This week’s theme is all about what you’d put on a syllabus if you were teaching a 101 class. Being me, I’m going to pick fantasy work, because if I could get away with teaching a 101 class on this somewhere, I would.
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The quest adventure is a big staple of fantasy literature, and Sir Gawain is a good early example that demonstrates some of the later tropes. I’d possibly add Chrétien de Troyes, The Mabinogion, Malory, some other Arthurian stuff, because that was a huge influence on later fantasy fiction.
- A Norse saga. I’d have to do some thought on which one, but the Norse stories were such a big influence, it needs to be considered.
- William Morris. I haven’t read any of his books yet, which I know is a grave lapse, but I know that his work was important in the development of fantastical novels.
- Poul Anderson, The Broken Sword. This one is probably my favourite, and it would amply demonstrate the way fantasy pulls from Celtic and Nordic mythologies.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. Of course. Hugely influential. The Hobbit was first, but it’s the scale of The Lord of the Rings that later fantasy has tended to emulate.
- C.S. Lewis. For a Christian-inspired fantasy, also common.
- Ursula Le Guin, all the Earthsea books. My students would cuss at me, but it’s for their own good. Here fantasy starts engaging with those older, sexist tropes. Less explicitly, also with racial tropes — and we’d have to discuss the cover issues, where many covers have portrayed Ged as white.
- N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. We’ve got the background. Now let’s start looking at stuff that’s by more diverse authors: we’ve had enough dudes on this syllabus, for sure, and Jemisin is also a person of colour.
- Patricia Briggs, Moon Called. It’s also worth getting a look at the urban fantasy that’s emerged in the last couple of decades. It’s often dismissed into the genre of paranormal romance; would we be doing that if the author was male? (Glance at Jim Butcher: no. No, we wouldn’t.)
- Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death. As I recall, this is post-apocalyptic and shows where fantasy and science can converge. It also discusses gender, sexuality and race issues, and it’s by a person of colour.
Oh, man, I would so like to teach this as a real curriculum. What’s everyone else been coming up with?