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Probably because most people associate "philosophy" with ponderous tomes, the editors of The Hobbit And Philosophy have maintained a lighthearted, informal, and colloquial approach throughout this enjoyable compilation. In a series of 17 chapters, the "most excellent and audacious contributors," all of whom are unimpeachably scholarly, identify and expound on the many philosophical twists and turns to be found in The Hobbit. I enjoyed every chapter, especially Chapter 8's discussion of "just war," the examinations of Tao and Buddhist parallels that are to be found in The Hobbit in Chapters 2 and 3, and Chapter 15's discussion of Providence and Free Will.

There will never be an end to exploring the riches of JRR Tolkien's worlds, and it is fortunate that the editors chose to keep this compilation as informal and approachable as possible. Now many who read and enjoy Tolkien's writings have an accessible yet thorough introduction that will help them learn to identify some hidden depths that they might otherwise have overlooked.
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on December 8, 2012
A fuller version of this review can be found at [...]

Bassham and Bronson's new volume, The Hobbit and Philosophy, contains a collection of seventeen essays that reflect on hobbits as a vehicle for exploring a variety of important philosophical questions such as the value of art, the concept of just war, the importance of play and playfulness. The book is thus a reference point for philosophical inquiry for those who are more familiar with Tolkien than with Kierkegaard, Kant, or Rene des Cartes. The essays are as likely to launch into a paragraph or three about Plato, Augustine, Thoreau, or Aquinas as they are a paragraph about Thorin, Bilbo, or Gollum. But ultimately they all do find their way back to Middle-earth, and those who know all the mountains and forests of Middle-earth may suddenly gain a new understanding of Plato.

The contributors of the essays are primarily philosophers writing about Tolkien rather than literary scholars (though there are a few English or Humanities Professors mixed in.) As the title suggests, and as one will quickly guess form the voice and tone of the opening essay "The Adventurous Hobbit" (by Bassham), there is a certainly whimsical feel to the book and to its approach. The contributors all seem to love both philosophy and J.R.R.Tolkien, and they also seem to take both topics seriously. The seriousness does not lead to dullness or a dry esoteric approach; rather it leads to something like playfulness, joy, energy, excitement (the degree to which these elements appear varying from contributor to contributor).

The strength of an edited collection like this, and also its weakness, is that the work as a whole has only a vague cohesiveness centered on the unifying topic--albeit a well defined topic. The individual authors have their own unique voices and approaches, and they address a variety of topics. So there isn't the same sense of flow from chapter to chapter as there would be in a well-crafted book-length treatment by a single author (such as Kreeft's book). It is almost certain that in a collection with this many contributors and topics, a reader will find some essays whose topics are uninteresting, or where they don't appreciate the author's approach. And the interesting thing is that for ten different readers (and, I would guess, for ten different reviewers), it's likely to be ten different subsets of chapters that are the unappreciated ones, and ten different chapters that are the favorites.

But that is also the strength and advantage such of a collection. You don't have to read it in order. You can jump from chapter to chapter, picking them out based on the title or topic. You don't have to read it all, either. If you start an essay and find it uninteresting, you can skip to the next one; since each essay is separate and self-contained, skipping one won't keep you from understanding the next one.

My favorite contributions were David O'Hara's essay on "Why Hobbits Like to Play and Why We Should To", and the essay "The Glory of Bilbo Baggins" by Charles Taliaferro and Craig Lindahl-Urben. In some cases I found I was not in full agreement with the interpretation of Tolkien; it seemed that the authors in making a particular philosophical point didn't do completely justice to Tolkien's work, stretching some passage beyond what I thought it could bear in their interpretation, or just missing out important other passages. Such was my opinion of one or two sections of David Kyle Johnson's essay on "Tolkien's Just War", Philip Tallon's essay "`Pretty Fair Nonsense': Art and Beauty in The Hobbit", and Randall M Jensen's essay "Some Hobbit's Have All the Luck." But even those essays were valuable contributions to the whole and were interesting, insightful, and led me to think through my own understandings both of Tolkien's works and of the underlying philosophical question being explored. That is to say, if critiqued as essays whose primary point was scholarly analysis of Tolkien, I might have found them coming up short. But as works that introduce me to aspects of philosophical inquiry, and to the works of the world's great philosophers, by connecting to a book I do know very well, the collections works very well.
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on February 6, 2013
I am a huge fan of Tolkien, the Hobbit, and the Lord of the Rings. I am not particularly interested in philosophy. However, due to that first fact, I decided to give The Hobbit and Philosophy a try. I was particularly enticed by the subtitle: "For when you've lost your dwarves, your wizard, and your way."

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Some of the articles were, I confess, a bit dull for my tastes, but others were fascinating. The essays gave me something to think about, regarding life, Tolkien, and The Hobbit.

One of my favorite essays was "Pretty Fair Nonsense" by Philip Tallon. It includes a Tolkien quote I was not familiar with.

"Tolkien was similarly unconcerned with whether modernist critics would judge his fantasy writings to be nonsense. Tolkien invented and endlessly elaborated his world of Middle-earth with no sense that it could ever be anything more than a private amusement. 'I am a very serious person and cannot distinguish between private amusement and duty,' Tolkien writes, adding, 'I work only for private amusement, since I find my duties privately amusing.'"

I like that a lot - it makes me admire Tolkien even more! Another essay, "Hobbitus Ludens" by David L. O'Hara, contained a C.S. Lewis quote that caught my attention. (I'm no fan of Lewis, so I've not read much that he has said.) "The Hobbit, though very unlike Alice [in Wonderland], resembles it in being the work of a professor at play." I love Alice, and I'd never thought of Alice and the Hobbit as being connected in this way. And I enjoy the image of both authors "at play."

Another essay I especially enjoyed was "There and Back Again" by Joe Kraus, which discusses the Hobbit in context with William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.

If you are a fan of the Hobbit, I think you'll find some essays to enjoy in The Hobbit and Philosophy.
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on November 11, 2012

"The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You've Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way" has apparently been published in anticipation of the upcoming movie "The Hobbit", which will appear in American theaters on December 14, 2012. "The Hobbit" is J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to his book "The Lord of the Rings". Overall, I believe that co-editors Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson tried their best to do justice to the philosophical themes present in this beloved children's book. There are a number of very good essays here. In addition, ideas from Eastern philosophies were presented, which is the exception in collections such as this. Unfortunately, this collection of essays lost its way, and it suffers from enough defects to make this a merely mediocre entry in the Wiley-Blackwell "Philosophy and Pop Culture" series. There were too many essays that were either poorly-written or were more social commentary or literary analysis than philosophy. Quite a number of the essays exhibited a style of writing that appeared to focus more on name-dropping than on developing an identified philosophical theme. Finally, the "curse of the book's editor" appeared not once, but twice.


The main idea behind this collection of seventeen essays is that Bilbo Baggins' adventures in "The Hobbit" provide situations wherein philosophical themes can be identified and explored. In Part One, "Discover Your Inner Took", Bilbo's decision to leave his home and venture forth to find The Ring raise questions about growth and human potential, change versus stability, enlightenment, and cosmopolitanism versus provincialism. In Part Two, "The Good, The Bad, and The Slimy", moral issues are explored: glory (the earning of praise through violence), pride versus humility, possessiveness, what makes a "just" war, aesthetics as an indication of morality, and the meaning of play. In Part Three, "Riddles and Rings", the essays explore Tolkien's position on technology, the paradox of fiction, and hermeneutics. In the last section, "Being There and Back Again", the essays explore the nature and moral importance of luck, divine providence and foreknowledge versus free will, decision-making, and innocence versus experience.


In the "Introduction", editors Bassham and Bronson chart the course that they will take in these essays, and begin by making a good analogy between Bilbo Baggins' leaving his home in the Shire to Plato and the parable of the cave. This is followed by editor Bassham's essay "The Adventurous Hobbit". Here, Mr. Bassham explores growth and human potential in terms of Bilbo Baggins' growth in both wisdom and virtue. How do such changes come about? By deepening our self-understanding and by broadening our experiences (through pain and suffering, and travel). Moral development can also occur quickly, as in religious experience (William James) or gradually, through habit and training (Aristotle). An excellent essay (although I found both the Lance Armstrong quote on page 13, and the reference to "Philosophy for Dummies" in Note 16, page 18, humorous).

Unfortunately, Mr. Bassham's joint effort with Anna Minore, "'My Precious': Tolkien on the Perils of Possessiveness" had no real development of theme, just a survey of ideas, from Plato to Acquinas to Tom Morris, and also Buddhism and Taoism. Co-editor Eric Bronson's "Big Hairy Feet: A Hobbit's Guide to Enlightenment" was more sociology than philosophy, and went on a name-dropping spree through both Western and Eastern philosophy. This essay was all over the place, and did not enlighten me at all. Thus, the "curse of the book's editor" struck twice, something that even lightning can't do


Beside Mr. Bassham's "The Adventuorus Hobbit", four other essays were a pleasure to read. Interestingly, they are chapters 12 through 15, which reinforces an observation that I have made in the past, that really good essays, and really bad essays, seem to come in streaks.

Amy Kind's "Inside 'The Hobbit': Bilbo Baggins and the Paradox of Fiction" compared and contrasted the ideas of two contemporary philosophers, Colin Radford and Kendall Walton, on the emotional responses readers have to fictional characters and events. Are emotional responses to fictional events rational, or are these emotions even genuine in the first place? Contemporary philosopher Martha Nussbaum's ideas provide a third approach, in that emotional responses to fictional events allow us to cultivate our moral character.

Tom Grimwood's "Philosophy in the Dark: `The Hobbit' and Hermeneutics" looked at the question of how meaning is created and communicated in fiction. A good compare and contrast essay that invoked contemporary philosophers, concluding with Hans-Georg Gadamer's idea that our interpretations are always situated in a particular historical context.

Randall M. Jensen's "Some Hobbits Have All the Luck" looked at the nature and moral importance of luck. Can one be more lucky than good? Here, Aristotle's and Thomas Nagle's ideas are explored.

Grant Sterling's "The Consolation of Bilbo: Providence and Free Will in Middle-Earth" explores the contradiction of a world where both divine providence and foreknowledge are supposed to co-exist with individual free will. Mr. Sterling looks at a number of philosophers, most importantly A.N. Whitehead (there are no truths about the future) and Boethius (God is outside of time, and thus doesn't have foreknowledge). An excellent essay.


Chapters 3, 4, 7, 16, and 17 were dismally disappointing. As noted above, co-editor Eric Bronson's essay fell flat-footed. Dennis Knepp's "Bilbo Baggins: The Cosmopolitan Hobbit" was rambling social commentary on cosmopolitanism versus provincialism. It went nowhere. As noted above, co-editor Bassham's and Anna Minore's essay failed to develop its theme.

Jamie Carlin Watson's "Out of the Frying Pan: Courage and Decision Making in Wilderland" had no philosophy. It seemed as though the author was merely going through what he knew about probability, information theory and decision-making theory. This essay couldn't make up its mind just exactly what it wanted to talk about, whereas I for one couldn't decide if "decision making" had to be hyphenated or not!

Joe Kraus' "There and Back Again: A Song of Innocence and Experience" asks the question of what it means to understand the innocence of youth from the point of view of later experience. A great theme that relates directly to Bilbo Baggins, and a well-written essay - if one were studying the poets Wordsworth, Blake, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. I also don't need a vignette from the personal life story about the author's children. Remind me again what the mandate of these essays is. It's what exactly and "popular culture"???


This collection of essays will probably ride the wave of enthusiasm connected with the upcoming movie "The Hobbit". So be it. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for this collection of essays sank, more so given that the "curse of the book's editor" struck twice. But I have to confess... the ideas in books in this series, ideas upon which philosophers have long brooded... have put a spell on me... I'm bewitched... I can't stop reading these essays... warts and all. Precious essays... my precious... essays...

Three stars. John V. Karavitis.

(P.S. When you mention a prior book in your own series, please get the title right. Dennis Knepp's biography should read "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", not "The Girl in..." - page 253. Typos are a no-no.)
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on November 13, 2015
A book full of flaws as the authors of the essays examining the philosophy of The Hobbit have little understanding of the book they were analyzing. As an example the greed of Thorin ( dragon sickness ) was harped on while if you read The Hobbit the point is that dwarves, elves, men and even Bilbo all had dragon sickness and Bilbo was the only one who found the cure. Since many conclusions were reached by not understanding the content of the book being examined, many errors were made. There were a couple of the essays that were of interest. This book was a letdown from the same authors work, The Philosophy of The Lord of the Rings which was a good book. I do not recommend this book.
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on December 27, 2014
I admit that I didn't quite know what I was picking up when I opened The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You've Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way.

At the time, I was three quarters of the way through The Hobbit for the umpteenth time, but because I was reading it to my daughters, the book felt both new and familiar. The Hobbit is not a novel that would have survived today's publishing world and the attention span of children is even shorter than that of adults. Even with a cast of dwarves, goblins, wizards, elves, a dragon and, yes, a hobbit, it's hard not to find something that is interesting to a child. Bring the story to a child’s level isn’t a stretch, though translating it into bite size portions for bedtime reading does help. The story feels written for children (despite the gravity that Peter Jackson seems to imbue on the story with dark and violent scenes of giant spiders, murderous goblins, and deadly orcs).

My girls are young: only 3 and 6. Even though both are children, they are at different stages of development and maturity. The 6-year old understands most of the plot, the character development, and remembers who is who (though sometimes the sheer number of dwarves and the paucity of development of any besides a few of them does confuse her when their names pop up). On the other hand, my 3-year old latches on only a few things, requiring that I “spice” the story up, so to speak, in order to keep her attention. For example, she stays interested when I create voices for the different characters, speaking deep and powerful for Thorin, meek but courageous for Bilbo, and confident but gravelly for Gandalf.

For a while, her favorite voice was Gollum’s. Only after her older sister explained that Gollum was the "bad guy" did she stop asking me when Bilbo was going to see Gollum again.

Pictures help, too, and that’s how we get to The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You've Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way (after that protracted detour). After repeated questions on the distinctions between elves, dwarves, and hobbits (I dodged the “orcs versus goblins” question altogether), I headed over to the library to find a book of art inspired by the novel. Not a set of promotional photographs for Peter Jackson's movies, mind you, but art from the last sixty year or so years since the novel was published.

While looking for the art (perhaps I should review that one, too?) I found sitting on the shelf The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You've Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way. I’ve read The Hobbit dozens of times, but somehow I’ve never spent much time thinking about the philosophy behind it. I’ve read more and thought more about The Lord of the Rings in that regards, mostly, I think because it comes across as a weightier book. The parallels with J.R.R.Tolkien’s experience and view of World War II are obvious, while The Hobbit was published prior to the war and was primarily aimed at a juvenile market. Like juvenile fiction in the modern era, though, The Hobbit is perhaps a far more interesting and deep book than it is often given credit for. In that regard, The Hobbit and Philosophy, which is a collection of essays by various contributors, approaches what is perhaps the most popular fantasy novel of the last century with a serious and, occasionally at least, playful eye.

Here you will essays on Tao, enlightenment, man’s place in society, greed, humility, glory, art and beauty, and more. Some are dry (after all, it is philosophy, right?), and others are light, playful, or inspirational. All are interesting and insightful.

I’ve already burned 600 plus words talking about how I even found the book, and I’ve not said much about the essays other than this: it’s worth reading.

I’m not really the philosophical type and I don’t think it helped me make The Hobbit more interesting to my daughters. But it did make the book more interesting to me, which is saying something about a book I already love and enjoy.
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on September 19, 2013
Do you like walking for its own sake and not just as a means to a destination? Do you like to play, but maybe feel a little guilty about it? Do you think of yourself as lucky or unlucky? Then this book which deals with such themes amongst others will give you something to think about.

The title of the book tells you most of what you need to know before you begin; it is about The Hobbit and Philosophy and if, like me, you enjoy both then this is a good book to read. If Philosophy sounds difficult and academic to you, do not be put off, for the 17 short chapters are fairly easy to read, are around 12 pages long, with plenty of footnotes, with each chapter written by a different author. The occasional repetition of quotes and ideas are inevitable in a book written by so many people, but they do not irritate.

Each chapter takes a theme drawn from The Hobbit, such as generosity, personal growth, humility and Taoism and develops an argument that it is worth thinking over. It would be best to read the book slowly, perhaps a chapter a day with time to meditate upon and savour. So it might prove to be a personal Advent or Lenten study.

It is not a specifically religious book, except in the broadest sense but there are some chapters that have an impact on theology or life in church. For instance, there is a discussion about how to interpret texts noting that the author's meaning and the significance for the reader are not necessarily identical; this is very relevant when studying the Bible. Elsewhere we are confronted with the difference between our freewill and God's traditional foreknowledge. Church life is challenged in chapters on risk and decision making, the tension between pacifism and the just war theory, and discussion about how to live with other cultures. The book could provide material for sermons and house groups if you have a church keen to explore The Hobbit.

Reference is made to other works by Tolkien, in particular The Lord of The Rings and The Simarillion, enough to encourage you to read them if you have not already done so. Recently I reread The Hobbit in preparation to watch the first instalment of the Peter Jackson films, and this book has further whetted my appetite and given me some tools to see depth in the narrative. This book is one of a long series reflecting on modern films, books and TV series; after reading this I might read some of the others - no better recommendation!
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on March 12, 2013
I love the Hobbit and Philosophy so this book was delightful to me.Anyone who has the same tastes would enjoy it.
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on December 24, 2014
I adore these "and philosophy" books. This was another great addition to my collection. Check it out.
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on January 17, 2015
Great read for lovers of Tolkien...
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