Saturday, December 29, 2012

Books 70 & 71

Book 70. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Unabridged audio.
Book 71. Exploring J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, by Corey Olsen. Hardcover.

I discovered Corey Olsen's excellent podcast The TolkienProfessor earlier in the year, and have been listening ever since. So when his book came out a few months ago, and with the movie coming out shortly thereafter, I knew I would pick it up.
Professor Olsen does a terrific job taking his academic expertise on Tolkien and turning it into a readable book, in much the same way that his podcast communicates to educated laymen. His book is arranged in parallel to The Hobbit, examining the book in a chapter-by-chapter way. He recommends reading a chapter of The Hobbit, and then reading a chapter of his book. This made sense, so I did it.

The Hobbit, of course, tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, and how the comfortable little hobbit becomes entangled in a scheme (not very well planned, as it turns out) by a company of dwarves to reclaim their treasure from the dragon who had stolen it. With the help of the wizard Gandalf and friendly elves, the company evades trolls and goblins, overcomes the dragon, and reclaims the treasure. There are many iconic scenes contained here, from the arrival of the dwarves to the riddle game to the barrel-riding.
The concept of a story "written for children" has changed drastically in the 75 years since this work was published.  Yes, the tone is light and the words readable, the action has as much humor as horror, but there is no sense of the work being "dumbed down" as can happen in some modern works for children (especially American works for children).

The Hobbit remains a well-deserved classic of children's literature. If you have read it before, and are considering a re-read in light of the movie, I would encourage you read Professor Olsen's book along with it.

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