The second of my Spring Quarter courses:
ENGL 307 A: Cultural Studies: “Critical Approaches to Tolkien: Cultural Studies & Fantasy Literature”
Monday/Wednesday 3:30-5:20 PM
J.R.R. TOLKIEN, in the foreword to The Lord of the Rings, insists and argues, “I should like to say something here with reference to the many opinions or guesses that I have received or have read concerning the motives and meanings of the tale. The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them…As for any inner meaning or ‘message’, it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical” (xiv). This course will decidedly not believe the author’s intentions, rather we will draw on the broad archive of Tolkien’s novels, Peter Jackson’s films, and scholarship as occasions to identify and explore the key concepts, moves, and terms of the interdisciplinary field of cultural studies.
CENTRAL QUESTIONS AND ENGAGEMENTS INCLUDE: What are the different critical practices and methodologies of cultural studies? How might we employ different cultural studies approaches and lenses to Tolkien, film adaptations, and fantasy literature more generally? Why study fantasy, how is this oft dismissed “genre” important, and what values, ideals, and norms does it have? In this course, we will look at and analyze Tolkien through the lenses of cultural studies and deploy literature as theories about and dramatizations of different social relationships and realities, to unpack and analyze the intersections of cultural formations like race, gender, class, nation, and sexuality, particularly in the US context. Ursula K. Le Guin in “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” argues, “For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy.” This class will spend the quarter reading, watching, thinking, and writing about how and what these texts argue, reveal, narrate, hide, perpetuate, and complicate the world we live in. In other words, we will try to challenge Tolkien’s denials above and to answer Le Guin’s proposition about fantasy.
OVERALL, as a class, we will engage the techniques and practices of reading literature and watching film. We will identify and develop different ways to read different kinds of texts–from fiction to scholarship to visual and digital–we will read with pleasure, close read, and read for analysis and argument. A requirement for the course is a well-developed curiosity about the world, about the culture we live in, and about the cultural productions we imagine, produce, and consume. Students seeking W-Credit will be accommodated.