You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Modern Scholar: Rings, Swords, and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature

Rings, Swords, and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature is a Modern Scholar lecture by Professor Michael D.C. Drout. Professor Drout teaches courses in Old and Middle English, medieval literature, and sciene fiction as well as fantasy.

He starts by relating the origins of modern fantasy, essentially Victorian fairy tales. I felt he didn't go enough into myths and legends here, especially Greek and Roman. But he does show how tales from the brothers Grimm influenced later writers.

He spends a good bit of time on Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. I learned a lot about the background and how much work Tolkien put into the books. I knew that there was a lot of work that Tolkien had done, but I hadn't realized he had gone so far to create two distinct languages, each based on a real archaic language. Of course the mythology and back stories are filled in from The Silmarillion. He points out the structure of action and repose, with repeated forms.

The crux of the story, according to Drout, is the moral actions of Frodo and his struggle with the Ring. Frodo fails in the end, and Gollum turns out to be the hero, albeit reluctantly. The whole story has a sense of nostalgia, of trying to get back to a lost home, which Drout relates to Tolkien's loss of his father and especially his mother at a young age.

Then Professor Drout moves to Tolkien's successors. He pans Terry Brooks, which I can't really complain about. He points out that his first book is largely derivative, and looking back I must agree. He also discusses Stephen Donaldson, who he thinks better of but still thinks he's a lesser writer.

He praises Urusla K. Le Guin and delves into her Earthsea trilogy. I must say that listening to his explanation of the books left me wanting to read them (I've only read A Wizard of Earthsea). I'm not sure I want to read Robert Holdstock.

He does use one lecture to talk about Arthurian literature. It's a good overview, but I could have used more. He hardly mentioned the Holy Grail at all. But he does mention how Arthurian works have been treated over time. I also want to read T. H. White's The Once and Future King (I've only read the first part before).

He talks about children's fantasy, a rich subject, for one lecture. He discusses C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, and why it is appealing to a child but less so to adults. I'm in agreement with him here. We both liked The Voyage of the Dawn Treader though.

Lastly he talks about magical realism and contrasts it with fantasy. According to Drout, the essential difference is not in the subject matter but in the style. Fantasy uses a more historical style while magical realism uses a modernist style. He believes that fantasy is better able to treat some subjects, such as death, due to its freedom and style.

This lecture series I'll give an A. I was a little concerned to see it was so focused on Tolkien (half the lectures) but listening to them was very enjoyable. I wanted more, both quantity and quality (as far as a deeper probing of subjects), but there's only fourteen lectures. Overall he does an excellent job.

Modern Scholar page


Anonymous nancy in chicago said...

I've just found your blog, and I think I'll be back, you seem to like the same books I do.

I have much the same feelings that you do with this series of lectures. For only 14 lectures, 7 on Tolkien is a bit much, OTOH, I'd love to have seen the course have 21 to 28 lectures -- there he could have spent a lecture on the mythic origins of many tales -- from the Norse and Greco/Roman myths & have 2 or 3 lectures on children's fantasy. How about fantasy parading as SF (I know SF readers that won't touch fantasy, yet love the Dragonriders of Pern by A McAffrey and the Darkover novels by M Zimmer Bradley-- because they are set on other planets colonized by humans from Earth that have gone backwards, technologically speaking & are in a varient of the Historic middle ages) Sorry to spew, but I just find that rather ironic.

Back to point, I'd love it if Drout had done more lectures, or had a 2 part series, perhaps dividing fantasy as before Tolkien & after -- allowing him to use 7 lectures in the first course and more history & then do kiddie fantasy lit, and other variations on fantasy (Zelazny's Amber series, for expample) in the 2nd series.

Personally, I'd like to try Holdstock and some of the other writers he mentioned, although I've read all the authors you'd mentioned in your blog.

I'm not always this voluable, but I really enjoyed these lectures & want to tell the world about them!

nancy in chicago

9:43 PM, August 13, 2008  
Anonymous R. L. Getchell said...

I just ran across your page from a Robert Holdstock lecture search. I have been researching Holdstock and his Myth Cycle structure for a dissertation of my own.

I wish I could tell you both... give you both a sample of what is in his books. Raw ... tender human existenance. You get straight into the grit of life. You are living in these books. I mean the pure human animal.

I was raised in a house where we said we lived in the only house on the street with a round door(figuritively). Tolkien was a first love for me and I will always have a mental home in Middle Earth. But your hart is waiting for you to discover your inner mythago in the heartwoods of Ryhope Wood.

I wish I could impart all that I know, but that is your journey.

9:55 PM, September 05, 2009  

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