The world of Middle-earth created in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the most expansive you’ll find in popular fiction. The British author not only told epic tales with his books, but developed an immensely detailed fantasy world filled with all kinds of strange places, races and history. Knowing the broad scope of the universe entering, getting into the material as an outsider may seem like a daunting task, but that’s why I’m here to help.

Peter Jackson’s second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug will be hitting theaters this weekend, and just in case some of you have never seen any of the previous movies or just don’t have time for a full franchise rewatch, I’ve written up a guide to assist you in integrating with the universe. What’s going on when the main character puts on that strange golden ring? What’s the difference between the different kinds of Elves? Read on to find out!

WARNING: This article contains some minor spoilers about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. While the first six entries are safe, the last one may affect the surprise element for those 100% unfamiliar with the film’s story. The spoiler entry is on its own separate page for your own protection.

What Are They? The hobbits are a race of tiny creatures living in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Populating an area of the map called The Shire, most members of the species are known for being very reserved and quiet, never finding a reason to put themselves in danger or even slightly at risk. The usually don’t stand between more than two to four feet tall and typically have curly mop of hair on their head and big, furry feet. They live in what are called Hobbit holes, which are small houses built directly into the ground.

How Do They Fit? Unlike The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which at least had a few scenes taking place in The Shire with a variety of Hobbit characters, The Desolation of Smaug takes the singular article in the title very literally. In the film the only Hobbit we see is Bilbo Baggins, the hero played by Martin Freeman. He continues his quest with the band of dwarves to try and recover the lost treasure found in The Lonely Mountain, and despite his small stature he is regularly able to summon all of his courage and save the day in times of great peril and fright. Helping him do this is a tiny little trinket that he found in the goblin caves of the first movie…

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