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In praise of -beorn.

LIKE you, I'm immensely excited by the forthcoming film of The Hobbit.

But I'm also worried. A weakness of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films was the absence of Tom Bombadil. You know who I mean. He's the embodiment of a nature spirit, jolly, colourful, kind and indestructible.

He's my favourite Tolkien character, along with Beorn. But both figure in essentially passing episodes, diversions almost, and so perhaps aren't amenable to the linear action required of a film script. So I am — or was — worried that Beorn would be ditched from The Hobbit. I say "was" because I read now that there will be a Beorn, played by Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt. Hooray for him. I hope they don't edit him out.

Beorn, for those of you edited out of the loop, is a brawny, independent character who can change into a bear – true story – in which guise he mangles Orcs. He lives on his own steading, surrounded by his animals, is vegetarian and fond of honey. He sounds like a goodie two-shoes but, boy, you don't want to rile him.

Even Gandalf the wizard is slightly afraid of him. And yet he's mostly a man, and mortal (doomed to die some time) certainly. Marjorie Burns, in her book Perilous Realms, describes him as "distinctive, free, self-reliant but respectful of other lives and hostile only to those deserving hostility". Like many, even most, Tolkien characters, he comes across as essentially Pagan, despite the author's personal Christianity.

Burns says Beorn best exemplifies Tolkien's ability to balance two cultural ideals: "comradeship and solitude, freedom and obligation, forest and garden, home and wayside, risk and security". These dichotomies run through all our lives. However, there can be no dichotomies in the new film trilogy. He's either in or out. And he'd better be in.

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