LOS ANGELES—Know your Sauron from your Saruman? Ever mix up Gimli and Gollum, or an orc and an Uruk-hai?
As the sword-and-sorcery sequel "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" ventures into theaters, the vastness of author J.R.R. Tolkien's universe can give viewers a habit for confusing hobbits.
The new film picks up where "The Fellowship of the Ring" ended: Heroic Frodo and his loyal friend Sam are lost in the hills of Emyn Muil with the One Ring, which provides devastating power to its bearer.
Now, the quest begins to turn around two colossal towers, each with a ghoulish army trying to reclaim the ring.
Although Tolkien created Middle-earth in encyclopedic detail, here is a very brief overview of the heroes and villains, along with who plays them in the movies.
Frodo Baggins, hobbit
Growing up in the hobbits' peaceful land, the Shire, Frodo longed for adventure. When he inherits the all-powerful One Ring from his elderly relative, Bilbo Baggins, Frodo must set off to destroy it to neutralize its violent power. Despite being small and without magic powers, he is able to withstand the ring's temptations better than many others. He is the first to volunteer for the quest that leads to the formation of the fellowship. Performer: Elijah Wood
This powerful, magical being has a soft spot in his heart for the hobbits. After learning that his mentor, Saruman, has gone over to the side of evil, Gandalf helps Frodo in the quest to destroy the ring. Although Gandalf appears to die in the Mines of Moria, wizards can be reborn in more powerful forms. Performer: Ian McKellen
Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, hobbit
Sam, a simple gardener, becomes a loyal ally to Frodo and promises Gandalf that he will protect his friend. When Frodo tries to flee the fellowship in a boat, for fear that the corrupting power of the ring will destroy them all, Sam nearly drowns trying to catch up with him. Frodo rescues Sam from the water and they set off together, with the ring, for Mount Doom. Performer: Sean Astin
Eons earlier, Aragorn's royal ancestor, Isildur, cut the ring from the hand of its creator, the evil Sauron. But instead of destroying the ring, Isildur became corrupted by its power and eventually lost it. Aragorn, heir to the throne, has avoided humans, living in the wilderness under the name Strider. Now he hopes to reverse his family legacy by helping Frodo on the mission to destroy the ring. Performer: Viggo Mortensen
The gruff, ax-wielding Gimli feels the dwarfs' old animus toward the race of elves, but agrees to team up with one of them on the fellowship because he fears the power of the ring more. Gimli urges the group to take a shortcut through the Mines of Moria, where he is shocked to find an entire underground city of dwarfs has been destroyed. Performer: John Rhys-Davies
An expert archer, Legolas puts aside his disdain for dwarfs and joins the fellowship. He and Gimli develop first a grudging respect and then real friendship that could be the seed of reconciliation between their feuding cultures. Performer: Orlando Bloom
Peregrin "Pippin" Took and Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck, hobbits
These prankster friends become embroiled in the adventure when they run across Frodo and Sam during a pursuit by the wicked Ringwraiths. Later, in a fierce battle, they manage to steer the enemy away from Frodo but are captured themselves. Performers: Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan