In this course, we will study Tolkien’s longest stories in the context of the earlier epic tradition, the “great tales” that he so admired. In our readings of these early poems, however, we will not merely be looking to them as Tolkien’s “sources,” an approach that can easily lead us to oversimplify both Tolkien’s work and the older poems themselves. Instead, we will study these old works on their own terms, examining each story’s themes, characters, and narrative voice, while also exploring some of Tolkien’s own interests in these works as a scholar. We will read Tolkien’s works with similar care, observing both the similarities and the differences between Tolkien’s stories and those earlier great works in the tradition of which they are a part.
“Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?” - Sam Gamgee
With Special Guest Lecturers:
The Great Tales: Tolkien and The Epic (Fall 2011)
Beowulf - translated by Dirk Ringler
The Monsters and The Critics - J.R.R. Tolkien
Finn and Hengest - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Kalevala - compiled by Elias Lonröt, translated by Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr.
The Children of Hurin - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Saga of The Volsungs - translated by Eiríkr Magnússon and William Morris
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lays of Beleriand - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings (boxed set) - J.R.R. Tolkien