Tolkien's Middle-earth legends dominated his creative life, from their birth in the early Silmarillion tales through their absorption of Bilbo Baggins’s diary and their culmination in the tale of the Great Ring. However, throughout his life, Tolkien wrote many small pieces of prose and verse that were not directly drawn into the great narrative of Middle-earth. Tolkien’s children’s books, his scholarship, his short stories, and his eclectic short poems combine to provide a unique glimpse into Tolkien’s thought and imaginative development over the course of fifty years. This summer, join Mythgard President Corey Olsen and the great Tolkien and Anglo-Saxon scholar Tom Shippey for an in-depth look at a J.R.R. Tolkien you might never have met before.
Beyond Middle-earth (Summer 2013)
The Tolkien Reader - J.R.R. Tolkien
Smith of Wooton Major & Farmer Giles of Ham - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Annotated Hobbit - edited by Douglas A. Anderson
Letters From Father Christmas - J.R.R. Tolkien
Roverandom - J.R.R. Tolkien
Beowulf - translated by Dirk Ringler
The Monsters and The Critics - J.R.R. Tolkien
Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo - J.R.R. Tolkien
This class is a one-year study of British literature, a look at some of the greatest works of literature from the early Middle Ages through the twentieth century. Despite covering over a thousand years of literature, we will not be racing through an anthology of short, detached little snippets of books. Instead, we will be taking a smaller number of the most important and representative works of literature in various genres and studying them carefully and in detail, focusing on close and careful reading rather than merely attaining a superficial familiarity with these works. The first half of the year will be focused on early British literature, the great stories of the Middle Ages and the poetry and drama of the Renaissance, concluding with Milton’s Paradise Lost. After the new year, we’ll return with a look at the growth of the modern sensibility and outlook, focusing principally on poetry and the birth of the novel.
British Literature (Fall 2012 - Spring 2013)
Beowulf – translated by Dirk Ringler
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight - translated by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Merchant of Venice – William Shakespeare
Macbeth – William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost – John Milton
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
The medieval literature of Ireland and Wales is thought to have saved for posterity the vestiges of what would have been ancient ‘Celtic’ mythology. Tales of heroes, otherworld voyages, transformation and magic have fascinated folklorists and antiquarians since the rediscovery of Celtic texts in the 19th century, and have inspired writers of fantasy literature from Victorian times to today.
This course will examine contemporary (post-World-War-II) fantasy works whose authors have adapted, revised and re-imagined the medieval mythological texts of Ireland and Wales. The course material is divided into two parts:
The course, therefore, serves as a mini-introduction to Celtic mythology, while the focus on children’s and young adult fantasy will allow us to discuss matters of power and ideology, as well as perceptions of Celtic identity in contemporary fiction. The fantasy works we will explore include some of the best, award-winning fantasy of the later 20th century, such as Alan Garner’s The Owl Service (1967, Carnegie Medal), Susan Cooper’s The Grey King (1976, Newbery Medal); and Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider (1986, Tir na n-Og Award).
Celtic Myth in Children's Fantasy (Spring 2014)
Ancient Irish Tales translated by Tom Peete Cross and Clark Harris Slover
Early Irish Myths and Sagas by Jeffrey Gantz
The Mabinogion translated by Sioned Davies
Lebar Gabála Érenn (The Book of Invasions of Ireland) translated by R. A. S. Macalister * (§48-54: Fir Bolgs, §55-64: Tuatha De Dannan and §65-95: The Milesians)
Cath Maige Tuired Cunga (The First Battle of Magh Turedh) translated by J. Fraser *
Cath Maige Tuired (The Second Battle of Moytura) translated by Whitley Stokes *
Tochmarc Étaíne (The Wooing of Etain) translated by A.H. Leahy *
Aislinge Óenguso (The Dream of Oengus) translated by Ed. Müller *
Noínden Ulad (The Debility of the Ulstermen) translated by T.P. Cross and C.H. Slover *
Compert Con Culainn (The Birth of Cú Chulainn) translated by T.P. Cross and C.H. Slover *
Macgnimrada Con Culaind (The Boyhood Deeds of Cú Chulainn) translated by T.P. Cross and C.H. Slover *
Táin Bó Regamain (The Cattle-Raid of Regamon) translated by A.H. Leahy *
Táin Bó Regamna (The Cattle-Raid of Regamna) translated by A.H. Leahy *
Táin Bó Cúalnge (The Cattle-Raid of Cooley) translated by Joseph Dunn *
- The Pillow-Talk
- The Healing of Morrigan
- The Appearance of Cuchulain
Fotha Catha Chnucha (The Cause of the Battle of Cnucha) translated by T.P. Cross and C.H. Slover *
Macgnímartha Finn (The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn) translated by T.P. Cross and C.H. Slover *
Oisin’s Mother by Lady Augusta Gregory *
Oisin in the Land of Youth by T.W. Rolleston *
The Mabinogion translated by G. and T. Jones * (especially ’The Four Branches of the Mabinogi’ and ‘The Native Tales’)
Pa gur yv y porthaur? (What man is the porter?) translated by W.F. Skene *
Preiddeu Annwn (The Spoils of Annwn) translated by Sarah Higley *
The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea
The New Policeman by Kate Thompson
The Wizard Children of Finn by Mary Tannen
The Lost Legend of Finn by Mary Tannen
The Owl Service by Alan Garner
The Snow Spider Trilogy by Jenny Nimmo
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
In this class we will study of the great classics of English literature: Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the Tales, we see Chaucer at the height of his poetic abilities, mixing sensitive characterization and stunning complexity of storytelling with his inimitable wit and good humor. In our reading of the Canterbury Tales, we will look carefully at the intimate relationship between Chaucer’s stories and their narrative frame, between the tales and their tellers, and we will be watching how Chaucer engages and plays with his various literary sources. We will be reading Chaucer in his original Middle English, but no previous experience with Middle English is required for the class.
Note: Chaucer I, Visions of Love, is not a prerequisite for Chaucer II. The two courses merely cover the earlier and later stages of Chaucer’s poetic career. If you missed Chaucer I, you can find it among our Course Packs.
Chaucer II: The Canterbury Tales (Summer 2014)
This class is the first semester in a two-part survey of Chaucer’s major works. In this first semester, we will study the works with which Chaucer established his reputation in his time: his early dream vision poems and his greatest completed work: Troilus and Criseyde. In the second semester, we will study The Canterbury Tales. In this first semester, we will focus on immersing ourselves in Chaucer’s language, building not only a comprehension of Chaucer’s verse but a sensitivity to the subtle nuances of Chaucer’s tone and narrative voice. We will be reading Chaucer exclusively in Middle English, but no previous experience with Middle English is required. Chaucer delights to engage other authors and other texts through his own poems, so we will also be reading some of the works with which Chaucer is explicitly interacting, including medieval favorites such as Ovid, Cicero, Macrobius, and Chaucer’s great Italian predecessor, Boccaccio.
Chaucer: Visions of Love (Spring 2014)
The “Great Books” are the most influential works of literature in our cultural heritage. These are the works that attempt to tackle life’s big questions: What does it mean to be a human being? What is our place in the universe? How should we live? We all need to consider these questions in our own lives, and the Great Books help us to avoid “reinventing the wheel.” In this course, students will become acquainted with most of the major authors from the ancient world through A.D. 1300 and take them through important poems, plays, and prose works that have had an enormous impact on our culture. No prior exposure to the Great Books is required or expected, and all works will be read in English translation.
Great Books I (Fall 2012 - Spring 2013)
King James Version of The Bible (any will do)
The Aeneid - Virgil, translated Robert Fagles
Inferno - Dante, translated by Anthony Esolen
Antigone – Sophocles
Three Plays of Euripides: Alcestis, Medea, The Bachae – Euripides
Four Texts on Socrates - Plato and Aristophanes
Why is the Harry Potter series a record-setting success story across the world? What great traditions and works inspired the saga? What lasting lessons and big ideas can we draw from it? Join award-winning scholar Dr. Amy H. Sturgis as she considers the first three Harry Potter novels – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (or Sorcerer’s) Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban –through the lenses of literature, history, philosophy, and popular culture studies. Even if you’re a dedicated fan, there’s always more to discover!
No wand? No owl? No problem! Muggles and squibs are welcome as Mythgard Academy investigates the magical worlds and deeper meanings of the Harry Potter saga.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chapters 1-10
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Chapters 11-17
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 1-11
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapters 12-18
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 1-12
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapters 13-22
In this class, we will examine the work of some of the top fantasy writers of the last fifty years. The works we will discuss in this class do not constitute an orderly or systematic survey of the development of the fantasy genre, but rather a series of case studies. We will read six books by six different authors. As we discuss each book, we will compare and contrast the authors’ approach to fantasy and subcreation, myth and magic.
This term, we will explore Peter Beagle’s shrewd contemplation of fantasy and the fairy-tale tradition in The Last Unicornand Ursula Le Guin’s classic of modern subcreation, A Wizard of Earthsea. We will look at several works which conceptualize the frontiers between our mundane world and the realm of Faerie; Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and Jim Butcher’s Summer Knight both give us stories of humans with a magical heritage who cross this frontier and become embroiled in the high matters of Faerie. Garth Nix’s Sabriel is also focused on frontiers, dealing with not only a boundary between the mundane and the magical, but also with a parallel boundary between life and death. We will also tackle George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones, the first volume of The Song of Ice and Fire, which might be the most massive and intricate subcreative undertaking in literature in the last fifty years.
Modern Fantasy (Summer 2012)
Tolkien is world-famous for his fiction. In his highly distinguished professional career, meanwhile, he was a philologist, and furthermore a comparative philologist, following in the footsteps of Jacob Grimm, whose innovations in comparative philology (vergleichende Philologie) must count as the Darwinian revolution of the humanities in the 19th century. Nor is it an accident that while Tolkien’s “Middle-earth” sequence was one of the great popular successes of the 20th and 21stcenturies, the fairytales of the brothers Grimm were one of the great popular successes of the preceding century. The philology and the fantasy go together. They deserve to be studied together.
This course aims to use the life and works of Tolkien as a gateway to provide an introduction to the discipline of comparative philology, and to highlight the many links between this field and his creative writings. The course will offer an introductory (and necessarily selective) overview of several of the old Germanic languages and their literatures, such as Gothic, Old and Middle English, and Old Norse, and cover select topics in Germanic comparative grammar (e.g. Grimm’s Law). Attention will also be given to other related matters, such as Celtic philology and Tolkien’s invented languages.
Students are not expected to have prior familiarity with any language other than modern English. Coursework involves readings, philological exercises, and study of short, glossed excerpts from ancient texts. The overall aim is to provide a basic familiarity with the methods and subject matter of philology and to make the ancient languages and texts that provide the field’s raw data appear less unfamiliar, as well as to examine the strong influence of philology on Tolkien’s works.
Philology Through Tolkien (Fall 2013)
Materials were provided for students in the live course, only.
What does it mean to be human? Are we alone? What wonders or terrors will tomorrow hold? Join award-winning scholar Dr. Amy H. Sturgis as she explores the ways in which the literature of science fiction over time has asked the question: “What if?” This course will consider the development of the genre from the emergence of the New Wave in the 1960s to today, with an eye toward how the great works and movements within science fiction both reflect the concerns and attitudes of their time and imagine beyond them. Discover why author Ray Bradbury said that science fiction reflects “the history of our civilization birthing itself.”
Science Fiction, Part II (Spring 2013)
The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
Neuromancer - William Gibson
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
The Doomsday Book - Connie Willis
Red Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson
The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell
Genesis - Bernard Beckett
The intellectual sibling of science fiction, born of the same parents (the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revoltion), is what its father, Edgar Allan Poe, called “tales of ratiocination.” Poe created the first scientific detective, C. Auguste Dupin, who in turn paved the way for one of the most enduring and beloved literary characters of all time, Sherlock Holmes. This course focuses on Poe and Conan Doyle and how their works blended scientific method, mystery, and imagination to create the modern literature of detection. Students will consider why Sherlock Holmes remains an often revisited and reinterpreted character with remarkable resonance in our own time, and how the genre he helped to create and the literary descendants he inspired continue to question the idea of order in our universe and how we know what we (think we) know.
Sherlock, Science and Ratiocination (Fall 2013)
The Murders in the Rue Morgue - Edgar Allan Poe
The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1 - Arthur Conan Doyle
The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 2 - Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock: Season One - DVD
In this course we will discuss the ancestors to the Harry Potter phenomenon, examine the specific works and traditions that inform the Harry Potter universe, study the Harry Potter texts in depth, and, perhaps most importantly, consider why the Harry Potter franchise has achieved unparalleled global popularity today. In the process, we will take both a theoretical and historical approach to popular culture in general and J.K. Rowling’s works in particular. Wizards, witches, squibs, and muggles are welcome as we get to the very heart of Harry Potter.
Taking Harry Seriously (Summer 2014)
Who was Arthur? Who is Arthur? Was there an Arthur? What do we know and how do we know it?
We will track the legendary yet mysterious king from his beginnings in the late 5th/early 6th century through 1500 years during which his story moved from history to folklore to romance to tragedy. A handout available online will put Arthur in the context of his earliest sources. We will move on to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain; the early Welsh fairy tale “Culhwch and Olwen” from the Mabinogion; two romances of Chrétien de Troyes—Lancelot and Perceval (in English translation); and a substantial portion of the Works of Sir Thomas Malory. Because each period created the king it wanted, we will encounter many Arthurs and many—even conflicting—versions of his story.
The Arthur Story (Summer 2012)
The History of the Kings of Britain – Geoffrey of Monmouth, translated by Lewis Thorpe
The Mabinogion – translated by Thomas Jones and Gwen Jones
Lancelot; or, the Knight of the Cart – Chrétien de Troyes, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline
Perceval; or The Story of The Grail - Chrétien de Troyes, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline
Malory: Complete Works – Thomas Malory, edited by Eugene Vinaver
The Idylls of the King – Alfred Tennyson, edited by J.M. Gray
Over the years, thinkers have used dystopias — stories of worlds gone wrong, of worst-case scenarios – to warn their contemporaries about what they viewed as dangerous trends in society and challenge their readers to make the world better. This class will consider a variety of historical and current “what if?” thought experiments, including classics such as 1984 and current bestsellers such as The Hunger Games. Students will explore the specific conditions that inspired these dystopias, the general warnings inherent in them, and the broad trends in dystopias over time.
The Dystopian Tradition (Summer 2013)
The Complete Metropolis (DVD)
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
1984 - George Orwell
The Space Merchants - Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth
Level 7 - Mordecai Roshwald
Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang - Kate Wilhelm
Blade Runner (The Director’s Cut) (DVD)
The Gate to Women’s Country - Sheri S. Tepper
Parable of the Sower - Octavia Butler
Feed - M.T. Anderson
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games Trilogy (optional boxed set)
The Gothic literary tradition began in the mid-eighteenth century in Europe and lives on in various forms across the globe through contemporary fiction, poetry, art, music, film, and television. Mad scientists, blasted heaths, abandoned ruins, elusive ghosts, charming vampires, and even little green men people its stories. With ingredients such as a highly developed sense of atmosphere, extreme emotions including fear and awe, and emphases on the mysterious and the paranormal, Gothic works tend to express anxieties about social, political, religious, and economic issues of the time, as well as rejection of prevailing modes of thought and behavior. This course will investigate the fascinating and subversive Gothic imagination (from the haunted castles of Horace Walpole to the threatening aliens of H.P. Lovecraft, from Dracula to Coraline), identify the historical conditions that have inspired it, consider how it has developed across time and place and medium, and explore how it has left its indelible imprint on the modern genres of science fiction and fantasy.
The Gothic Tradition (Spring 2014)
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
The Italian, or The Confession of the Black Penitents by Ann Radcliffe
The Portable Edgar Allan Poe
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Two Early Vampire Tales: John Polidori’s The Vampyre & J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
Millennium Season One
Doctor Who Season 3
A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
El Orfanato (The Orphanage) directed by J.A. Bayona
This course focuses on a close reading of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings from two closely related approaches: cultural studies and audience reception. Knowledge of either approach is not necessary for taking the course. The class readings, lectures, discussions and assignments focus not only on the text, but on the modern circumstances of its production and its reception in the United States and in Europe. The influence of Tolkien’s work on such modern cultural developments as the environmental and anti-war movements as well as on popular cultural productions, such as the emergence of the high fantasy genre which did not exist as a publishing category before the success of The Lord of the Rings, is notable. The extent to which his work was influenced by medieval sources and acted to shape our contemporary understanding of the medieval world has long been studied, and Tolkien scholarship is beginning to develop new approaches to the Legendarium.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carter
Tolkien, Race and Culutural History: From Fairies to Hobbits by Dimitra Fimi
This course will examine the life of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. We will examine several important precursors of the book, works that helped establish the genre in which Tolkien was writing, or which influenced Tolkien’s own thinking. We will then read not the final published version of The Hobbit, but the growth of the story in manuscript and typescript, examining carefully how the story developed and in what directions. We will then turn to the publication and reception ofThe Hobbit, including its adaptation to film. We’ll end the semester with a discussion of the Rankin-Bass animated Hobbit and, after a brief delay, a discussion of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Professor Olsen will be joined in this class by two distinguished guest lecturers: John D. Rateliff, author of The History ofThe Hobbit, and Douglas A. Anderson, author of The Annotated Hobbit, two of the foremost scholars on The Hobbit in the world.
The Story of The Hobbit (Fall 2012)
Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
Winnie-the-Pooh - A.A. Milne
The Princess and the Goblin - George McDonald
The Marvellous Land of Snergs - E.A. Wyke-Smith
The Lays of Beleriand (same as Fall 2011)
The Shaping of Middle-earth - J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien
The History of The Hobbit - John D. Rateliff
The Annotated Hobbit - edited by Douglas A. Anderson
The Hobbit (DVD) – Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass (alternate UK title: Bilbo Baggins – A Hobbit’s Tale)
Tolkien once said his immediate response to reading any medieval story was to want to write one like it. He did. Three times. “The Story of Kullervo” came from the Finnish Kalevala, Sigurd and Gudrún was his take on the Icelandic Eddas, and The Fall of Arthur was inspired by the Middle English Alliterative Morte Arthure and the Stanzaic Morte Arthure. We’ll read each of these works in the context of its particular literary tradition to explore how Tolkien fits/alters/extends/compresses traditional material to make it his own.
The course divides naturally into three segments each devoted to a mythic story and Tolkien’s treatment of it. Each of the first two sections will be followed by an exam on that section. The last week’s classes will be a summing up in open discussion/evaluation/critique of Tolkien’s use of his material. I will provide some talking points to get us started, but this is your opportunity to try out your opinions about what you’ve learned. It is, if you like, a rehearsal for the cumulative final exam on Friday of the last week in which you will be asked to evaluate Tolkien’s works both individually and comparatively, judging them in the context of each other as well as of their sources as read in class.
Tolkien and Tradition (Fall 2013)
Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Faulkes
The Poetic Edda: The Mythological Poems by Henry Adams Bellows
The Poetic Edda: Heroic Poems by Henry Adams Bellows
King Arthur’s Death by Larry Dean Benson and Edward Foster
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien
In this course, students will read Tolkien’s two critical essays, Beowulf, and The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings to explore how his world and his myth developed over time. There are three interim exams, one on the essays and Beowulf, one on The Silmarillion, one on The Hobbit, plus a two-hour final exam on The Lord of the Rings. Each exam builds on the one before it. All are open book, open notes. The goal is not to test your memory, but to get you to think deeply and critically about the material and the relationships among the works. You should know more at the end of each exam than you did before you started.
Tolkien's World of Middle-earth (Spring 2013)