Tolkien’s World of Middle-earth

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.

How did Tolkien’s imagination evolve over time? What did Tolkien think about fairy tales, and how did he show this in his scholarly work and in his fiction?

In this course, students will read Tolkien’s two critical essays, Beowulf, The SilmarillionThe Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings to explore how his world and his myth developed over time.  There are three interim exams, one on the essays and Beowulf, one on The Silmarillion, one on The Hobbit, plus a two-hour final exam on The Lord of the Rings; individual preceptors may vary this plan to reach learning outcomes. Each exam builds on the one before it.  All are open book, open notes. The goal is not to test your memory, but to get you to think deeply and critically about the material and the relationships among the works.  You should know more at the end of each exam than you did before you started.

Course Schedule

Week 1 – Tolkien and Tragedy

Beowulf: The Monsters & Critics”

Week 2 – Tolkien’s Beowulf

  • Scyld Scefing ll. 1-85
  • Grendel ll. 86-193,632-689, 1761-1768
  • the dragon ll. 2231-2271, ll. 2510-2845, ll 3076-3182

Week 3 – Tolkien and Faërie

“On Fairy-stories”

First Exam

Week 4 – Tolkien and Mythology

The Silmarillion: “Ainulindalë,” “Beginning of Days”

Week 5 – Tolkien and Mythology II

Fëanor, Beren, Túrin

Second Exam

Week 6 – Tolkien and Children’s Books

The Hobbit: green suns & inner consistency

Third Exam

Week 7 – The Masterwork

  • LotR Preface, the Red Book, the framing concept
  • Book 1: Frodo & the Ring

Week 8 – The Masterwork II

Book 2: Caradhras, Moria, Lórien, Amon Hen

Week 9 – The Masterwork III

Book 3: Boromir, Theoden, Treebeard, Helm’s Deep & Isengard

Week 10 – The Masterwork IV

Book 4: Gollum

Week 11 – The Masterwork V

Book 5: Pippin & Denethor, Merry & Eowyn, the Black Gate

Week 12 – The Masterwork VI

Book 6: Cirith Ungol, Mt. Doom, The Scouring, Grey Havens

Final Exam

Required Texts

Many of you probably already have one or more of Tolkien’s works. If you want to use the ones you have, please do! The links are provided for convenience only, and we encourage students to purchase texts wherever they wish.

* Chickering translation is required – please do not substitute another translation, such as Burton Raffel or Seamus Heaney or the Norton edition

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Spring 2022Dr. Sara Brown & Sparrow Alden
Spring 2019Sparrow Alden
Spring 2017Erin Aust & Mark Womack
Spring 2013Dr. Sara Brown & Liam Daley

Course Artwork

Course artwork adapted from an original illustration by Breana Melvin. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

In this course, students will read Tolkien’s critical essays, translations, and imaginative stories to explore how his world and his myth developed over time.

START: January 10, 2022

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITA 5306