Slavic R5B, Section 1: Session C (June 24 – August 16): Fantastic Texts and Where to Find Them: Fantasy Literature in Russia and the West, from Beowulf to Bilbo Baggins

TWTh 10-12, VLSB 2062. Instructor: Kit Pribble.

Units: 4

“Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories”

Over the past few decades we have witnessed a rise in the popularity of the fantasy genre, thanks largely to the commercial success of series like Harry Potter and its more recent prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as well as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. In this course, we will encounter popular works of fantasy literature and television, including Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, alongside texts that have elements of the “fantastic” and the “fanciful,” without necessarily belonging to the fantasy genre proper. These latter may include the Old English epic Beowulf, Slavic and Scandinavian fairy tales, and a series of supernatural ballads, poems, and short stories written in Western Europe and Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries. We will end our journey with a consideration of the “urban fantasy” genre through a discussion of Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch, a contemporary Russian fantasy text.

As we read these works alongside one another, we will address the following questions: What are the unifying characteristics of fantasy literature? What are the origins of familiar fantasy tropes like the heroic quest or the wise wizard, and how do these tropes change or evolve over time and across different national traditions? What distinguishes “high fantasy” from other types of fantastical fiction, and how do works of high fantasy—texts that build fully immersive and internally consistent secondary worlds, such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Martin’s Westeros and Essos—engage with, or offer an escape from, the real social and political world in which they are written?

While these questions will guide the readings and discussion that form the structural centerpiece of this course, we will also focus on developing the skills of college-level critical reading and writing. Students will outline, draft, write, and rewrite a series of essays, honing their ability to read closely and craft persuasive written arguments.

Instructor pending appointment.