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The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You've Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way

ISBN: 978-0-470-40514-7
272 pages
October 2012
The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You


A philosophical exploration of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved classic—just in time for the December 2012 release of Peter Jackson's new film adaptation, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit is one of the best-loved fantasy books of all time and the enchanting "prequel" to The Lord of the Rings. With the help of some of history's great philosophers, this book ponders a host of deep questions raised in this timeless tale, such as: Are adventures simply "nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things" that "make you late for dinner," or are they exciting and potentially life-changing events? What duties do friends have to one another? Should mercy be extended even to those who deserve to die?

  • Gives you new insights into The Hobbit's central characters, including Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Gollum, and Thorin and their exploits, from the Shire through Mirkwood to the Lonely Mountain
  • Explores key questions about The Hobbit's story and themes, including: Was the Arkenstone really Bilbo's to give? How should Smaug's treasure have been distributed? Did Thorin leave his "beautiful golden harp" at Bag-End when he headed out into the Wild? (If so, how much could we get for that on eBay?)
  • Draws on the insights of some of the world's deepest thinkers, from Confucius, Plato, and Aristotle to Immanuel Kant, William Blake, and contemporary American philosopher Thomas Nagel

From the happy halls of Elrond's Last Homely House to Gollum's "slimy island of rock," this is a must read for longtime Tolkien fans as well as those discovering Bilbo Baggins and his adventures "there and back again" for the first time.

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Never Laugh at Live Philosophers 1
Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson


1 The Adventurous Hobbit 7
Gregory Bassham

2 “The Road Goes Ever On and On”: A Hobbit’s Tao 20
Michael C. Brannigan

3 Big Hairy Feet: A Hobbit’s Guide to Enlightenment 32
Eric Bronson

4 Bilbo Baggins: The Cosmopolitan Hobbit 45
Dennis Knepp


5 The Glory of Bilbo Baggins 61
Charles Taliaferro and Craig Lindahl-Urben

6 Pride and Humility in The Hobbit 74
Laura Garcia

7 “My Precious”: Tolkien on the Perils of Possessiveness 90
Anna Minore and Gregory Bassham

8 Tolkien’s Just War 103
David Kyle Johnson

9 “Pretty Fair Nonsense”: Art and Beauty in The Hobbit 118
Philip Tallon

10 Hobbitus Ludens: Why Hobbits Like to Play and Why We Should, Too 129
David L. O’Hara


11 “The Lord of Magic and Machines”: Tolkien on Magic and Technology 147
W. Christopher Stewart

12 Inside The Hobbit: Bilbo Baggins and the Paradox of Fiction 161
Amy Kind

13 Philosophy in the Dark: The Hobbit and Hermeneutics 176
Tom Grimwood


14 Some Hobbits Have All the Luck 193
Randall M. Jensen

15 The Consolation of Bilbo: Providence and Free Will in Middle-Earth 206
Grant Sterling

16 Out of the Frying Pan: Courage and Decision Making in Wilderland 218
Jamie Carlin Watson

17 There and Back Again: A Song of Innocence and Experience 235
Joe Kraus

CONTRIBUTORS: Our Most Excellent and Audacious Contributors 251

INDEX: The Moon Letters 257

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Author Information


Gregory Bassham is Chair of the Philosophy Department at King's College and a professor of philosophy.  He edited The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy and co-edited The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy (Open Court) and The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy.

Eric Bronson is a visiting professor in the Humanities Department at York University in Toronto, Canada. He is the editor of Poker and Philosophy (2012), and co-editor of The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy (2003) and Baseball and Philosophy (2011).

William Irwin is Professor of Philosophy at King's College. He originated the philosophy and popular culture genre of books as coeditor of the bestselling The Simpsons and Philosophy and has overseen recent titles including House and Philosophy, Batman and Philosophy, and Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy.

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“The value in this approach, of course, is that these essays are simple; they are incredibly short (each runs about five pages), and they are clear and accessible.”  (Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, 1 February 2015)

“Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson’s anthology of essays, 'The Hobbit and Philosophy', may have an overblown title, but the authors do a good job of focusing on themes like possessiveness, providence and free will, courage and decision-making.”  (The Times Literary Supplement,  21 December 2012)

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Press Release

October 30, 2012
What Kind of Hobbit Are You? New Book Helps You Discover Your Inner Took...

What kind of Hobbit are you?
New book helps you discover your inner Took...

The Hobbit and Philosophy
For When You've Lost Your Dwarves,
Your Wizard and Your Way
 Gregory Bassham and Eric Bronson
Series Editor: William Irwin

"An epic story like this is a perfect lens for studying philosophy, and philosophy is the perfect lens through which to better understand the themes and deeper meaning of Tolkien's classic."

The Hobbit is one of the best-loved stories of modern times.  Everyone knows the epic tale of Bilbo Baggins, who leaves the confines of his home to travel to new lands, meet new creatures, and embrace the adventurous side of his nature, all the while gaining in maturity and wisdom.  But what would you do in Bilbo's hairy feet? Would you remain safe and comfy inside your hobbit-hole or, like him, set forth on a life-changing journey? Joined by a merry band of philosophers (who much like hobbits "have a fund of wisdom and wise sayings that men have mostly never heard of or forgotten long ago"), Bassham and Bronson select the latter, setting forth for Middle Earth to discover what Bilbo and the great thinkers can teach us about growth and human potential...

As this enjoyable book reveals, Middle Earth provides the setting for a wealth of philosophical conundrums. Are adventures simply "nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things" that "make you late for dinner" or can they be exciting and potentially life-changing? Was life better in pre-industrial times when there was "less noise and more green"? What duties do friends have to one another? Should mercy be extended even to those who deserve to die?

Drawing on Tolkien's own life and the works of some of the world's deepest thinkers, including Confucius, Plato, Kant, Aristotle and William Blake, the authors of this book join Bilbo on his journey from the Shire and back again, bringing fresh insights into all of the main characters and pondering small slimy creatures, riddles, rings, magic, and hairy feet as they go. The main lesson in clear: only by confronting challenges and taking risks can we grow and discover what we are capable of becoming. Someone as ordinary as Bilbo Baggins didn't shy away, and neither should we...

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