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
Daughter of elf leader Elrond, this immortal princess is in love with the human Aragorn, and is willing to become mortal to spend her life with him. She saves a wounded Frodo from the Ringwraiths, and inspires Aragorn on his quest. Performer: Liv Tyler
This forest queen offers shelter to the fellowship and encouragement to Frodo, who fears he is too weak to keep the ring. Frodo tries to leave the ring in Galadriel's care, but she rejects it, realizing that Frodo can resist its lure better than she. Performer: Cate Blanchett
The immortal Elrond was present at the battle in which Aragorn's forefather chopped the ring from Sauron's hand. Centuries later, weary from a lifetime of war, he explains the ring's history and helps create the fellowship charged with destroying it. He is protective of his daughter, Arwen, and worried about her love for a human, Aragorn. Performer: Hugo Weaving
Bilbo Baggins, hobbit
Once, as a world traveler who explored the far reaches of Middle-earth in search of dragon gold, Bilbo happened upon a foul creature named Gollum, who possessed a magical ring that could make its wearer invisible. Bilbo retrieved the ring and kept it for decades. It begins to corrupt him in old age, so he surrenders it to Gandalf, who passes it to Frodo in hopes it can be destroyed. Performer: Ian Holm
King of the land of Rohan, Theoden has fallen under the spell of Saruman through a spy planted in his kingdom. Although he intends to do good, the bewitched ruler is not in control of his power. Performer: Bernard Hill
Sauron, dark wizard
Long ago, this dark lord gave rings to all the rulers of Middle-earth, promising them unlimited power. But he himself had another ring, which controlled the others and would give him dominance over all life until the ring was cut from his hand in battle. His spirit survives through the One Ring, which was lost for centuries. From his tower in the Land of Mordor, he has been gathering his evil forces to find the ring and take it back. Performer: Sala Baker, assorted special effects
Once a member of the Council of the Wise, this top-ranking wizard betrays Gandalf by succumbing to the temptations of Sauron. While using magic to thwart the fellowship, Saruman turns the lush countryside around his tower, Isengard, into an industrial furnace and builds an army of monsters. Performer: Christopher Lee
Ringwraiths, former humans
These nine horsemen were powerful kings and sorcerers before being corrupted by power and forced to serve Sauron. They hide beneath black cloaks and travel in search of the ring, to return it to their master. Performers: assorted stunt artists and special effects
Orcs and Uruk-hai, ghoulish soldiers
The orcs are savage, mutated cannibals who attack only in darkness because the sun weakens them. Sauron has commanded them in vast armies, but his ally Saruman breeds hybrid orcs called Uruk-hai, which are fiercer, stronger and impervious to light. Performers: assorted stunt artists and special-effects
Gollum, Stoor hobbit
Gollum was once a Hobbit-like creature named Smeagol. After discovering the One Ring, his obsession with its power transforms him into a withered, hissing wretch. He calls the ring "My precious" and spends years searching for it after Bilbo takes it from his lair. Gollum is tortured by Sauron's forces until he reveals Baggins' name; he later returns to chase Frodo and the ring. Performer: Andy Serkis and computer animation
Grima Wormtongue, human
This duplicitous adviser to the King of Rohan has pledged his allegiance to Saruman and serves as a spy in the kingdom. Performer: Brad Dourif
Niece to King Theoden, she recognizes a leader in Aragorn and tests the warrior's love for the elf Arwen. Performer: Miranda Otto
Brother of Eowyn and heir to the throne of Rohan. He is loyal to his uncle, the king, even though he mistrusts the adviser Wormtongue. Performer: Karl Urban
Treebeard, an Ent
A living, walking tree-shaped shepherd is the oldest being in Middle-earth. Performer: voice of John Rhys-Davies
The brother of the slain Boromir, Faramir's respect for Gandalf prompts him to join Aragorn and the remainder of the fellowship on the quest to destroy the ring. Performer: David WenhamCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times