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Expanded Course Description
In essence, modern fantasy begins with J.R.R. Tolkien. Professor Tolkien was a lexicographer, linguist, grammarian, translator, literary critic, and one of the most imaginative writers of the twentieth century. He held a chair of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College and later became Professor of English Language and Literature at Merton College. His grasp of Northern myth and legend was second to none. His fantasy writings display a great sensitivity to these Germanic traditions yet become so organic in his own words that scarcely a trace of their origin can be detected. The shadow cast by this literary giant is long and wide. In the wake of Middle Earth, especially in the last fifteen years, there have been a few writers who are attempting to write themselves out of Tolkien's shadow, to stand on their own as literary geniuses of the fantasy genre. This class will look at the folklore and literary sources that gave so much inspiration to Tolkien and then investigate how two such younger writers, Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin, have used Tolkien and the Germanic corpus as sources for their own fantasy fiction. Students will read poetry and prose from medieval Icelandic corpus of myth and heroic legend to augment their reading of The Hobbit. Once this primary relationship is established we will commence on reading two contemporary fiction masterpieces, American Gods and A Game of Thrones. Secondary readings in the history of literary myth, narrative, and genre will supplement our investigation of this haunted relationship between modern fantasy and its literary past. We will also examine topics such as gender, ethics, disability, and sexuality to gauge how fantasy fiction has or has not moved away from the classic model of Tolkien. The primary texts will be supplemented with secondary readings.