Medieval Fantasy Literature

Course Description

Trolls, ogres, elves, dwarves, dragons, draugar, wizards, witches, and fairies‚ these creatures and characters, so familiar to modern readers, moviegoers, and gamers, have an ancient pedigree stretching back into the darkness of prehistoric Europe, and have enthralled human imagination for just as long. This course visits their first emergence into written literary record during the medieval period, from the earliest Dark Age mythological folklore of Britain and Scandinavia to the courtly and whimsical romance of the high and late middle ages. What significance and meaning did medieval writers from different times and places see in magic and monsters; what superstitions and beliefs converged in their efforts to represent things from the other side, and what compelled them to do so? We will address such questions by reading the literature against the social, cultural, and religious contexts that shaped medieval life and artistic production; our goal is to discover how these authors used the fantastic to moralize and theologize, to confront and explain alterity, and to thrill their readers. Finally we will turn to the modern era with J. R. R. Tolkien‚ The Fellowship of the Ring and Kazuo Ishiguro‚ The Buried Giant, reflecting on how professional and popular literary medievalism has cultivated the tropes of medieval fantasy to produce works which mediate between an imagined history, sublime fabrication, and contemporary concerns.

Syllabus Link

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