VGBlogger Gift Guides for Geeks & Gamers: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Companion Books

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The Desolation of Smaug, the second chapter in Peter Jackson’s epic The Hobbit film trilogy, makes its theatrical debut today, and like with last year’s first part, An Unexpected Journey, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has released a series of tie-in books to help fans connect with the movie on a deeper level, learn about the incredible amount of work that goes into the movie-making process, and even play a few old-fashioned pencil and paper activities.

For this installment of our holiday gift guides for geeks and gamers, we are pleased to offer a quick round-up of HMH’s The Hobbit companion books. Whether you are a geeky movie buff or a youngster getting your first exposure to Middle-earth and the magical possibilities of fantasy fiction, there is a book in this collection for everyone.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Official Movie Guide – MSRP: $14.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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For those curious about the process that goes into bringing an epic fantasy journey like The Hobbit from novel to Hollywood big screen, the Official Movie Guide is without a doubt the star of this tie-in book collection. Over the course of 168 pages, readers will be taken behind-the-scenes on The Desolation of Smaug set for interviews with all the major players, starting with Peter Jackson, through the various actors, all the way through the team of Weta visual effects wizards, costume designers, makeup artists, dialect coaches, prop makers and so on. It’s very interesting to get insight from the individual actors about how they approached their roles, the preparation they put into their performances, and their relationships with other actors/characters. Movie buffs will also appreciate learning about how the Weta team’s technology has evolved since The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as some of the influences behind the various character accents, the audio effects, and the tricks of the trade used to shoot scenes with such varying scales of characters and props. I actually found the sound design section the most fascinating, especially they part about how goblin voices were mixed from a blend of baboon, camel, dog, raccoon, horse, chicken, fur seal, pig and human baby noises. No wonder those goblins sound as nasty as they look! Interesting details like that along with countless concept illustrations, movie stills, and behind-the-scenes photos from the movie sets make this book a must-read.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Visual Companion – MSRP: $19.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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The movie guide is all about the filming and design of the film, but as the title suggests, the Visual Companion focuses on the stunning beauty of Peter Jackson’ theatrical vision for The Hobbit storyline and the universe of Middle-earth. This hardcover book contains a little over 80 pages plastered with more than 100 high quality movie stills of detailed character close-ups and majestic landscape shots, including a number of full two-page spreads that will really drop your jaw. The Visual Companion isn’t just about the visual though. The imagery is complemented by backstory for all the key players in the narrative, including newcomers to part two like Tauriel the Elf, Bard, and the shady master of Lake-town. The book also provides some historical background regarding topics such as the troubled relationship between Dwarves and Elves, the presence of dragons in Middle-earth, and the origins of skin-changers like Beorn. Obviously you shouldn’t expect a ton of depth, but the provided backstory helps put all the pretty scenery in proper context to elevate the content beyond that of a simple no-reading-required picture book.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug The Movie Storybook – MSRP: $9.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Ideal for children who may not quite yet have the reading skill to comprehend Tolkien’s full-length The Hobbit novel, The Movie Storybook condenses the plot of the second film down to its most basic events and character interactions, from the company’s meeting with Beorn, to the treacherous trek through Mirkwood, to Bilbo’s climactic encounter with Smaug the dragon. High resolution movie stills and illustrations accompany the easy-to-read text, each of the 48 pages generally featuring around two paragraphs of reading material. It’s probably not the best choice of book to read to a child right before bedtime, since it does have some potentially frightening pictures of wargs, orcs, spiders and other creatures, but aside from that parents looking for a good “kid’s first fantasy book” can’t go wrong picking this up.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Activity Book – MSRP: $9.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Also for The Hobbit’s younger fans–or for any child experienced with Highlights magazine–the Activity Book brings together a fun collection of Hobbit-themed pencil and paper games. Following a brief introduction to the character’s and storyline, readers will be able to participate in the adventure by helping Thorin put his torn map back together by picking out the appropriate pieces to fill in the empty spaces, or guiding Bilbo through a maze of tangled spiderwebs in the Mirkwood forest. Additionally, there are word searches, rune message decoders, spot the difference puzzles and even a final trivia quiz for readers to test their knowledge of the story after completing all activities. With 60 pages of games and story material, this book should keep the kiddies busy for a while.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Sticker Book – MSRP: $9.95 – Buy From: Amazon.com or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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Another fun book of activities for the wee ones, the Sticker Book comes with a few sheets of stickers for readers to peel off and stick onto the pages. A couple game activities are featured, including a maze and a “Find Smaug” mini-board game which involves taking Bilbo and Gandalf stickers and placing them on coins or buttons to create the player tokens. But most of the book involves taking the stickers and finding the appropriate places to stick them following the guidelines provided for each activity. For example in one game pictures and descriptions are given for the full company of 13 dwarves, only some of the images are blanked out for readers to figure out which character sticker belongs by referencing other pictures or matching the sticker shapes to the silhouettes. This book is only around 20 pages long (and there are only four sheets of stickers) so it won’t take long to finish, but it should make for a good combo gift to pair with the Activity Book. And come on, we all know kids love stickers!

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Disclosure: The books covered in this guide were provided to VGBlogger.com as review copies from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!