Literature of Horror, Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Course Blog for LMST345 Ringling College of Art

Prof. Tolkien blows smoke rings
Tolkien once defended fantasy literature from charges of being "escapist" by explaining that readers "escaped" into fantasy literature the way prisoners "escaped" from jail. Tolkien saw the genre we now call fantasy literature as a necessary antidote to modern life. Tolkien's own works were to help propel the genre of fantasy into wider acceptance and popularity. At the same time, they helped to freeze elements of the genre code into place while creating expectations of the genre (the "trilogy" for example) that hadn't existed before. In this week's class we will consider the genre code for fantasy and examine some of the elements, such as the hero's quest, that have come to dominate perception of works of "High Fantasy."

This week's reading assignment is to read a fantasy classic. We will focus on JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, and will generally discuss fantasy as a genre, the myth of the hero and the nature of archetypal storytelling. We will discuss The Lord of the Rings both books and movie. There are a number of other fantasy classics available for reading on the course resource page. Pick one and read it.

Click Here to Go to the First Animated version of the Hobbit by Gene Deitch.

The Illustration at the right is  from Alice in Wonderland  by Mervyn Peake, fantasy author and illustrator. The first volume of his fantasy trilogy about Gormenghast is available to read on the course resource page. It is an interesting alternative to reading Tolkien this week. There is also the wonderful and unexpected fantasy novel by Hope Mirlees called Lud in the Mist. Consult the syllabus for more choices.

If you are interested in an epic fantasy story written from a female point of view you might want to consider The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley who revisits the tradition of Arthurian Romance to tell a story founded in a recreated world of female mysticism and matriarchal power. This long novel follows nicely on our conversation about witches last week because it deploys a very well developed world that creates another position on an important fantasy storyverse. This is unfortunately colored, perhaps irredeemably, by the author's (likely) psychopathic behaviors and sexual assault of children. Her daughter's statement about this can be read here.

click here to go directly to the syllabus assignment for this week


Dark forest
Brave hero
Fantastical creatures (trolls/goblins, dwarves, giant spiders)
Magic (talking horse)
Noble steed
Man-eating wolves
Great battles/wars
Extreme environments and weather (treacherous mountains, scary forests)
Trolls under bridges

Talking horse, Mythical creatures, Trolls- Bridges, Swords, Heroic adventures, Royalty, Magical Forests, Titles/Ranking- The Barbarian, Tradition, Treasure, Gold Currency, Poor Weather, Storytelling over Campfires, Isolation, Merchants, Large families/ over breeding, Recurring creepy Creatures, Mountains, Villages, Arctic winds, Legends, Time - Mortality/Immortality, Tobacco, Wolves, Father presented quest, Strangely tame animals, poverty, a battle, robust women, Simple writing, Medieval times, crystals, Important things happen at night, and sidekicks.


Jacque, Ariel, and Jordie

Some Elements That Can Make Up a Fantasy Story (Presented to you in HUGE TEXT BLOCK Format)

1. The world is a part of the story; the reader is allowed to explore this new environment through the characters presented in the book.
2. Other-wordly creatures, beings and species populate the world of the story.
2.a) Certain races usually stay in one job, or you are what you're born into. This usually creates a social order.
3. Magical and mystical elements abound, from talking animals or trees to creating something from nothing.
4. The main character or hero usually has a “class,” such as a barbarian (Cohen from Pratchett's “Troll Bridge”), ranger (Drizzt from R.A. Salvatore's novels), etc.
5. The antagonist is usually an oncoming darkness or someone who associates with it; they're usually much greater in power in comparison to the hero or heroes.
6. Heavy elements of “Good versus Evil,” “Light versus darkness,” etc.
6.a) Lines of these elements are more blurred or made a grey area in more recent fiction.
6.b.) the “evil” or antagonists are typically uncivilized and lack humanity
7. The main characters usually face a “Fate of the world” situation, where the hero must win in the end or the world as it is known is destroyed or altered for the worse.
8. Tradition ,or the lineage of a character, is usually a factor in some way.
8.a) Can involve pre-ordained destiny or a “prophecy,” although it's not always bound to the family lineage.
9. The hero or heroes usually have to go on an adventure, journey, or quest.
9.a) Usually a very simple quest, but the obstacles met on the way make it more difficult.
10. The hero or heroes usually grow stronger as a character on said journey or quest, and build a greater sense of camaraderie that enables them to better face their greatest foe[s].
11. The Fantasy genre tends to be rooted in folklore traditions – temporary preservations of or inspired by earlier stories.
12. Weather, being linked to nature, can play a powerful role; typically used as a tool to represent the state of the world as a whole (the balance of good versus evil in the world, etc.), or the inhabitants in a certain area (malicious characters keep to areas of darkness and poor weather, while more kindly characters may keep to sunny, warm areas).
13. The villains are, at times, people who are merely attempting to upset the social order (or royalist) of their environment.
14. Many of the stories build themselves like a wave: slow at first, culminating and gathering force, until meeting an opposing force and spilling over (in the case of a novel, a huge battle or conflict finally occurs before the story is resolved).
15. If and when a hero takes sides, they may eventually find that they chose the greater “evil” of two sides, and may have to switch.
16. Twisting time is a common occurrence; this can range from lengthening the life-span of a character or species (such as elves), to actually traveling through time.
17. There is typically a helpful minor character that accompanies the hero or heroes; typically used for comic relief. Can range from anywhere to a pet to a steed.
18. Someone usually has to die to resolve the story; aside from the antagonist, it is usually someone close to the protagonist, if not the protagonist themselves. Can include the comedy relief character from #17, “noble steed,” or best friend.
19. The main characters typically seek out treasure; however, what the treasure is varies, from actual gold to knowledge, or the lessens learned and connections made on the journey itself.
20. Choice of weapon can reflect the character of a person; a character who has a dagger may be more likely to stab another character in the back since it's easily concealed (just as the character wielding it may have concealed their true motivations), or another character with an ax may be just as blunt and to the point as their weapon of choice.

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