Book review: 'Exploring' takes an in-depth look at Tolkien's masterpiece

By Steve Larson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Sept. 15 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

"EXPLORING J.R.R. TOLKIEN'S 'THE HOBBIT'," by Corey Olsen, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, 336 pages (nf)

New release "Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit" by Corey Olsen takes an in-depth look at Tolkien's classic novel.

In his book, Olsen goes to great lengths to give readers insight into Tolkien's characters and story development. He has written what many consider to be a companion volume, designed to help a general audience understand and appreciate Tolkien's novel.

Originally written in September of 1937, "The Hobbit" will celebrate its 75th anniversary on Sept. 22. Additionally, in December it will be introduced to a worldwide audience as the first of two films directed by Peter Jackson will be released.

In "Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit", Olsen uncovers the story within the story of Bilbo Baggins. He gives insight into the life of Bilbo and the lively group of dwarves who venture forth with him on his reluctant adventure.

Olsen, an assistant professor of English at Washington College in Maryland, has a great ability to convey a deep understanding of Tolkien's writing. His insights into the character development are fascinating and help the reader gain a greater appreciation of Tolkien’s work.

One of the deep insights Olsen offers is the development of Bilbo from reluctant adventurer to a skilled burglar and leader of the dwarves. Olsen shows how Bilbo is a product of both sides of his family — his adventuresome Tookish side and his reluctant Baggins' side.

According to Olsen, Bilbo's battle for control of his Tookish and Baggins' tendencies is one of the main themes Tolkien highlighted in "The Hobbit.” Olsen describes how Bilbo struggles throughout the book with his desire to please both sides of his personality.

Filled with page after page of insightful analysis, this book is written for those who want a deeper understanding of Tolkien's story of Bilbo's adventure. Olsen not only examines the characters, but explains the meaning behind the songs Tolkien uses throughout the book.

If you would like to become more familiar with "The Hobbit" or feel the need for a deeper understanding of its meaning, this book will deliver. Readers should find more than enough useful insight to prepare them for rereading "The Hobbit" or discovering it for the first time.

Steve Larson is one of the founders of Information Alliance, a Utah-based data collection company. He currently serves as vice president of sales. Steve spends his free time writing and practicing photography. He also enjoys spending time outdoors.

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