Exploring the Hobbit

One of President Olsen’s first forays into learning technology was based on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. His series of original lectures walked listeners through the story at a very detailed and illuminating level. These lectures eventually lead President Olsen to release the book Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Now you can experience the lectures, learn a little more about the book, and even get a free preview of the book below!

Took and Baggins

Reading: Chapter One, “An Unexpected Party”

In this lecture, I look at the steps Tolkien takes to introduce his juvenile audience to his secondary world, exploring the tension Tolkien builds between the fantastic and the mundane as we see the adventurous world break in on Bilbo’s quiet and orderly life. Further, Tolkien embodies this tension in Bilbo himself, who is himself divided between his poetic Took side and his “prosy” Baggins side.

Download this Lecture (37 minutes)

The Ridiculous and the Sublime

Reading: Chapters Two and Three, “Roast Mutton,” and “A Short Rest”

In this installment, I discuss the awkward beginning of Bilbo’s burglarious career as he transitions from his safe and comfortable homeland into the dangerous and uncertain lands beyond. We will also see how Tolkien uses humor and absurdity to help young readers meet two very different but equally challenging encounters with the violent, terrifying trolls and the beautiful, enchanting elves.

Download this Lecture (32 minutes)

At the Roots of the Mountain

Reading: Chapters Four and Five, “Over Hill and Under Hill” and “Riddles in the Dark”

Today, we’ll see what happens when Bilbo, his transition over, crosses into the Wild and comes to the “turning point in his career” (in several senses). We will also see how, in Gollum and the goblins, Tolkien gives a remarkable description of the nature of evil. Finally, after a careful examination of each riddle in the riddle game, we will see Bilbo make the most momentous decision of his entire life.

Download this Lecture (49 minutes)

Rescued in the Wild, By the Wild

Reading: Chapters Six and Seven, “Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire,” and “Queer Lodgings”

In this lecture, we’ll look at what happens to Bilbo’s relationship with the dwarves and with Gandalf in the new phase of the hobbit’s burglarious career. We will also take a close look at each of the residents of the Wild that we meet: the goblins, the wargs, the eagles, and Beorn. Having done so, we’ll step back to look at the larger nature of the Wild as a whole and what it shows us about Bilbo and his world. Finally, as we look toward the trip into Mirkwood, we’ll take a close look at the long and puzzling song that the dwarves sing in Beorn’s hall.

Download this Lecture – Part 1 (13 minutes) – Part 2 (15 minutes) – Part 3 (29 minutes)

Bilbo Builds His Resume

Reading: Chapters Eight, Nine, and Ten, “Flies and Spiders,” “Barrels Out of Bond,” and “A Warm Welcome”

In this installment, we follow Bilbo and the dwarves into the eerie otherworld of Mirkwood, with its dark, black monsters and its beautiful and perilous Elves. We will also find another crucial turning point in Bilbo’s career, and we will watch what happens when Bilbo finally lives up to Gandalf’s recommendation and begins to take on the leadership of the expedition. Finally, we will look closely at the outburst of enthusiasm upon the party’s water-logged arrival in Lake Town, and at the songs of prophecy with which they are greeted.

Download this Lecture – Part 1 (22 minutes) – Part 2 (21 minutes)

Bilbo Earns His Reward

Reading: Chapters Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen, “On The Doorstep,” “Inside Information,” and “Not At Home”

Bilbo Baggins, action hero? Almost! In this lecture, we look at Bilbo’s personal transformation as he realizes that the dwarves have no idea how to actually deal with the dragon. We talk about the difference in perspective between the dwarves and Bilbo, take a look back at Chapter 1 in comparison, and discuss Bilbo’s acceptance of his new identity, which he now hopes to help construct. We gain some insight on Bilbo as the “clue-finder” by learning about an earlier manuscript draft of the chapter on the Spiders of Mirkwood. We delve deeply into Bilbo’s riddle-based recount of his activities to Smaug. And Professor Olsen uses the word “triskaidekaphobia.”

Download this Lecture (41 minutes)

The Hobbit Grows Up

Reading: Chapters Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, and Seventeen, “Fire and Water,” “The Gathering of The Clouds,” “A Thief in The Night,” and “The Clouds Burst”

In this installment, we discuss the rest of the main action of the story, starting with Smaug’s death and going through the Battle of Five Armies. The death of the dragon doesn’t mean a fairytale ending. We look at how the waste created by the dragon manifests in not only physical destruction but in “dragon-sickness”: not just greed, but selfishness and isolation. We’ll discuss how Bilbo’s separation from the other parties allows him the space to rise to his finest hour as a common enemy emerges. (Spoiler: It’s Goblins.) The “King Under the Mountain” finally returns. And Professor Olsen uses the word “eucatastrophe.”

Download this Lecture (27 minutes)

Return and Recovery

Reading: Chapters Eighteen and Nineteen, “The Return Journey” and “The Last Stage”

In our final lecture, we trace our steps with Bilbo and find, as he does, that home doesn’t look quite the same anymore. We discuss the healing in the changed perspective and attitudes of dwarves, elves, and men post-battle. We look at Bilbo balancing both his Baggins and Took sides in his home-life, discuss “the road” as connector, and touch on Bilbo’s journey as piece of a larger story. Professor Olsen also casually mentions that it’s taken him four and a half years to get from Hobbit Lecture 1 to Hobbit Lecture 8. That’s roughly 3 years longer than it took Bilbo to go “there and back again.”

Download this Lecture (26 minutes)

I cannot imagine a more patient, astute, and well-informed guide to the world of The Hobbit than Corey Olsen. His readers are lucky.

– Patrick Curry, author of Defending Middle-earth

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit


About The Book

The Hobbit has been a childhood classic for decades. Millions have read and loved it before they reached high school; many carry cherished memories of a parent reading the book aloud to them. For some readers, it opens the door to a world of fantasy which will enrich the rest of their lives. The Hobbit is one of the most widely read and best-loved books of the twentieth century.

Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a fun, thoughtful, and insightful companion volume, designed to bring a thorough and original new reading of this great work to a general audience. Professor Corey Olsen (also known as the Tolkien Professor) will take readers on an in-depth journey through The Hobbit chapter by chapter, revealing the stories within the story: the dark desires of dwarves and the sublime laughter of elves, the nature of evil and its hopelessness, the mystery of divine providence and human choice, and, most of all, the revolutions within the life of Bilbo Baggins. Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a book which will make The Hobbit come alive for readers as it never has before.

Listen to the original Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit announcement from The Tolkien Professor.


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Signed Copies

Bring your book to a signing and Dr. Olsen will be more than happy to personalize a signature for you or a friend!

The first twelve pages of Dr. Corey Olsen’s book Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit have been released from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Read on below!