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

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  2,239 Ratings  ·  168 Reviews
The Hobbit is one of the most widely read and best-loved books of the twentieth century. In December 2012, millions will be introduced or reintroduced to J.R.R. Tolkien's classic with the arrival of the first of two film adaptations by acclaimed director Peter Jackson. Exploring The Hobbit is a fun, thoughtful, and insightful companion volume, designed to bring a thorough ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 18th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2012)
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Jan 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Corey Olsen is a Hobbit aficionado.

The medieval studies professor noted in his introduction to this 2012 work that in his classes of Chaucer and Mallory, he frequently needs to spice things up a bit to get his students involved and excited. His Tolkien class, however, needs no such encouragement – the students know the work and are excited to talk about it. So popular was his class that he started a web page and was amazed at the response.

I’m not at all surprised. First published in 1937, The Ho
Jul 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tolkien
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 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 ...more
Natalia Flerova
May 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not particularly in-depth analysis, but some ideas are interesting.
Deborah Markus
Mar 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
This isn't a scholarly analysis of The Hobbit. It's a lively, intelligent talk about it.

Corey Olsen (like me) has loved The Hobbit from early childhood, and has reread it frequently since that first long ago adventure. He's able to make at least part of his living talking about his favorite writer -- he has his PhD in medieval English literature and teaches courses on Chaucer, Arthurian literature, and, yes, Tolkien. He points out something that makes this very different from his other classes:
I read the first 100 pages and hadn’t learned anything. DNF
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
About a year ago, I gladly devoured Professor Olsen's Tolkien Professor podcasts, and was happy to learn that he had created, in a sense, the companion book, to his lectures at Maryland's Washington College. The reason why is because he has opened up the text to more readers and to greater reader understanding by his particular type of literary criticism.

Olsen's enthusiasm for The Hobbit is infectious, and is clearly a vocation for him, not just a job. And neither is this book an example of writ
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Laura by: The Tolkien Professor Podcast
I like Tolkien, but I like the Peter Jackson movies better than the original J.R.R. Tolkien texts, in large part because they have a whole lot less of the "Nostalgia for Feudalism" I find so off-putting. But I've read the books several times; recognize they are seminal texts in my genre (right up there with Lovecraft) and I'm quite enjoying Prof. Olsen's "The Tolkien Professor" podcasts. So there's that.

Exploring the Hobbit is a charming exploration of the book from someone who clearly loves it
Jan 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I can't say that I love The Hobbit--I liked it well enough--but reading this book, written by someone who does love The Hobbit, made me gain a new appreciation for the text.

The author goes through Tolkien's novel chapter by chapter, breaking down the book practically line by line to discuss several threads that run throughout: 1) Bilbo's nature and how his character changes over the course of the story; 2) Bilbo's choices at crucial points in the novel that define his character; 3) Bilbo's relat
AnHeC the Paperback Obliterator
Give it a go! If you've never been a fan of The Hobbit, if you've never got what the fuss is all about or why I may scratch your eyes out when you say 'it's boring', give it a go! It's short and written in a very accessible way. I'm very, very fond of this book (which now proudly sits on my shelf).

Something is wrong with me. Very wrong with me. I genuinely enjoy literally analyses more than books. Not always. But often. Like, how can you appreciate Jane Austin without giving it some thought and
Oct 07, 2012 rated it liked it
This review has an implicit spoiler for The Hobbit. I'm not flagging it, but be aware. It's in the third paragraph down ("The book had...")

While Prof. Olsen admirably and eloquently details some of the recurring themes and motifs in The Hobbit, chapter by chapter, I initially thought "This is for someone who hasn't read a lot of Tolkien."
If you've read The Silmarillion and didn't get utterly lost, then I doubt you'll need this book to understand The Hobbit.

There were also some parts where I tho
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to E.F.B. by: Stephanie
5 stars

Note: I listened to this book on audio.

Well written, interesting, and very enjoyable non-fiction read! I would strongly recommend this for anyone who has read “The Hobbit” and is curious to learn about the themes Tolkien wove throughout the work, and the history and inspirations behind it. Truthfully, if you like audiobooks, I might even recommend listening to the audio version of this over reading it with your eyeballs (or maybe reading the book along with the audio if you like doing tha
Julie Davis
Sep 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Rereading. Because it makes The Hobbit even better.


I found Corey Olsen, as many did, through his podcast The Tolkien Professor (does everyone else love his "click friend and enter" as much as I do?). Anyway, since I've read The Hobbit many times, when my book club decided to read The Hobbit I felt justified in purchasing the book (hey, this is to enrich everyone else's lives ... ). I am enjoying reading a chapter of The Hobbit slowly instead of the usual breakneck speed the I pelt along at,
Jenna (Falling Letters)
Nov 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tolkien, 2014
Originally posted 25 April on my blog.


I added this book to my TBR list shortly after it was published, but I wasn't eager to read it because it seemed to be an introductory text exploring themes in The Hobbit with which I am already familiar. This is not to say I didn't think the text had anything to offer (otherwise I wouldn't have put it on my TBR list), but after reading The History of the Hobbit in the same year this book was published, I felt I had enough Hobbit knowledge in my head for
Ryan Reeves
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: inklings
This is a very good book in that the author reads the Hobbit as an English professor and not as a theologian or philosopher. I enjoyed the way he read the emergence of the Hobbit and noted ideosyncratic places where Tolkien was originally inconsistent.

For example, the earliest edition of the Hobbit did not include any funny business abou the Ring. Instead, Gollum is angry that he has no gift to give Bilbo after their riddle game, and then Biblo persuades Gollum to show him the way out of the ca
Feb 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: lit-crit
Thank goodness for libraries! I was roaming through the new book section and picked this up out of curiosity. It is not as "heavy" as the books that I attempted to read (or read) about Tolkien back when I was in college. To be honest, I have never seen a book that explored "The Hobbit", only the "Lord of the Rings". This is doubly a good introduction to someone who is only slightly familiar with literary criticism : It explores a YA adult and it is light in tone. The author takes us with ease th ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really hate literary criticism and this is not the kind of book I would normally read but I had heard good things about Olsen's podcast and this paragraph in the introduction told me that Olsen is my kind of guy.
Most people, I have discovered, get nervous at the prospect of a literary critic discussing a work they love. Too many people have had the unpleasant experience in high school English class in which they were made to disassemble works of literature, and they don’t want to see that gris
Aug 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, non-fiction
I've loved J.R.R. Tolkien's writing for decades, with The Hobbit, no exception. I've also listened to Professor Corey Olsen's various podcasts and university lectures via iTunes University. Prof. Olsen has a speaking style that is very engaging, thought provoking, and yes, entertaining. I wish all of my university professors had made the subject matter as entertaining as he has.

Prof. Olsen has made literature accessible, even to an engineer like myself. If you had told me that I would enjoy hear
Katherine Sas
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Finished reading this as my plane touched down on the way to Mythmoot 2013 with the Tolkien Professor himself, Corey Olsen, and ninety other Tolkien enthusiasts. A wonderful capper to a wonderful read. Professor Olsen's style is, like his podcasts, fun and easy and yet he draws your attention to the astonishing depth of Tolkien's "children's" story and constantly points out fresh insights and details. The first to write at this depth about The Hobbit, Professor Olsen is the perfect guide for bot ...more
Ben De Bono
It can be tempting to brush The Hobbit aside as a minor work since it doesn't have the scale and grandeur of The Lord of the Rings. Dr. Olsen does a great job of showing why that's a mistake. This is a fantastic piece of literary analysis - going through The Hobbit chapter by chapter and often scene by scene. He drew out a lot of things I'd never considered before despite the many, many times I've read the book. Highly recommended both for new readers and longtime rereaders of The Hobbit
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What an enjoyable read! Not only was the book well-written, but the analysis was clear and enlightening. This book doesn't analyze The Hobbit to death, but rather enriches the story by drawing connections and threads through the whole work. Simply delightful.
Linda ~ chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny ~
Corey Olsen is the Tolkien Professor and has a great podcast where he discusses all things Middle-Earth. It was his podcasts for The Hobbit that first got my attention several years ago. It was slow going, about one or two a month, but it's not that long of a book, right? Well, then he got sidetracked. :D No harm, I got to listen to his brilliant lectures on The Silmarillion and hear some great live discussions about LOTR. Over the years, I lost track of him, but I'd think about his The Hobbit s ...more
David Albee
Fantastic compilation of possible lectures concerning the themes and philosophies of “The Hobbit.”

Feb 02, 2017 rated it liked it
A good review of the Hobbit. Made me think about the story more than I had in years and on a few different levels than I had before.

The aspects describing the edits that Tolkien did to the story over the years were very interesting.
Jan 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I have read and reread Tolkien's classic The Hobbit many times. It is a fantastic story and a wonderful introduction into Tolkien's Middle Earth. A few years ago I discovered the podcast of The Tolkien Professor, Corey Olsen. I have listened to many of his podcasts since then and it feels as if you are getting a graduate seminar in Tolkien. After rereading The Hobbit again in the fall I decided to finally read Olsen's analysis of it.

It should be noted that this book was not written to piggyback
Ben McFarland
Oct 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
There should be more books like this one. I used to listen to The Tolkien Professor's podcasts on iTunesU -- in fact, it's where I got the idea for the Day of Common Learning Lecture that turned into the "Trees of Life" book chapter on J.R.R. Tolkien and Paul Brand. In Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, Corey Olsen (AKA The Tolkien Professor) recapitulates his Hobbit podcasts in book form.

Olsen's focus is on the character of Bilbo Baggins, on the nature of luck in Tolkien's writing, and on w
Rick | Another Book Blog
Olsen is probably the most accessible Tolkien scholar out there. This book is fantastic. His podcasts are fantastic. If you're looking to go deeper into Middle Earth, Olsen is a great hand to hold.
May 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I almost enjoyed reading this book more than The Hobbit, if it's possible to believe that - almost. When I finished, I honestly had to ask myself how I ever managed to make it through The Hobbit without this guide.

Corey Olsen states in the Introduction that "I will not be acting as an amateur psychiatrist (or psychic), claiming to tell you what was in Tolkien's mind and why he wrote the book...In the end, this book just sets out to do a little more of what I suppose you already do yourself: rea
Dec 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
In helping us understand the various books they help "unpack" in their writing and in their teaching, the best scholars stick as closely as they can to the work they are considering. They don't feel compelled to attempt to fit the particular "text" into some theory they outline.

And that's what makes this book so good. Olsen starts not with theories of medieval literature or fantasy fiction, but by talking about his passion -- and those of his students -- for the Lord of the Rings. And then he p
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was obviously an interesting take on one of my favorite books. It's not often you get a college course on fun things and I enjoyed the new things and additional information obtained by Olsen's dissection. The Audible performance was not very good, there were multiple times where the recording stopped and restarted 30 seconds ago or so prior to where it stopped. That got annoying fast.
Tay Mueller
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tolkien
I really enjoyed the entire experience of reading this book, while following along in my kindle copy of the Hobbit (which I had read again only a few weeks ago)

You might think that The Hobbit, of all Tolkien's work, would be the least in need of this kind of guide. I first read Tolkien back in the 1960's, and since I read LotR first, I was always a little less in love with The Hobbit. So, for me, the truth is that while I have never had any trouble delving into the Lord of the Rings or The Silma
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Corey Olsen is a a PhD in medieval literature, and a student of Tolkien's works. He is the host of the Tolkien Professor podcast ( and the president of the Mythgard Institute (
More about Corey Olsen
“Tempus edax rerum, usually translated “Time devours all things.” 1 likes
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