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LEGACY OF MONSTERS AND MARVELS

Leslie Donovan, ldonovan@unm.edu

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 are all creations from earlier periods of western culture, for instance, 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, fairy tales, gothic novels, Northwest American Indian legends, 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

Classic Fairy Tales, ed. Maria Tatar
Gilgamesh, trans. Stephen Mitchell
Beowulf
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Michael Harvey, The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing
Cal Newport, How to Become a Straight-A Student (optional)

Additional readings include the following:
Monsters by Vincent Price and V.B. Price; “Bisclavret,” a medieval werewolf story by Marie de France; “The Wasgo and the Three Killer Whales,” a Northwest 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, especially images and readings of the unicorn, phoenix, and leviathan and animal fables; and animal fables

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS

2 analytic papers (5-7 pages), 1 creative project (10-15 pages), 1 group oral presentation (15-20 minutes long), weekly electronic exercises, final portfolio (10-15 new pages), attendance and active class participation.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR

Leslie Donovan is continuing Honors faculty and a UNM Presidential Teaching Fellow. She earned her B.A. in Creative Writing 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.