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by Corey Olsen

Pub Date: Sept. 18th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-547-73946-5
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A journey across Middle-earth with an English teacher.

Olsen, (English/Washington Coll.) who both teaches Tolkien courses and hosts a popular website (The Tolkien Professor), reveals his affection for—obsession with?—Tolkien’s texts in numerous ways. He directly praises passages as “brilliantly executed” and “masterful,” but merely by giving this young people’s book the full attention of his scholarly skills, he imparts to it an elevated status. Olsen declares he is more interested in explanation than in literary theory, so he offers a chapter-by-chapter explication of the characters, events, landscapes, traditions, conflicts and songs that fill Tolkien’s enormously popular 1937 novel. (The Peter Jackson two-part film opens in December.) The author also refers continually to the original edition, which Tolkien later revised when he decided to integrate The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings. Olsen rarely finds anything negative to say (he does observe that one moment is not “completely successful”) and sometimes even twists himself a bit to defend Tolkien. The author traces the conflict between the Baggins and Took sides of Bilbo, emphasizes the lust for treasure that nearly results in all-out war at the end, and observes the changes in Bilbo’s character as he moves from his safe hearth to the fiery furnace of the dragon’s lair. He spends lots of time with the songs, revealing meanings in them that would generally escape most readers, young and old.

Tolkien’s roads, it seems, go ever, ever on, but with as amiable and knowledgeable a guide as Olsen, the weather remains fine and the journey sweet.