Legacy of Monsters and Marvels Through the Ages
Legacy - HNRS 1120

Instructor(s): Leslie Donovan

Course Description

Many 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 and cultures 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 mythologies, gothic novels, medieval manuscripts, and religious architecture, among others.  

Through intensive discussions, concentrated critical thinking, energetic writing in a variety of modes, and dynamic oral presentations, we will investigate how conventions surrounding magical and supernatural beings and events have become integral to popular culture of the United States in the 21st century. 


Maria Dahvana Headley, Beowulf: A New Translation 

Stephen Mitchell, Gilgamesh 

Jacob Neumann, A Professor’s Guide to Writing Essays: The No-Nonsense Plan for Better Writing 

Nnedi Okorafor, Binti (first volume only) 

William Shakespeare, The Tempest (free video) 

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds, edited by David H. Guston and Ed Finn  

Other online readings/videos will feature such topics as: multicultural folktales; readings on gargoyles and sheela-na-gigs; bestiaries and fables; and others


2 analytic papers, 1 creative project, 1 oral presentation, weekly online discussion, final portfolio (10-15 new pages, including a synthesis paper), engaged attendance and class participation. 

About the Instructor(s): Leslie Donovan

Leslie Donovan earned her B.A. in Creative Writing and completed the Honors Program at UNM. She went on to earn her M.A. in English literature, also from UNM, and then her Ph.D. in Medieval English Literature from the University of Washington. Her publications include studies of J.R.R. Tolkien, Beowulf, Anglo-Saxon women saints, and Honors teaching. She has earned multiple awards for outstanding teaching, including UNM’s Presidential Teaching Fellow award.