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MYTHMAKING AND TOLKIEN

Leslie Donovan, ldonovan@unm.edu

COURSE DESCRIPTION

J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic novel The Lord of Rings has been considered the foundation of modern fantasy literature, the basis for immensely popular film adaptations, and even identified in several international surveys as the single most influential or popular work of the 20th century. Yet, while millions of readers have enjoyed and treasured The Lord of Rings and its precursor The Hobbit, few have gone much beyond the field of popular literature to integrate other approaches and fields of study in connection with Tolkien and his works. Yet, Tolkien was not only a writer of popular fiction, but he also was a mythologist, visual artist, musical composer, philologist, playwright, and medieval studies scholar. In this course, we will survey not only Tolkien’s original fiction, but also some of his scholarly works, invented languages, paintings and drawings, and music. Along with investigating some of the historical background and medieval sources of Tolkien’s major and minor works, we will explore how several world myths contribute to the mythic tales he created for Middle-earth. In addition, we will touch on topics seldom discussed in Tolkien literature courses from such fields as astronomy, ecology, natural sciences, linguistics, and cultural studies. Perhaps most important, we will work to understand what Tolkien’s works have to say to people in the 21st century about issues such as gender, warfare, friendship, interactions between cultures, hospitality, loyalty, keeping one’s oaths, and the nature of good and evil. While hard-working Tolkien newbies are most welcome, all students must have read Tolkien’s primary literary works The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings in their entirety and in book form-- not just see the films!—before the start of class.

READINGS AND TEXTS

Hammond, Wayne G., and Christina Scull. J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator
Snyder, Christopher. The Making of Middle-earth
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien, J. R. R. A Tolkien Reader
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion

FILMS AND OTHER COURSE REQUIREMENTS

Selections from other works provided to students online or from other sources include: The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, The Fall of Arthur, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, and Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary; music by J. R. R. Tolkien and Donald Swann from The Road Goes Ever On; Excepts from texts on Tolkien’s invented languages and writing systems; Eugene Vinaver’s edited collection King Arthur and His Knights; Old Norse Prose Edda; selections from the Finnish Kalevala cycle; selections from Old English riddles and heroic poetry.

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS

1 analytic paper, 1 substantial multimedia interdisciplinary research project, 1 creative project, 1 oral presentation, weekly online discussion, final portfolio, lots of reading, regular attendance, and active class participation.

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR

Leslie Donovan is a continuing Honors faculty member and a UNM Presidential Teaching Fellow. She 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.