Speculative Fiction and the Medieval

Brian W. Gastle bgastle@Udel.edu ENGL 110.084
Memorial 319 http://odin.english.udel.edu/bgastle/index.html Class Time: TR 11:00-12:15
x6597 Office Hours: TR 12:30-1:00


Speculative fiction (primarily Science Fiction and Heroic Fantasy) has become one of the most popular genres of late twentieth century America. From Tolkien to LeGuin, Asimov to Russ, much of the appeal of this genre seems to rely upon its relation to the "real" feudal middle ages (Camelot, Light "Sabers," Jousts, etc.). In this class, we will (1) examine modern science fiction and heroic fantasy works (Gibson's Neuromancer, LeGuin's Earthsea series, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings--yes, all thousand pages of it), in light of medieval heroic literature (Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,), (2) discuss the literary, political, and economic environment of the middle ages (more specifically England from about 900-1500), and (3) read a number of essays which attempt to theorize the social role of speculative fiction, especially its relation to issues of gender and the construction of "modern" myth, folklore, and fairy-tale. We will also watch and analyze several related films, such as Legend, Princess Bride, The Navigator, Star Wars, Aliens, and Blade Runner. Class participation expected and required.


BEOWULF: A Norton Critical Edition Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Gibson, William. Neuromancer Tolkien, J.R.R. Fellowship of the Ring
LeGuin, Ursula K. Tehanu ---. Return of the King
---. The Tombs of Atuan ---. The Two Towers
---. Wizard of Earthsea

Photocopy Package on Reserve

Campbell, Joseph. "The Monomyth"

LeGuin, Ursula K. "Myth and Archetype in Sci-Fi"

---. "Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction"

---. "Heroes"

Thompson, R. H. "Modern Fantasy and Medieval Romance"

Recommended Readings

Bradley, M. Z. . "Men, Halflings, and Hero-Worship" reserve

LeGuin, Ursula. Farthest Shore

Manlove, C.N. "On the Nature of Fantasy" reserve

Raffel, B. "Lord of the Rings as Literature" reserve


Four 1-Page Response Papers............10% First Essay (@ 4-6 pgs)................10%
Discussion, Quizzes, etc. .................. 15% Second Essay (@ 5-7 pgs)............15%
1 Research Project (@ 7-12 pgs)........30% Third Essay (@ 6-8 pgs)................20%

You will have ample opportunity to edit and revise drafts of your papers through both peer editing sessions and individual consultation with me. Therefore, unless there are extenuating circumstances of epic proportions, I will not accept rewrites of previously graded papers.

In order to pass the class you must turn in all assignments. Note the logic of that phrase; turning in all the assignments does not guarantee a passing grade, but you will most certainly not pass if you fail to turn in an assignment.

All assignments are due at the beginning of each due-date class. I reserve the right to penalize late papers, usually reducing the grade 2/3 per day late. Please do not sacrifice class time for last minute revisions.

All assignments must be typed or word-processed.


(subject to change)

I. Critical Debates Surrounding the Medieval Heroic Tradition

T 2/11 Introduction and brief historical overview

R 2/13 Beowulf

T 2/18 Beowulf cont.

R 2/20 Campbell "The Monomyth" in Photocopy Package

T 2/25 LeGuin "Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction" in Dancing

First Response Paper by this date

R 2/27 Tolkien "The Monster's and the Critics" in Norton Beowulf

T 3/4 Group Edit of Paper #1

R 3/6 Conferences

II. Epic to Romance: Sci-Fi to Fantasy

T 3/11 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight


R 3/13 Blade Runner

LeGuin "Myth and Archetype in Science Fiction"

T 3/18 Wizard of Earthsea

Second Response Paper due by this date

R 3/20 Wizard of Earthsea cont.

Thompson "Modern Fantasy and Medieval Romance"

T 3/25 Group edit of Paper #2

R 3/27 Conferences

T 4/1 SPRING BREAK -- No Classes

R 4/3 SPRING BREAK -- No Classes

III. The Classics and Revisionists of Speculative Fictions

WARNING: The next two weeks require vast amounts of reading

T 4/8 Tolkien Lord of the Rings Trilogy

recommended: Raffel "Lord of the Rings as Literature" Reserve


R 4/10 Tolkien Lord of the Rings Trilogy

recommended: Bradley "Men, Halflings, and Hero-Worship"

T 4/15 Research Paper Conferences

R 4/17 Research Paper Conferences

* Working Bibliography (at least 10 sources) *5 sources in-hand (at least 4 scholarly)

* Topic and tentative thesis * At least 1 page of writing

T 4/22 LeGuin Tombs of Atuan

recommended: LeGuin Farthest Shore

R 4/24 LeGuin Tehanu

Third Response Paper due by this date

T 4/29 Gibson Neuromancer

R 5/1 Group Edit Paper #3

T 5/6 LeGuin "Heroes" in Dancing

Paper #3 Due

R 5/8 Manlove "On the nature of Fantasy" Photocopy Package

Fourth Response Paper due by this date

T 5/13 Group Edit Research Paper

R 5/15 No Class

Research Paper Due in my mailbox by 4:00pm Friday, 5/16

T 5/20 Conclusion of Course

Class Policies

Academic Dishonesty

The University's policy regarding academic dishonesty is outlined in the Student Handbook; read it. I will cover proper documentation format in class, but you are ultimately responsible for your own work. This is one topic about which I feel very strongly. I will prosecute a plagiarist to the fullest and most extreme extent of University policy, which may ultimately include:

* F for the class * irrevocable mark on records

* expulsion * my general displeasure

When you use a source's exact words (quotation) or a paraphrase or a summary which gives facts, figures, or ideas from the source in your own words, you must document that source within the text of your paper to show what source you have used.


I follow the University's grading policy fairly strictly:

A - Reserved for exemplary papers. Virtually no grammatical or syntactical errors. Sophisticated writing with recognizable and appropriate tone of voice. Paper incorporates an intelligent and innovative argument which it supports substantially and effectively.

B - Must contain a thesis (controlling argument), but that thesis may not be especially innovative. Argument should be supported and should control entire paper. May contain a few syntactical/grammatical errors. A good paper with few technical problems.

C - May not incorporate a controlling argument. Syntactical and grammatical errors may begin to noticeably detract from comprehension of material. Thesis may be superficial or may be an argument we covered substantially in class, thereby showing little critical initiative. Not a bad paper, just not especially good.

D - No thesis. Pervasive grammatical/syntactical errors. Underdeveloped. Failure to address errors pointed out in previous drafts (i.e. poorly proofed and revised).

F - Failure to address or fulfil the assignment. Constant technical errors which had been noticed on prior papers or drafts.

These grade definitions are general and contain those aspects which I generally associate with the grade, but your paper's grade will probably be a montage of these aspects. For example, if a paper is extremely well written (an A aspect), but is incorporates no controlling argument (C/D aspect), the paper will probably receive a C+ or B-. Median final grades for students in my classes over the past several years has consistently been around C+/B- (i.e. 80), reflecting, more or less, a Bell curve (A 23; B 77; C 63; D 18; F 7).

Response Papers

Response papers are 1-2 page "responses" to our daily readings . They should do two things: express your "response" to some specific aspect of the reading, and act as a forum in which you may try out a thesis for a longer paper. Please focus your response to a specific aspect of the work (1-2 pages is not enough to fully explore a work). Since I want to read them before class, so that I may direct discussion appropriately or call upon you to elaborate your position to the class, response papers must be in my mailbox (second floor of Memorial Hall) by 9:00am the morning we read the work to which you are responding.