages, because when the filmmakers are adapting a book, they’re not looking at that. They’re looking at the importance of the content of each chapter to the overall story they wish to tell. Rating the first half of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring this way on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most important, I’d give the chapters these numbers.

A Long Expected Party: 9
The Shadow of the Past: 10
Three is Company: 6
A Short Cut to Mushrooms: 4
A Conspiracy Unmasked: 3
The Old Forest: 1
In the House of Tom Bombadil: 1
Fog on the Barrow-Downs: 1
At the Sign of the Prancing Pony: 8
Strider: 7
A Knife in the Dark: 8
Flight to the Ford: 8

These ratings are not scientific, of course, and even Tolkien experts would probably disagree on some of the numbers. But think of it like this: a chapter with a 10 next to it is one that the filmmakers are sure to emphasize whereas the 1’s can be skipped over completely.  Looking at the first half of The Hobbit, I’d give the chapters these ratings:

An Unexpected Party: 10
Roast Mutton: 8
A Short Rest: 8
Over Hill And Under Hill: 9
Riddles in the Dark: 10
Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire: 8
Queer Lodgings: 8
Flies and Spiders: 9
Barrels Out of Bond: 9
A Warm Welcome: 10

So The Hobbit, while a short book, contains quite a bit of material for the filmmakers. Another aspect to consider is that due to the nature of the way the story is told (almost completely from Bilbo’s point of view), there’s much that happens “off stage” so to speak. We’re told about the White Council and the Necromancer, and we find out a bit about Thráin, Dáin, Azog, and Bolg, but we don’t really get many details about them and their adventures . With a film, the number one rule is “show, don’t tell,” so expect to see all of these characters and their stories brought to life. When you toss in Peter Jackson’s penchant for taking a couple of lines from a book and turning them into a thrilling five minute sequence (such as the Company of the Ring running down the stairs in Moria or the lighting of the beacons in The Return of the King) and his talent for adding extra stuff that’s from his own imagination (Tauriel), it’s no longer a question of why three films, but why not four? (Okay, that might be going overboard. It would be difficult for even me to explain why The Lord of the Rings books were made into three films while The Hobbit was made into four.)

But what’s most important to remember is that this isn’t a situation where person in a suit at a film studio decided it would be a good idea to make more Hobbit films for his or her own personal gain. This was a decision made by the filmmakers based on the way their film project is coming together, and what they think will be best for us watching in the theater. – JW

What film did the first Lord of the Rings trailer play before? – Todd

The first teaser trailer (featuring clips from all three films) was attached to Thirteen Days, the docudrama about the Cuban Missile Crisis starring Kevin Costner, and premiered January 12, 2001. Personally I thought the coolest part of the trailer was the ending, when the release dates for the three films were shown over footage of the nine members of the Company of the Ring walking in the mountains. As a sort of inside joke to the fans, “The Return of the King” text appeared on the screen just as Aragorn came into view. – JW

Okay this is going to seem weird. My brother says that many years ago there was a commercial for The Lord of the Rings movies on television that showed Beorn the bear. Now I know what you’re thinking. Beorn isn’t even in The Lord of the Rings! But my brother swears he saw him and won’t budge. I say this is impossible. So who’s right? – David

Believe it or not, your brother is not making this up. Back in 2001, New Line Cinema was concerned about name recognition for “The Lord of the Rings” and signed a contract with Burger King to help promote the first movie. The promotion ran from November 19 to December 16, during which time participating Burger Kings offered toys and light-up goblets and ran commercial spots on television. For New Line Cinema, the upside of this arrangement was that fast food restaurants have gigantic advertising budgets, and so the commercials aired many times a day, making it impossible for viewers to miss them. The downside was that the commercials were made by Burger King ad executives who didn’t really know much about The Lord of the Rings. One of the commercials, targeting a young demographic and usually airing during cartoons and other kids’ programming, showed some kids out in the wild on a “quest” to find a Burger King restaurant. (This “wild” looked more like the backwoods of Montana than New Zealand or Middle-earth.) To give the commercial a frightening creature, they had the kids floating down the river on a raft, passing… (you’re probably already ahead of me here) … a bear!  So there you go. A Lord of the Rings commercial with a bear. But it probably wasn’t Beorn.

Following The Fellowship of the Ring, New Line did not renew with Burger King. They did, however, sign a contract with Kia to help promote the first film’s DVD and signed a two year contract with Verizon Wireless to help promote the second two films. (One wonders if, upon seeing The Lord of the Rings tied into fast food, cars, and cell phones, Tolkien rolled over in his grave.) – JW

J.W. Braun is a Tolkien scholar and author of The Lord of the Films, published by ECW Press in 2009. If you have a question for him, simply drop him a line at

You can find out more about J.W. at