I recently had the pleasure of reading Noble Smith’s The Wisdom of the Shire (“a short guide to a long and happy life”), which came out last month. Ha...moreI recently had the pleasure of reading Noble Smith’s The Wisdom of the Shire (“a short guide to a long and happy life”), which came out last month. Having heard many good things about this book from critics and fellow readers alike, I was more than eager to read it myself!
In The Wisdom of the Shire, Noble pulls us away from the craziness of our own lives and sticks us in the heart of the Shire, where its Hobbit citizens live simple, yet rewarding lives, and whose Hobbit holes are the true definition of comfort.
While many of us have grown accustomed to the complex and chaotic routine we call “life,” living like a Hobbit is not a difficult task, as Noble shows us. The main thing is to learn how to simplify – an idea that is both foreign and frightening to many people. Fortunately, Noble provides more than enough suggestions and information to get you on your way to living a more Hobbit-y lifestyle.
And while The Wisdom of the Shire is in some ways a sort of “self-betterment” book, it speaks to – and not at – the reader, which makes it a fun and engaging read. From the very beginning, Noble makes things personal, sprinkling bits of his own opinions and life experiences on top of the many examples he’s pulled from both Tolkien’s writings and Peter Jackson’s film adaptations.
Regardless of whether you seriously want to make a change in your life, or if you just want to read more about Tolkien’s furry-footed characters, this is a must-have. (less)
With J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit celebrating its 75th anniversary this September and the first of Peter Jackson’s two-part film adaptation arriving in...moreWith J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit celebrating its 75th anniversary this September and the first of Peter Jackson’s two-part film adaptation arriving in theaters in December, audiences are likely to find themselves overwhelmed with books on both Tolkien’s version as well as Jackson’s. The films will likely inspire many fans to either read The Hobbit for the very first time, or go back and re-read it again to refresh their memory before December 14. In any case, trying to decide which books to read and which ones to avoid can be a daunting task. If you only read one book on The Hobbit, let it be this one.
It’s not every day one finds a companion volume as captivating and enjoyable as Professor Corey Olsen’s Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit”. A perfect combination of academic insight as well as personal opinions, Olsen invites the casual reader and the enthusiastic scholar alike to experience J.R.R. Tolkien’s popular children’s story on an even deeper level by showing readers “the stories within the story.”
Olsen is known as “the Tolkien Professor” for his eponymous teaching website and podcast series, both of which are extremely popular within the Tolkien community. In addition to having a PhD in Medieval Literature, he teaches courses on Tolkien at Washington College and last year began offering online courses via the newly founded Mythgard Institute.
Years of experience reading and teaching Tolkien have more than qualified Olsen to write a book on the late Professor Tolkien’s classic children’s story; unlike many other books which aim to analyze or critique the writings of JRR Tolkien, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” reads more like a literary discussion among friends. Olsen’s personality and passion are engaging, and he writes just as he speaks: in a way that is both relaxing and relevant to all audiences, from longtime Tolkien fans to those reading he Hobbit for the very first time.
“The main thing I hope to do,” Olsen writes, “is to slow things down enough to be able to see more clearly what is unfolding in the story as we go” (5). And by examining The Hobbit chapter by chapter, he does just that.
Olsen’s approach to studying The Hobbit provides in-depth analyses of important characters (most notably the nature and transformation of “burglar” Bilbo Baggins); explores significant and recurring themes (such as the role luck plays in The Hobbit); and makes note of other details readers might have overlooked during a first – or even second – reading. “No matter how many times I read [Tolkien’s] books,” Olsen explains, “I find there are always new discoveries to make” (1).
In order to understand the various characters and races in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Olsen allows the poetry to do much of the talking. Acknowledging the fact that many of his students tend to skip over the songs and poems, he pays a great deal of attention to them – going through them line by line – to uncover the deeper natures and desires of each race. In doing so, he notes that the merry songs of the elves of Rivendell, though strange at first, are remarkable, given the “majesty and sorrow of their history” (61); that the dwarves and goblins, as it turns out, have more in common than they might like to think; and that the songs of the men of Lake-town reveal their “foolish excitement,” leading to an inclination to celebrate before a task has been accomplished (187).
Though he does not focus too much on the history behind the writing of The Hobbit, Olsen does discuss some of the changes Tolkien made once he began writing The Lord of the Rings – most importantly, the major links between the two stories: the ring, which would eventually play a greater role in the grand scheme of Middle-earth; and Gollum, who was not quite as wicked, but instead “fair and even decent” (89) in the first edition. Olsen reveals just enough to compare and contrast the two versions of The Hobbit, but his sole focus is on examining this story as a standalone book; he does not devote any time to explaining its context in the greater timeline of Middle-earth.
Whether you are reading The Hobbit for fun or for academia, Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is an excellent resource in learning how to study and truly appreciate this classic novel, making it the perfect companion volume. Though there will be a number of books on the horizon as The Hobbit celebrates its 75th anniversary and makes it to the big screen, finding a trustworthy companion volume will no longer seem like a daunting task once you’ve read this book.(less)