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Fantastic Voyages: Historical Fiction and the Fantasy of Empire from Ivanhoe to The Lord of the Rings

ENGL 395.301
instructor(s):
fulfills requirements:
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Elective Seminar of the Standard Major

Where do we come from? Where to we wish we could go? This class will explore the deep and intimate relationship between our sense of the past and our fantasies of other, more magical worlds. L. P. Hartley famously wrote that “the past is a foreign country”: in recreating not only past events, but the worldview, myths, and magic of past societies, writers of historical fiction and poetry created strange and fantastic new worlds. And in seeking out the features of those new fictional environments, writers drew upon encounters with the larger world beyond their local experience, exploring how places and people that they knew almost nothing about could reshape the past into something rich and strange.

A key question for our course will be to ask how the imperial ambitions of Anglo-American culture shaped both an understanding of the past and the imagination of what fantastic history might look like.  This seminar-format course will include class discussions, short and long-form writing assignments, and a collective online editing project based upon an unpublished nineteenth-century manuscript of fantastic literature. Our work will foreground the relationship between transcription and research, translation and imagination that coordinates fantastic and historical literature. There will also be options for creative projects.

Our texts for the course may include fiction, poetry, and films from J. R. R. Tolkien, Christina Rossetti, George MacDonald, Mark Twain, Madeline L’Engle, China Mieville, Dianne Wynne Jones, Mary Stuart, Umberto Ecco, George R. R. Martin, Harriet Martineau, Hayao Miyazaki, Horace Walpole, and Peter Jackson.

In order to help theorize these works, we will draw on a range of philosophical, psychological, and critical writings, which may include selections from György Lukács, Ashis Nandy, Clifford Geertz, Edward Said, Hardt and Negri, Rosemary Jackson, Brian Attebury, Partha Chatterjee, and Michel de Certeau.