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One of the biggest issues I've ever had with literature comes when the scholastic/learned pin down the world's greatest books and open them up like a cadaver, turning them into something lifeless and soulless. Most literary types I've ever encountered take the same approaches to the great works as do music critics or movie reviewers, but they spend much of their time trying to prove to you that they're not doing that by using whatever tricks they think they've mastered that make them seem literary.
In recent years, however, I've learned to separate out the true scholars who seek to elevate your appreciation of the great works from those who lean on those works to prove their own sense of smug superiority. We all know how to tell the difference because these other types always make you feel the life get sucked out of the work, out of the room, and out of you. That means that when you find one of the learned whose career is built on love and appreciation of the works they teach, you immediately feel like they engage you in the experience. They help you to engage with the work at deeper levels than you might expect possible. And they open up that world in a way that invites you to travel in it as far as you're willing to go. The world needs more educators like this.
Corey Olsen is one of these quality educators. Known as the "Tolkien Professor," his own career path has followed that of Tolkien himself, into the world of medieval literature. Applying this store of knowledge the way Tolkien did in creating the world of Middle Earth, Olsen is able to translate the scholarly to those who might otherwise think of The Hobbit only as a good story. For the Tolkien enthusiast at any level, including those who have only seen Peter Jackson's movies and are reading the book for the first time, this book is a welcome foothold into the deeper understanding of Middle Earth. Not only is it enlightening, it's fun.
One of the most interesting points of comparison in this book is the infamous "Riddles in the Dark" chapter that introduces Gollum. I had always heard that Gollum had changed over the years, but without actually having found a first edition printing of The Hobbit, I was unable to know the extent of the evolution myself. With the writing of The Lord of the Rings, Gollum went from a good guy to an evil guy to the version we know so well today across the revisions. Olsen navigates us through these revisions with an understanding of how Middle Earth evolved in Tolkien's mind. This is but one of the many things about this book that makes it so interesting. Olsen goes through the entirety of The Hobbit chapter by chapter, presenting it all to us in a way that seems both new and familiar at the same time. If that sort of experience is what you seek, this is the book for you. Hopefully in the near future we'll get more books in this series dealing with The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and maybe even the other collected volumes of Middle Earth tales. I feel like I'm immersed in these works fairly well as it is as I've been a Tolkien fan all my life. But there are always new levels to explore. I think Olsen proves with this book that those new levels are accessible to anyone, regardless of experience.
68 of 70 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Hobbit'?
Corey Olsen is a medieval scholar and a professor at a bricks-and-mortar university as well as an online professor. HIs podcasts of The Tolkien Professor are in-depth discussions of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and other Tolkien works. He also founded the Mythgard Institute for online studies.
Have you listened to any of Corey Olsen’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
I am so pleased that Corey narrated this himself. He has a wonderful way of expressing his enthusiasm for Tolkien's work that comes across well.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
I rationed myself to a half hour of listening a day to make it last longer.
Any additional comments?
32 of 33 people found this review helpful