“The Hobbit,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy-adventure tale of a hesitant hobbit, 13 dwarves, and a gray-robed wizard, was published 75 years ago this September. A more urgent date for many: the arrival of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit’’ movie trilogy, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Of the many precious and not-so-precious Bilbo-flavored books taking advantage of this moment, I’ve selected five worthy of your tightly guarded dragon’s treasure.
For those interested in rereading “The Hobbit” with a more expanded consciousness — no, I don’t mean pipeweed — try Corey Olsen’s “Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.” Olsen directs a center to further Tolkien studies, the Mythgard Institute, and runs a podcast called the “The Tolkien Professor.’’ His book is a chapter-by-chapter, erudite discussion of the major ideas stitched into this deceptively simple children’s book. We learn about Bilbo’s split personality — reserved vs. adventuresome — which, while not as clinically debilitating as Gollum’s DSM-worthy disorder, drives much of his action. We hear about Tolkien’s theme of “dragon-sickness” — greed and desire — and the role of luck. Despite the tale’s cheery reputation, Olsen argues “The Hobbit” is “quite serious, and even at times gruesome,” but Tolkien, aware of his juvenile audience, was clever to mask the dark matter behind “just a hint of frivolity.” Olsen’s indispensable book reminds us that “The joy of the good resolution will be tempered, as it always is in Tolkien’s fiction, with the reality of human suffering.”