In this scene, Beorn says that he has never heard of Gandalf the Grey. Yet in this scene, he speaks to Gandalf at length in a way that shows the earlier scene was merely a pretense, and that he clearly knows who Gandalf is, and the purpose of the Istari given their discussion leading to mentions of the Enemy.

So how much does he know about the nature of the Istari in truth? Does his knowledge of what the Istari are have any bearing on why Gandalf was willing to reveal the presence of the Ringwraiths' tombs to him, or why he demands Gandalf to keep him informed if Sauron has returned?

The relationship between Gandalf & Beorn is one where the former was willing to share such important secrets, and the latter seemingly carries himself as an equal to the former. It's a kind of relationship more akin to that between Gandalf & Galadriel as opposed to that between Gandalf and almost anyone else - and we all know how important Galadriel is to the world of Arda in every one of its Ages, and that Galadriel is possibly one of the few Middle Earth-ers who may know the true nature of the Istari.

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    I should point out that it's extremely easy to carry yourself as an equal to someone when (a) you're the size of a house and (b) don't know that the person you're standing next to is an angelic spirit in human form. That Beorn may consider himself Gandalf's equal doesn't mean he knows anything about his nature; quite the opposite Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 17:49
  • @JasonBaker what you say can be true in general, but the fact that Gandalf was willing to share with Beorn such confidential information about the Enemy, usually reserved for ones such as Galadriel and fellow Istari, suggests that Beorn is more than just another Boromir, and that his behaviour may be more justified than believed. Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 18:11
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    What "confidential information" did Gandalf reveal? That it's not possible for Sauron to return? That was the assumption among all of the Free Peoples for thousands of years. That tombs exist in Rhudaur? I'm struggling to think of a reason that would be a secret; it's presumably a matter of historical record, insofar as historical record exists in a pseudo-medieval society. That the Witch-king is up and walking again? Beorn figured that out for himself (although he may not know that's who it is) Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 19:54

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Does Beorn know what Gandalf is?

I think you're overthinking the scene. Nothing in that conversation indicates that Beorn knows anything at all about Gandalf, except that he's an intelligent guy who's pretty well-informed about events in Middle-earth. Since he just had the wizard as a dinner-guest, it seems completely characteristic for Beorn to know that much.

It's Gandalf who steers the conversation to Sauron (indirectly), not Beorn; there's absolutely no reason to believe that Beorn has any information about the nature of the Istari or their mission.

In fact, in a canon context, he definitely did not, because practically nobody knew.

Does Beorn know who Gandalf is?

Well he says he doesn't, and he has no reason to lie. All of the points raised (both in the question and in the comments) to suggest that Beorn knows more about Gandalf than he admits is, to my mind, stretching the evidence; there are more reasonable explanations.

  • Beorn talks about Sauron, which is a niche subject only certain people would be interested in. This is true, but ignores the fact that Beorn only brings up the Necromancer in response to a question Gandalf asked; the conversation literally goes (paraphrased):

    Beorn: Orcs will cause you trouble.

    Gandalf: Why are they so aggressive lately?

    Beorn: Because they're in league with a sorcerer in Dol Guldur

    Gandalf: What do you know about him?

    Beorn: That he attracts evil things. Oh, and by the way, raises the dead.

    Beorn isn't offering up this information, he provides it because Gandalf asked for it.

  • He asks Gandalf to tell him about Sauron. Again true, but not indication that Beorn knows anything about Gandalf, except that he has an idea what's going on in the world. Watching Gandalf's face during the conversation, it's abundantly clear that he's troubled by what Beorn has to say, so it's not a stretch for Beorn to think to himself "This greybeard knows more than he's letting on."

    What's more, Beorn clearly has an interest in news about Sauron, above and beyond any potential interest in Gandalf; he straight-up admits that he remembers (or, at the very least, remembers lore about) Sauron's domination of that land in the Second Age, and he has very unhappy memories about his treatment at the hands of Orcs. If he'd heard rumours of the dead walking around, something deeply associated with Sauron, why wouldn't he want some confirmation?

  • He draws a distinction between Gandalf and Saruman. This point is raised in relation to the following exchange from the clip:

    Beorn: If [Sauron] has returned to Middle-earth, I would have you tell me.

    Gandalf: Saruman the White says it's not possible. The Enemy was destroyed, and will never return.

    Beorn: And what does Gandalf the Grey say?

    The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

    But nothing about this implies that Beorn knows who Saruman is, or what his importance is. You don't need to know any lore about Middle-earth to see that Gandalf is deflecting the question, using this "Saruman" person as an excuse. If you wanted to, you could replace the above dialogue with the below, and the conversation would be exactly the same:

    Beorn: Has Sauron returned?

    Gandalf: Saruman says no.

    Beorn: I'm not asking Saruman, I'm asking you.

    The Hobbit: Simple English translation

Why does Beorn trust Gandalf?

I don't recall if the movies touch on this, but in the book Beorn is familiar with (and respects) Radagast (emphasis mine):

"Who are you and what do you want?" [Beorn] asked gruffly, standing in front of them and towering tall above Gandalf.

As for Bilbo he could easily have trotted through his legs without ducking his head to miss the fringe of the man's brown tunic.

"I am Gandalf," said the wizard.

"Never heard of him," growled the man, "And what's this little fellow?" he said, stooping down to frown at the hobbit with his bushy eyebrows.

"That is Mr. Baggins, a hobbit of good family and unimpeachable reputation," said Gandalf. Bilbo bowed. He had no hat to take off, and was painfully conscious of his many missing buttons. "I am a wizard," continued Gandalf. "I have heard of you, if you have not heard of me; but perhaps you have heard of my good cousin Radagast who lives near the Southern borders of Mirkwood?"

"Yes; not a bad fellow as wizards go, I believe. I used to see him now and again," said Beorn. "Well, now I know who you are, or who you say you are. What do you want?"

The Hobbit Chapter 7: "Queer Lodgings"

Since Beorn evidently has a measure of respect for Radagast, it stands to reason that he would also hold a measure of respect for one of his associates.

  • Firstly, Sauron at this point is long-gone but still the second greatest enemy in existence. Only beings who hold themselves responsible for protecting the free world will be actively interested in being kept notified if an ancient enemy returns while the rest of the world enjoys the peace. Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 18:21
  • Secondly, not everyone who knows Gandalf is a wizard also knows he is someone who would be concerned about the return of the Enemy. Hobbits think he's just a travelling wizard who can do fireworks. Even Thorin, who knows he is more than just a performer, wasn't privy to his conversations about the Enemy. He didn't openly reveal that side until the LotR movies. Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 18:28
  • Thirdly, Gandalf wasn't literally Beorn's dinner guest the previous night. That was just him being polite and speaking figuratively. If you watched the full movie, Beorn spent the previous night in dire bear form trying to break into his own house to eat them. Not much of an opportunity to learn about Gandalf, huh? Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 18:31
  • Fourthly, Beorn clearly knew enough to know the value to differentiating between "What Saruman said" and "What Gandalf the Grey thinks". That's not something that can happen if he met Gandalf for the first time ever. Either Radagast took time to explain Istari politics to Beorn in the past, or he had a history with Gandalf. Either way, Beorn never hearing of Gandalf is a clear lie, and such a pretense in front of strangers moments before making such an important conversation in plain sight but out of earshot speaks much. Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 18:41
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    @thegreatjedi I've edited my answer to reflect some of the concerns you raise, but I still see nothing to justify saying that Beorn was being deceitful. While it's certainly one possible explanation of the facts, it stretches them a bit too far when other explanations fit much better Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 19:49

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