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Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit"
 
 

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" [Kindle Edition]

Corey Olsen
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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"An admirable and thought-provoking consideration of the underlying themes of The Hobbit, following the there-and-back-again progress from its famous first line on through to Bilbo's return home at the story's end." -- Douglas A. Anderson, author of The Annotated Hobbit
 
The Hobbit is one of the most widely read and best-loved books of the twentieth century. Now Corey Olsen takes readers deep within the text to uncover its secrets and delights.

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is a fun, thoughtful, and insightful companion volume designed to bring a thorough and original new reading of this great work to a general audience. Professor Corey Olsen takes readers on an in-depth journey through The Hobbit chapter by chapter, revealing the stories within the story: the dark desires of dwarves and the sublime laughter of elves, the nature of evil and its hopelessness, the mystery of divine providence and human choice, and, most of all, the transformation within the life of Bilbo Baggins. Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is a book that will make The Hobbit come alive for readers as never before.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 576 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (18 Sep 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006R8PFG8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #485,881 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeper Appreciation for a Beloved Classic 12 Jun 2013
Format:Hardcover
As other reviewers have already pointed out, this book follows on the heels of Professor Corey Olsen's very successful series of podcasts from his classes on Tolkien at Washington College. These podcasts range in content from Tolkien's major works ("The Silmarillion", "The Hobbit", "The Lord of the Rings", etc.) to his lesser-known stories such as "Farmer Giles" or "Smith of Wootton Major".

The focus of this book is obviously the seminal work, "The Hobbit". As in his podcasts, Olsen takes us gently through the book, spending time on each chapter and scene. He draws our attention to things which we might otherwise have missed, connections we might not have made, or things which we knew but perhaps didn't appreciate the significance of.

Importantly, Olsen chooses to avoid spending too much time focusing on the "feelings and thoughts" of Tolkien himself. He tries very hard to avoid interpretation of the text insofar as what Tolkien himself might have been feeling about it. For this type of study, look elsewhere as there are many selections available. Instead, Olsen focuses on the text itself, as presented, drawing conclusions based on context and evidence readily available between the covers of the book.

Indeed Olsen even goes out of his way to point out that, although he does make a very few references to other works such as "The Lord of the Rings" and even earlier drafts of "The Hobbit", his intention is to view the work for what it is "as published", and not its significance in the greater Middle-earth mythology.

The primary example of this is of course The Ring itself which, when "The Hobbit" was published, did not have the sinister overtones and personality it has since gained since Tolkien's later works were written.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  64 reviews
49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taking the Hobbit seriously 25 July 2012
By Enjolras - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Professor Corey Olsen, better known as "The Tolkien Professor" from his eponymous podcast, provides a critical analysis of Tolkien's The Hobbit in his new book Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" just in time for the legions of moviegoers who will probably devour the book soon after seeing Peter Jackson's version of the Hobbit. The book is derived in part from his "Hobbit lectures" on his podcast, although it does go beyond the lectures.

Fans of "The Tolkien Professor" know Prof. Olsen's style, and he keeps true to it in this book. For those who haven't listened to the podcast (hundreds of free hours of college-level analysis of Tolkien's works - WHY AREN'T YOU LISTENING TO THE PODCAST?) Prof. Olsen goal is to make rigorous, academic analysis of Tolkien's works accessible to the public. He is absolutely brilliant but also explains his analysis in a way that any high-school educated person could probably understand. No "highfalutin" vocabulary in this book.

It might be useful to explain what this book is NOT. First, this is not a history of the writing of Tolkien's Hobbit. Prof. Olsen does not spend any time discussing the literary sources that influenced Tolkien or pouring over the multiple early drafts of the Hobbit. Prof. Olsen recommends John D. Rateliff's The History of the Hobbit for that account. Prof. Olsen himself is also offering an online course about the writing of the Hobbit at the Mythgard Institute. However, that's not this book.

Second, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" is not a detailed discussion about the history of Tolkien's Middle-Earth and how The Hobbit fits in to Illuvatar's song (if you don't know who Illuvatar, don't worry). In fact, Prof. Olsen is doing something rather risky in not only focusing on The Hobbit, but also deliberately ignoring The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillioj, and Tolkien's other Middle-Earth writings. That means he discusses Gollum's ring as "the ring", not "the Ring". Prof. Olsen tries hard to stay focused on understanding The Hobbit as the children's story it was originally in 1937 (or 1951), not how it as been reinterpreted in Tolkien's other works.

Rather, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" is, perhaps appropriately enough, focused on the story of the Hobbit. Prof. Olsen argues that the book is worth understanding both as a children's book and as an adventure story. Prof. Olsen engages in a close analysis of the book in an effort to better understand the story itself. He focuses on a few key themes, such as Bilbo Baggins' character development, the role of luck, and how the tone/style of the story need to be understood in light of the fact that The Hobbit was originally a children's book.

So, should you get this book? Are Prof. Olsen's insights useful or interesting? I definitely think so, but an example might help you decide. Many readers - even avowed Tolkien fans - loathe the songs and poems littered throughout The Hobbit. However, Prof. Olsen invites us to take the songs seriously and try to understand them (yes, even the Elves' silly Tra-la-la-lally song). He shows how the songs actually do tell us a lot about the characters and story. For the Elves' song, he argues that it was designed to transport younger readers into the mystical and sublime world of the Elves. Younger readers might not understand or appreciate Elvish mysticism directly, but the song conveys the fact that the Elves are less concerned about worldly matters. Likewise, the song introduces the very tragic history of the Elves in a palatable fashion. At the very least, after reading Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" you won't skip over the songs again.

Another spot where Prof. Olsen's analysis really heightened my appreciation of Tolkien's book is his discussion of the various emotional reactions to the dragon and Throrin's return. Prof. Olsen shows that most of the characters, including the dwarves and citizens of Laketown, tend to fluctuate between emotional extremes, rejoicing upon Throrin's return and despairing when Smaug the dragon arrives. The only ones to navigate a middle course are Bard and Bilbo. They remain practical and determined throughout the emotional highs and lows. It's a brilliant contrast, showing how the typical heroic dragon-slayer and the small Hobbit actually share one of the key traits required for heroes in Tolkien's world.

Overall, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" will probably be most useful for relatively new readers of The Hobbit who enjoyed the book after a first or second read but want to understand the story better. As I'd mentioned above, Prof. Olsen's writing style is very accessible. Prof. Olsen does not assume that readers have memorized The Hobbit and he quotes extensively in order to provide readers with the text he is discussing.

Longtime listeners of "The Tolkien Professor" might find some overlap between the "Hobbit lectures" and the material in this book, but there is enough new material to make it worth reading. You might find yourself skimming through some portions of Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit", but then slowing down to read other sections more carefully. I found the sections on "The Writing of The Hobbit" particularly interesting, but the analysis of the songs is also richer than what I remember from the podcast.

In short, with the Peter Jackson movies coming out in December, Tolkien fans are about to get flooded with books about the Hobbit]. Most of the "reader's companions" that come out will be absolute garbage, designed to get money from fans of the movie who are new to the book. Corey Olsen's Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" should and probably will stick out from this onslaught as both an intellectually satisfying and very accessible exploration of the book before The Lord of the Rings
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An informative "comfort" read. 20 Sep 2012
By Wood Wren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Hobbit, and then the Lord of the Rings, was the first fantasy genre books I read as a little girl of about twelve years old. Over the years I have read all four books numerous times and still enjoy them as much now as my first read. I have read many books of fantasy since then; some good, some bad and some easily forgotten. The Hobbit though is one of those that is most certainly a keeper.

Reading Corey Olsen's work here was a delightful experience for me. I read each chapter of his book and had a copy of The Hobbit right beside it. Not only did I once again get to experience or reading this wonderful little tale, I must admit to you that I did learn a lot, had stuff I knew I knew but had that knowledge reinforced by Mr. Corey's work and I most certainly picked up a lot of knew knowledge. This was particularly so when it came to the songs and poetry found in the Hobbit. I will never read these things again; and indeed, I will read them again, and look at them through the same eyes as before.

`Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's Hobbit' is a fun read and a relaxing read. It is well written and is quite readable. You do not have to, nor are you required to agree with everything the author has to say and in fact part of the joy of reading this work is the arguments that will slip into your own mind as each chapter is investigated. This work makes you think and causes you to approach the subject, i.e. Hobbit Lore, from a slightly different angle.

I enjoyed this work. It has motivated me to give LOTRs another read - another of many reads. I wish the author would write a like work addressing these next three books.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tour Through A Beloved Book With A Knowledgeable Friend 28 July 2012
By John D. Cofield - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I thought there wasn't much new I could learn about J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. I first read it over 40 years ago at the age of 12 and I've reread it so many times since that I can quote sections from memory. The charm and magic of the tale never goes away for me, and I'm happy to say that Corey Olsen's Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit has enhanced that pleasure immeasurably.

Olsen is better known on the web as The Tolkien Professor. His website of the same name offers a rich resource of reading material and podcasts on Tolkien's writings. An Assistant Professor of English at Washington College in Maryland, he has spent years in research and analysis. This might set off warning bells for people who associate college English professors with dry as dust monotonal lectures, but let me hasten to reassure you that Olsen's writing style is as fresh and lively as his scholarship is rigorous.

This book is a chapter by chapter analysis of The Hobbit. There are six main themes: Bilbo's Nature, referring to the struggle between his stodgy Bagginsishness (a delightful coinage by Olsen) and his audacious Tookishness; Bilbo's Choices, the turning points in various stages of Bilbo's journey; Burglar Bilbo, referring to his "official" role as part of the Quest for Erebor and how he fulfills it; The Desolation of the Dragon, meaning the environmental and moral depredation caused by the dragon and the all too desirable golden treasure; Luck, meaning the many "coincidences" and fortunate turns that save Bilbo and the dwarves many times throughout the journey, and which Olsen demonstrates are not just "lucky" at all; and finally The Writing of The Hobbit, descriptions of how Tolkien constructed the story and wrote and rewrote it as its nature changed.

Olsen covers each of these themes thoroughly as he takes us through each chapter. Every step of Bilbo's journey seems to have some significance and each song has deep and layered meanings. Olsen takes us through it all at a comfortable, ambling pace, almost as if we were on a stroll through the Shire, and delivers his interpretations and analyses as if he was an old friend having a pleasant conversation with you.

Again, I'm a long time reader of The Hobbit, and Olsen found plenty to surprise and delight me with as I read this book. If you have just become acquainted with Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves, or if you have not yet had the thrill of reading "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit . . .", then I can recommend no better guide than Corey Olsen's Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots of Took/Baggins 15 Aug 2012
By Robert D. Watson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I'm a guy who's read "The Hobbit" more than I'm ready to admit. I think it's one of the most important pieces of young adult literature, and 20th century literature, and I'm always eager to read more about it.

That said, I wasn't so much a fan of this book. Corey Olsen is a remarkably interesting podcast guy. He's not so good in book form.

The story of "The Hobbit" is basically all about Bilbo growing throughout his adventure, and I understand that. This book takes that concept way too far. There are some mildly interesting tidbits and pieces of analysis thrown in, some of which I've never really heard before, but the majority of the tale was simple analysis of what Bilbo did and how it helped him grow into the adventurous Took/Baggins man that he became. Nearly every chapter goes back to the basic struggle between the peaceful, homely Baggins and the adventurous Took side of Bilbo's character.

The poems were explained well, and their significance was clearly documented, but that was about the only part of this guide which really stood out to me, someone who owns "The Annotated Hobbit" and reads it about once a year. There wasn't enough new information for me.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Insights 29 Oct 2012
By Timothy Haugh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read a lot as a child. However, my parents say that the only books they clearly remember me reading are The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This is most certainly because these were among the handful of books that I read over and over. I still reread The Lord of the Rings from time to time but it had been decades since I'd read The Hobbit until I came across this wonderful little book by Mr. Olsen.

When I saw that this book was divided into 19 chapters, one for each chapter in The Hobbit, I decided to read a chapter from the Tolkien and then follow it immediately with the corresponding chapter from Olsen. In this way, I worked my way through both books over the course of about two weeks. It was an excellent experience. Not only did I get to immerse myself once again in Middle-Earth's founding text, but I was able to look at it in an entirely new light thanks to Mr. Olsen's insights.

To begin with, it was nice just to read The Hobbit again. Though I knew the story well, the intervening years since my last reading had faded my memory a bit. For example, I'd forgotten how early in the story it is that Bilbo encounters Gollum and acquires the Ring. Being a bigger fan of The Lord of the Rings had made this moment the climax of the story in my memory. Instead, this encounter lays the groundwork that allows Bilbo to succeed in the many events that are to follow including (but not limited to) escaping from the spiders, escaping from the Wood-elves, and conversing with Smaug.

More importantly, however, reading Mr. Olsen's work allowed me to come to a deeper appreciation of what Tolkien accomplished with The Hobbit. When he wrote The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings was yet to come. The Hobbit has a simplicity and unity that is clouded by the impact of The Lord of the Rings. (In fact, Tolkien had to go back and make some small but important changes to subsequent editions of The Hobbit to make it work with what he created in The Lord of the Rings.) Mr. Olsen is especially good at tracing the development of Bilbo's character from retiring hobbit to successful thief: in pointing out the thesis, antithesis, synthesis movement of Bilbo's character between his Baggins side and his Took side.

Of course, Mr. Olsen covers a lot more ground than this. He points out the importance of luck in the proceedings. He analyzes the difference between creatures that are "wild" and creatures that are truly evil. He has a particularly excellent look at the "dragon-sickness" that takes over nearly everyone as the novel draws to a close, nearly causing disaster. He also has a serious interest in the poetry and song that appears in nearly every chapter of The Hobbit and argues well for its importance in understanding the nature of the novel.

In the end, Mr. Olsen did not convince me that The Hobbit is a better book than The Lord of the Rings (nor am I quite sure he is trying to do so). On the other hand, he greatly increased my appreciation of "the prelude". With the coming of the first of The Hobbit movies this Christmas, I am glad that I was able to do a close reading of the novel. I will always be grateful to Mr. Olsen for that.
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