Robin C Stacey
Explores J.R.R. Tolkien in historical context. Influence of the nineteenth-century philosophy and folklore, World War I, Germanic mythology, Oxford Christianity, and the Inklings. Primary themes include language as a source of myth, fate and free will, religion, technology and nature, heroism and war, race and evil.
In this course, we will explore the intersection of myth, language, and history in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was a medievalist, a man steeped in the heroic literatures of northern Europe. However, he was also a man of the twentieth century, an age that witnessed some of mankind's most destructive acts. How he negotiated these various pasts in his works is the subject of our class. Themes of the course include the nature of heroism in an age of total war, free will and predestination, the nature of evil, the relationship between language and creativity, race and gender, nature and man's assault on the environment, the Inklings.
Student learning goals
Students will be able to situate Tolkien's writings in his proper historical context: the world wars; 19th century developments in folklore, linguistics, and medieval studies; environmentalist movements; 19th and 20th century religious and philosophical movements; Oxford Christianity and other contemporary Christian fantasy/mystery writers (e.g. C.S. Lewis).
Students will learn to think historically about literature and to understand the methodological issues that historians confront in using literature as an historical source.
Students will learn to approach Tolkien's works through a variety of non-standard methodologies and approaches--e.g. exercises in storytelling as a way of exploring the relationship between language and creativity.
Those who choose the research paper option will learn 1) to think critically about secondary scholarship on Tolkien; 2) to articulate and develop their own arguments and interpretations grounded in his works; 3) to present those arguments in prose that is concise and clear.
Those who wish may choose at the end to do a creative project such as inventing their own language, or writing stories consonant with Tolkien's invented history in one of his invented styles, in lieu of a standard research paper. For those who choose this option, the goals are: 1) to develop an ear for the manner in which language and sound can be used to express literary or philosophical "truths"; 2) to understand what is involved in constructing complex historical (but mythical) narratives or philological systems; 3) to learn to integrate scholarly perspectives on a period (e.g. the middle ages, in which Tolkien was an expert) or an author (Tolkien, Lewis) into their creative writing.
General method of instruction
Combination of lecture and discussion. Each class period will be divided in two, with a short break in between. Most of our time will be spent discussing our common readings; about a third of the class sessions will be lectures designed to provide students with the historical background they need to place Tolkien in context.
REQUIRED BEFORE THE CLASS BEGINS: all students must have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in their entirety BEFORE the class starts, as we will not be reading them in sequence, and will be referring to them from day one.
NOTE: This class is NOT open to students who are taking or have taken the HIST 498 "Reading Tolkien."
Class assignments and grading
Midterm short paper (4-5 pages) on the literature of the First and Second World Wars Long paper (8-10 pages)or creative project as outlined above Final exam Reading for discussion
Midterm paper: 20% Long paper: 30% Final Exam: 25% Participation: 25%