Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit Book Review

Thanks to many years of mostly crappy English teachers, one the activities I hated most about taking English classes what the long drawn out process of picking a book apart to finding hidden meanings, themes and author intentions that seem only to exist in the teacher's mind. The discussions by themselves were often enjoyable, it was all that followed that sucked the joy out of reading with the reports that exist to simply regurgitate the teacher's opinion back at them, followed by some project around the book that ends with a test where you write another essay and answer various multiple choice questions to prove you read the book and note the cliff notes. Going through that process year after year is almost the reason I stopped reading for pleasure and likely didn't encourage it in many others.

Thankfully that kind of deep analysis doesn't always have to be a painful process and can actually help you get more from a book then you would expect. Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit by Corey Olsen is an excellent "reader's companion to The Hobbit" for those that love the book and want to try to get everything they can from Tolkien's work as it celebrates its 75th Anniversary. Exploring the Hobbit examines the book as it was first published on September 21, 1937 that tries to avoid taking liberties with author intent to show you every nugget of information from the novel. This book is not designed to try to help you interpret the upcoming Hobbit Trilogy or try to figure out how The Lord of the Rings Appendixes may be incorporated into the movies.

This doesn't mean that Exploring will not help you understand the movies more, if anything it made me more curious about what Peter Jackson may do in his visual interpretation of the novel. For example, Professor Olsen points out just how much "luck" plays a part in the adventures of Bilbo and the dwarves. In reading the Hobbit, I noticed that luck played a part in certain events but never quite picked up on its frequency. In many stories, "luck" tends to really be "deux ex machina" moments but here the frequency is used to underscore a grander destiny for Bilbo and his part in the history of Middle-Earth. Luck helping characters get out of sticky situations is one thing in book form but movie audiences tend to expect and demand more. How this theme is handled (or ignored) is something I probably would not have noticed before reading this book.

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is an easy and accessible read for any that is a fan of The Hobbit that does not bog things down with minutiae. It guides you through the novel chapter by chapter showing the hidden meanings in the songs and poems, the themes that occur again and again, and in some cases how The Hobbit evolved from draft form, to its first publication and its final version once Tolkien had written (but not yet published) The Lord of the Rings. Simply put, the bigger the fan you are of The Hobbit book, the more you will enjoy this book. It is also something worth reading if The Hobbit is coming up for your English class discussion as more than likely Corey Olsen's analysis will be more interesting to read. You might even be able to teach the teacher a thing or two.

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is available now from Amazon in hardcover or eBook form or can order from your local book store. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the official US publisher of Tolkien related books for over 65 years. Visit The Tolkien Professor website to learn more about Corey Olsen. His podcasts examining Tolkien's works can be found here.

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