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 “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
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)