Tolkien: Author and Critic

ENGL 3743 X2 Tolkien: Author & Critic
Instructor:  Dr. Kevin Whetter

This is not a bird course.  We do get to read J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in its entirety, and you are welcome to bring in other Tolkienian texts in your essays or group discussion, but we will do so in the context of Tolkien’s career as a Professor of (Mediaeval) English Language and Literature.  We will thus examine a number of key mediaeval texts that influenced Tolkien -- notably The Saga of the Volsungs, Beowulf, and The Battle of Maldon -- as well as Tolkien’s scholarly essays “The Monsters and the Critics,” “The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son,” and “On Faerie Stories.”  Only after we have familiarised ourselves with some aspects of some of the mediaeval and critical forerunners to The Lord of the Rings will we turn our attention to that text.  The course content is thus balanced more or less evenly between mediaeval, critical, and Tolkienian materials. 

This course has three principal aims: (i) to (re-)introduce you to some interesting and influential mediaeval literature which Tolkien knew and taught; (ii) to explore the ways in which that literature was used by Tolkien in the creation of his masterpiece; and (iii) to help you develop and hone your critical, analytical, reading and writing skills, making you more critical and self-reflective readers and writers.

The format will be group discussion, initiated and augmented by lectures. There is a lot of reading. You are expected to keep up-to-date in the readings and to participate in discussion of the texts. Evaluation will be based on participation, essays and perhaps short written work, and either a final examination or group presentations.

Prerequisite:  ENGL 1406 (ENGL 1413/ENGL 1423) with a minimum grade of C-.