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English

Corey Olsen

Assistant Professor of English
Education
  • B.A., Williams College, 1996
  • M.A., Columbia University, 1997
  • M.Phil., Columbia University, 2000
  • Ph.D., Columbia University, 2003

The Tolkien Professor

The literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien first captured the imagination of a seven-year-old boy smitten with magic and dragons. Twenty-eight years later, as an English professor steeped in the medieval ethos, Corey Olsen still thrills at reading Tolkien and exploring an imaginative world that refreshes our view of the tangible one.

From his early forays into Middle-Earth, Olsen says he was destined to become a medievalist. His personal quest now is to engage in intellectual conversations about the books he loves with a mass audience. To that end, he recently launched a website featuring a series of podcast lectures offering an extended close analysis of the Tolkien books and a discussion forum led by “The Tolkien Professor.”

“Good scholarship and popular literature are not mutually exclusive,” Olsen notes. “These are fun and interesting books that people can read on many levels. I want to bring the work I do to a general audience—I find that so rewarding.”

He has found an appreciative following. The site has attracted more than 1.8 million visitors since its launch last summer, and there have been more than 275,000 downloads of his podcasted lectures since they first posted to iTunes last July. The producers at the History Channel took notice, inviting Olsen to discuss Tolkien as part of their series, “Clash of the Gods.”

What life lessons can we learn from hobbits?

“Tolkien’s works stack up against anything written in the 20th century,” Olsen asserts. “He presents a rigid, hierarchical world in which the heart of his evil characters is the corrupting urge to dominate. He raises some very important questions about power and the abuse of power. In some of our discussions, we’re looking at how he depicts positive authority structures and what it means to be a good leader and a responsible citizen.”

Tolkien’s works are also fundamentally grounded in Christian theology, where myths get at the truth of our existence. “This world is not our destiny,” Olsen says. “That’s the reason we feel dissatisfied. Through the mythological world Tolkien creates, we can begin to think about things beyond the mundane world around us.”

Teaching Areas

  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Arthurian Literature
  • Chaucer
  • Sir Thomas Malory

Website

The Tolkien Professor, an educational website containing free audio files of Professor Olsen’s detailed lecture series on Tolkien’s major works, as well as recorded lectures, discussions, and Q&A sessions. Professor Olsen’s audio recordings are also available as an iTunes podcast.

Publications

  • “Adulterated Love: The Tragedy of Malory’s Lancelot and Guinevere.” Chapter in a forthcoming book, Malory and Christianity, (Medieval Institute Press) May 2010.
  • “The Myth of the Ent and the Entwife.” Tolkien Studies 5, 2008.
  • Review of Myth and Magic: Art According to the Inklings. Tolkien Studies 6, 2009.
  • “Turning A Deaf Ear: Chaucer, the Wife of Bath, and the Antifeminist Tradition.” Under consideration at The Chaucer Review.

Honors And Affiliations

  • Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Teaching, 2007
  • Phi Beta Kappa
  • Harvey Fellows Program, Mustard Seed Foundation
  • Modern Language Association
  • Medieval Academy of America
  • New Chaucer Society
  • International Arthurian Society (North American Branch)
  • Tolkien Society

Biographical Note

Professor Corey Olsen began teaching at Washington College in the Fall of 2004. Before coming to Washington College, he taught at Temple University, Columbia University, and Nyack College. At Washington College, Professor Olsen serves as the Faculty Coordinator of Academic Integrity, and he is also the Faculty Advisor for Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society.

In his teaching website, The Tolkien Professor, Professor Olsen brings his scholarship on Tolkien to the public, seeking to engage a wide and diverse audience in serious intellectual and literary conversation. He is currently posting a series of in-depth lectures on The Hobbit, as well as recorded discussions with students and listeners, and more informal Q&A sessions. Join the conversation at http://www.tolkienprofessor.com, or on iTunes.