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
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)
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)
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)