It’s been 75 years since readers were first introduced to a furry-footed, breakfast-loving hermit named Bilbo Baggins. On December 14, everyone’s favorite Hobbit will embark on his first live action cinematic adventure, and buzz has been building in the Tolkien-sphere for some time. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is based upon Tolkien’s classic children’s fantasy, which takes place in Middle-earth 60 years before the Lord of the Rings series. The New Line Cinema and MGM Pictures film is directed by Peter Jackson (who also directed the three previous movies) Bilbo Baggins is played by Martin Freeman, with Ian Holm returning to play the elder Baggins. Other returning cast members include Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Elijah Wood as Frodo, and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel.

Some ‘Unexpected’ News

Amid the buzz at a busy Comic-Con this year came news of a Hobbit variety. Peter Jackson announced in July that The Hobbit will become a film trilogy, with the final movie to be drawn from Tolkien’s unpublished works. On his Facebook page Jackson wrote, “It is only at the end of a shoot that you finally get the chance to sit down and have a look at the film you have made. We were really pleased with the way the story was coming together, in particular, the strength of the characters and the cast who have brought them to life. All of which gave rise to a simple question: do we take this chance to tell more of the tale? And the answer from our perspective as the filmmakers, and as fans, was an unreserved ‘yes.’ ” The second film, The Desolation of Smaug, is slated for release in 2013, with the third film, There and Back Again, expected in 2014.

Care for a “Hobbit Hole Breakfast?” How about “Frodo’s Pot Roast Skillet” or “Gandalf’s Gobble Melt?” The Hobbit is popping up in some unexpected places. According to the Huffington Post, Denny’s is currently serving up 11 Hobbit-themed meals, which will be available through January. Several of the entrees will arrive with collectible trading cards and placemats will feature QR codes that provide diners access to film-related material.

And, in perhaps a more familiar realm for Tolkien’s beloved and often discoursed classic, this week Houghton Mifflin sponsored a Twitter discussion featuring Corey Olsen, Tolkien scholar and author of Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Olsen answered questions from enthusiasts, touching on topics as diverse as talking spiders (why do some animals in The Hobbit talk and not others?) to the role of “luck” in the book and why the tone in The Hobbit varies so much from that of The Lord of the Rings (the answer: Tolkien was consciously writing for children in The Hobbit).

Responding to a question about what makes Bilbo a great character, Olsen tweeted: “I love the surprising complexity of Bilbo’s character.... He’s not just an ‘unlikely hero,’ turning into a warrior.... The way Bilbo’s character keeps its complexity while gaining in wisdom and perspective is just fascinating.” Several participants raised questions about adapting the books to film, specifically about expanding the book into three films.

As Olsen explained, the first films tell the story of The Hobbit from “the POV of Lord of the Rings.” And with the third movie likely borrowing from unpublished works, Olsen pointed out that Jackson’s approach mirrors Tolkien’s own “re-contextualizing” of The Hobbit in the later years following the book’s publication. Olsen also described how Jackson has enhanced some Tolkien elements—notably, by elaborating upon the duality of Gollum’s (split) personality in The Lord of the Rings: “Peter Jackson’s split Gollum is an innovation,” he said. “Tolkien goes there a little in The Lord of the Rings, but Peter Jackson really expands on it.”

And asked about “hot dwarves” in the film, Olsen replied with a laugh, “Haha. Oh, the hot dwarves! Yes, it changes them, but I think it will be for the better, on film.... Fact is, in the book most are interchangeable. There is no way to tell Bofur from Ori or Oin. You can’t do that on screen: a dozen interchangeable, personality-less dwarves?”

Another subject that came up in the discussion: whether or not The Hobbit will ever be as widely read among kids and teens as Harry Potter. “Not so widely, no. It is simply a harder read, no question. Language and vocab more complex. It is 75 years old,” Olsen tweeted in response. But he does anticipate that the film will draw more readers to the books, and made note of the growing Tolkien readership as a result of the Lord of the Rings films.

A Bridge for Younger Readers?

While Tolkien’s books are primarily categorized under Houghton’s adult imprints (a young readers’ edition with illustrations by Peter Sís being a notable exception), Tolkien’s perennial publisher has a program of companion titles that may potentially draw younger readers to the more challenging original text. Due out this month, the titles include a movie storybook containing photographs and mementoes from the film; a Hobbit activity book, and The World of Hobbits, a photographic book devoted to the diminutive species. Additionally, Houghton will publish an official movie guide with behind-the-scenes photographs, interviews, background information on the film’s development, and a visual companion to the film that includes more than 100 photo stills and a fold-out map of Middle-earth. Also launching from Houghton (with a 600,0000-copy first print) is a tie-in-edition of The Hobbit as well as a 75th-anniversary edition of the book, which will have a 300,000 copy printing.

Houghton has also released black-jacketed editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books (150,000 copies) as well as boxed sets containing both the Lord of the Rings series and The Hobbit together (100,000 copies). Houghton Mifflin’s Web site also features educational resources including readers’ guides to Tolkien’s work, trivia, character guides, and lesson plans as well as film links.

And, according to the Herald Online fans will have an opportunity to become reacquainted with Middle-earth during big screen marathons of the Lord of the Rings films in their extended cut versions. The screenings will take place on December 8 and 9 in select theaters. In the meantime, fans can head to Denny’s for some Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies and Shire Sausage Skillets.