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Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" Hardcover – September 18, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Open Letter to Readers (Amazon.com Exclusive)

Corey Olsen

Dear Readers,

On September 21, The Hobbit turns seventy-five. That's not a very advanced age for a hobbit, of course, but it is still an occasion well worth noting. The Hobbit is a book beloved by millions, and it has served for many as the gateway to a lifelong love of Tolkien's works. Nevertheless, I often feel that The Hobbit lives a little too much in the shadow of The Lord of the Rings. Sitting on a shelf next to the three larger volumes that come after, The Hobbit is easily overlooked, dismissed as a simple, childish "prequel" to Tolkien's great masterpiece. The 75th Anniversary provides a wonderful occasion on which to turn the spotlight back onto this brilliant little book. I can think of no better way to celebrate The Hobbit's birthday than to give it a good, open-minded re-reading, and my book Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Hobbit" is my invitation to you to join me in this delightful project.

For those of you who are not familiar with my podcast, The Tolkien Professor, let me explain something right away. I know that many people find the idea of "literary criticism" rather tiresome, and the thought of some English professor "dissecting" a book that they hold dear is rather awful. In my book, I seek only to invite you to take a slow stroll through The Hobbit with me, stopping long enough to pay attention to its subtleties and to take note of the larger themes and ideas the story engages with. I won't be examining the book like a lab specimen, but enjoying it with you and sharing with you the things I find so amazing about this book. Whether you are reading The Hobbit for the first time or coming back to it for the thirtieth time, I think you will find that there are always new marvels to discover.

To my podcast listeners, let me express my gratitude and my admiration. This book is not only for you, it is also from you; it is the product of your enthusiasm as much as of mine. When I started my podcast in 2009, thinking it would be fun to share some of my thoughts about my favorite books, I had no idea how dynamic, how thoughtful, and how dedicated an audience would find me. I have enjoyed the last three years of discussion, debate, and camaraderie with you enormously. This book is only one of the first fruits to be borne by the branch of the Tree of Story that we have been unfolding together, and I am tremendously excited to see what else we will build together.

I hope you will all have the chance to read The Hobbit again this fall, and thanks for joining me on my little adventure.

Yours deeply,
Corey Olsen


“Succeeds spectacularly . . . Olsen’s highly accessible writing on such a beloved classic will appeal to Tolkien fans at all academic levels, while the detailed and thoughtful analysis of the original text will keep literary scholars and fantasy lovers engaged.” – Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; annotated edition edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 054773946X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547739465
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #790,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Arnold TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 25, 2012
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.
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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.
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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.
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