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A Tour Through A Beloved Book With A Knowledgeable Friend,
This review is from: Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" (Hardcover)
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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.
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Initial post: Aug 10, 2012 2:50:18 PM PDT
J. Green says:
Very nice review. I haven't had a chance to start my copy yet but I'm looking forward to it.
Posted on Aug 16, 2012 12:52:47 PM PDT
David Zampino says:
I completely concur with your review. This book was a real treat.
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