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LEGACY OF MONSTERS AND MARVELS THROUGH THE AGES

Leslie Donovan, ldonovan@unm.edu
Core: Humanities

 

COURSE DESCRIPTION

Many a culture's most fascinating and compelling stories involve monstrous characters or the marvelous realms of the otherworld. Goblins and fairies, Grendel and Circe, dragons and gargoyles, for instance, are all creations from earlier periods of western culture that have inspired the imaginations of writers and artists since ancient times and continue to engage contemporary audiences. This course studies how conceptions of imaginary creatures and worlds both reflect and comment on cultural ideologies important to earlier peoples. Although removed from “real life,” the fantastical visions we explore open onto vast vistas of historical ideas, social constructs, cultural patterns, and spiritual themes. For example, we may discuss whether werewolves are always evil and fairies always morally good, whether believing in dragons makes us more or less human, whether fantasy serves us best as purely escapist entertainment or offers potent metaphors for how we live our lives, and whether modern people care more about vampires and unicorns than ancient peoples. Students will be introduced to the historical, literary, artistic, and even architectural traditions of monsters and marvels as these are reflected in epic literature, Celtic sculpture, multicultural fairy tales, gothic novels, religious architecture, and courtly romance poetry, among others. Through vigorous discussion, concentrated critical thinking, energetic writing in a variety of modes, and dynamic oral presentations, we will investigate how conventions surrounding supernatural beings and events have become integral to popular culture of the United States in the twenty-first century.

READINGS AND TEXTS

Gilgamesh, trans. Stephen Mitchell

Maria Tatar, The Classic Fairy Tales

Beowulf

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, “They Say / I Say”: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing

FILMS AND OTHER COURSE MATERIALS

William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Other likely to be assigned readings to be provided online include: Monsters by Price; “Bisclavret,” a medieval werewolf story; “The Wasgo and the Three Killer Whales,” a Native American Indian shape-shifter legend; “Culhwych and Olwen,” a Welsh quest tale featuring King Arthur; readings on Sheela-na-gigs in early Irish architecture, Gothic gargoyle sculptures, medieval bestiaries, and animal fables.

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS

2 analytic papers (5-7 pages), 1 creative project (10-15 pages), 1 multimedia research presentation (10-15 minutes long), weekly online writing, final portfolio (10-15 new pages), attendance and active class participation.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR

Leslie Donovan earned her B.A. and M.A. in English from UNM and her Ph.D. in Medieval Literature from the University of Washington. Her publications include studies of J. R. R. Tolkien, Beowulf, Anglo-Saxon women saints, and Honors teaching. She is also an alumnus of UNM’s Honors College.