For latecomers to the world of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, here is a legend to the key players.
The Free Races
“Free” generally means not under the dominion of the dark lord Sauron. It also indicates a higher stature of morality.
Short, barrel-chested, scary-strong, and long of beard, dwarves love mountains and caves. Their kingdoms were the Lonely Mountain and the Mines of Moria (Khazad-dum). They build and create with precious metals and gemstones. They are aggressive, supremely stubborn, and fierce in battle.
The eagles of Middle-Earth are huge, sentient raptors with the ability to speak. They nest mostly east of the Misty Mountains.
The elves are Middle-Earth’s enlightened beings. Good-looking, tall, extremely agile, (and in the movies, very blond), they can see in the dark, walk on snow without leaving footprints, and see 10 miles with perfect clarity. They can’t become sick or scarred, but if they die, they’re able to reincarnate back into the same body.
Ents are a giant race of tree-shepherds, who, after thousands of years, have come to appear tree-like themselves. Their numbers are on the wane because long ago they lost their mates, the entwives.
It’s not clear whether giants actually exist in Middle-Earth. They might just be ents (or trolls), but there would appear to be giants in the Misty Mountains who fling rocks around during storms and smash things. But maybe it’s just really bad weather; the dwarves and hobbit who saw them were under a lot of stress.
Hobbits are not really a race unto themselves. They’re actually very, very small humans, with curly hair and exceptionally tough, fuzzy feet, like shoe leather. They are very accurate stone-throwers, and live in “hobbit holes” in the Shire. They don’t like adventures, but they prefer a quiet, rustic life of farming, eating, and drinking ale in pubs. And smoking weed. Which means tobacco. They have names like Baggins, Bracegirdle, Took, and Underhill.
Referring mostly to the Beornings, these are exceptionally large men (who might also be small giants) and can shape-shift into massive black bears at will.
Wizards are a group of beings who, for all intents and purposes, appear to be men but possess much greater physical power and intellect. They were sent to assist the peoples of Middle-Earth to oppose Sauron, the dark lord.
The Enslaved Races
The enslaved are demonic beings, or well on their way to becoming demons. They are mostly ruled by Sauron.
Balrogs are great smoking demons of fire and shadow. During the time of “The Lord of the Rings,” the only balrog left, sometimes known as Durin’s Bane, was the balrog of Moria, killed by Gandalf.
Gargantuan fire-breathing, bat-winged lizards. Dragons possess a wicked intelligence and the power to hypnotize with sly words.
Goblins and orcs are pretty much the same thing, but goblins tend to be smaller.
Mortal men in Middle-Earth are scattered all around, but the largest groups live in Gondor and Rohan. Men who live in the east and south are under Sauron the Dark Lord’s rule. These include the haradrim or southrons, and the corsairs of Umbar.
Former elves, orcs were bred for evil purposes by Morgoth (who doesn’t appear in the movies). Their appearance was mutated and distorted over the ages. You can see the shared DNA in orcs’ pointy “elf” ears.
Saruman the back-stabbing, fallen wizard of Gandalf’s high order, in cahoots with Sauron, bred this genetically modified strain of tall, hulking orc. Whereas regular orcs hate the sun, the Uruk-hai have no problem being out during the day, and so, along with their size and ferocity, are a form of steroidal battle-orc.
Also known as Nazgul (a guaranteed Tolkien verbal mash-up of “Nazi” and “ghoul”), these were once great kings of Men until they were given rings of power by the dark lord Sauron. The rings slowly corrupted them until their flesh wasted away and they became a form of undead poltergeist.
Also known as “black riders,” they wear black hooded cloaks to give them form, and ride zombie horses with red eyes and bloody hooves, as well as giant flying predatory dinosaur-lizards. The wraiths hunt the One Ring tirelessly, in order to return it to Sauron.
These creatures are nightmarish 30-foot wolf-spiders with thinking brains and the ability to whisper to each other. The biggest and oldest of them all was the 50-foot Shelob. Her webs guard the secret stairway into Mordor, where she snares orcs in horrible, sticky, pitch-black tunnels.
Trolls were created (again, by evil powers) as a mockery of the ents. Some types turn to stone if exposed to sunlight. They live in the Misty Mountains and in Mordor. There are stone-trolls, cave-trolls, hill-trolls, mountain-trolls, and snow-trolls.
Huge demon wolves, wargs are often ridden bareback by orcs. Some are intelligent and can understand human speech. Peter Jackson’s wargs look like what you’d get if you bred pit bulls and hyenas.