Roots of the Mountain

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.

Who were the fantasy authors of the 19th & early 20th century? How did they influence Tolkien?

When J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) were published, they were hailed as something entirely new. In one sense they were new, in their combination of methodologies and ingredients, but Tolkien had built his modern-styled novels upon a long tradition of the fantastic in literature than ranged from the Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey of classical times, on through Beowulf, the EddasSir Gawain and the Green KnightSir Orfeo and other romances of the Middle Ages which, not coincidently, were Tolkien’s own specialties as a professor at Oxford University. This course studies Tolkien’s works in relation to the fantasy literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, positioning Tolkien among the writers who influenced him as well as within the whole field of fantasy literature as it developed before and just after Tolkien. The authors studied in depth include H. Rider Haggard, William Morris, George Macdonald, H.G. Wells, Lord Dunsany, William Hope Hodgson, David Lindsay and others.

Course Schedule

Week 1 – Fantasy across the Ages

  • Homer to Sir Gawain, on to German Romantics, Gothics, Victorians and Science Fiction
  • Readings: “The Elves” by Ludwig Tieck; “The Mysterious Stranger”

Week 2 – Tolkien on Fairy-stories

  • Theories and Evaluation of Fantasy as a Literary Mode
  • Readings: “The Fantastic Imagination” by George Macdonald; “On Fairy-Stories” and The Notion Club Papers by J.R.R. Tolkien

Week 3 – George Macdonald

  • Reading:  The Princess and Goblin and “The Golden Key” by George Macdonald

Week 4 – Rudyard Kipling, J.M. Barrie and Fairies


  • Peter Pan, or Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
  • Lud-in the Mist by Hope Mirrlees
  • “Weland’s Sword” from Puck of Pook’s Hill by Rudyard Kipling

Week 5 – H. Rider Haggard and Victorian Adventure Fiction


  • She by  H. Rider Haggard
  • The Black Douglas (chapters 48 and 49) by S.R. Crockett

Week 6 – William Morris: Medievalism and Style


  • A Tale of the House of the Wolfings by William Morris
  • The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison

Week 7 – The Marvellous Land of Snergs and Other Writings for Children


  • “Puss-Cat Mew” by E.H. Knatchbull-Hugessen
  • The Dragon Tamers by  E. Nesbit
  • The Marvellous Land of Snergs by E.A. Wyke-Smith

Week 8 – Mythic Resonances: Dunsany, John Buchan, The Word of Teregor


  • “The Far Islands” by John Buchan
  • The Gods of Pegana and The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany
  • “The Regent of the North” by Kenneth Morris

Week 9 – Scientific Romance in Britain: H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, David Lindsay, and C.S. Lewis


  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  • A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay

Week 10 – The Victorian and Edwardian Gothic


  • The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson
  • “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook” from Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James

Week 11 – Alternatives to Tolkienian Fantasy in the UK : the Comic to the New Weird

  • Reading: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Week 12 – Across the Ocean: the Pulp and Literary Traditions in America


  • “The Woman of the Wood” by A. Merritt
  • “Shadows in the Moonlight” by Robert E. Howard
  • “The Double Shadow” by Clark Ashton Smith
  • Jurgen by James Branch Cabell

Required Texts

Note from Professor Anderson: A basic familiarity with both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings will be presumed throughout this course. Of the texts below, almost any edition will suffice, though for Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-stories” the critical edition, titled Tolkien On Fairy-stories, is preferred.  A large number of the readings are available online: URLs will be given though there are also paperback editions.  When possible I give URLs for editions in pdf, and other formats, at

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Fall 2014Dr. Sara Brown, Dr. Erin Aust

Course Artwork

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

Roots of the Mountain

This course studies Tolkien’s works in relation to the fantasy literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

START: August 25, 2014

DURATION: 12 Weeks

ID: LITA 5310