In The Lord of the Rings, the fellowship of nine is a discernible bunch—a few humans with swords, a wizard, an elf, a dwarf and four distinct barefoot Hobbits. As J.R.R. Tolkien’s three books (and Peter Jackson’s matching trilogy of movies) progress, the fellowship goes off on separate paths, each of the nine assuming their own redemptive role in the 20th century’s great fantasy epic. But not so in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first ofthree films Jackson has shaped out of one slim Tolkien volume. Here, we follow our hobbit protagonist Bilbo Baggins and a baker’s dozen of dwarves, who amble along in Tolkien’s narrative with little individual distinction. In Jackson’s first Hobbit film, as the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane put it, the dwarves come across as “a jumble of Brueghel faces, lit with grins, scrunched by scowls, and fronted by bulbous conks.” They are more an antic circus than a band of heroes.
So how do we tell the dwarves apart? Perhaps we weren’t meant to. It should be remembered that dwarves are at the best of times a secretive people, devoted to the mysteries of their mountain citadels. In Tolkien’s lore, we aren’t even told the dwarves’ real names—presumably something unpronounceable in Khuzdul, the Dwarvish language—and instead only hear the monikers they use for themselves in the human common tongue. These include grunting monosyllables such as Oin and Gloin, which, some Tolkien scholars suggest, are drawn from Norse mythology. It seems Tolkien was engaging a tradition of northern European legends that conjures up dwarves as impish, troublesome foils to more human protagonists. In The Hobbit, the troupe of dwarves functions as a living background for little Bilbo’s own quest of discovery.
Still, if you intend to sit through all nine-odd hours of Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, it’s worth getting to know these dwarves better. As you embark upon Bilbo’s adventure, here is TIME’s guide to each of the stout bearded-folk who journey with him.
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