A Historical Survey of the Fantastic in British Literature

Course title: A Historical Survey of the Fantastic in British Literature
: Assoc. Prof. Iva Polak

ECTS credits: 6
Status: elective
Semester: 1st and 3rd semester
Enrollment requirements: enrollment in the 1st or 3rd semester
Course description: The course offers a historical survey of OE, ME and ModE texts that appropriate fantasy or the supernatural for various reasons. Each text is discussed in the framework of its socio-historical context to reflect, albeit tentatively, the implied listener/reader. Some literary works are analyzed alongside their cinematic adaptations. Theoretical underpinnings of the fantastic include discussions about mimesis, the rhetoric of the real and unreal, terminological muddy waters (fantasy/the fantastic/Fantasy), and the notion of impulse, mode and genre.
Objectives: Awakening students’ awareness of the existence of fantasy from the very beginnings of English literature; detecting the shifts in the function of the fantastic in literature and culture; clearer understanding of the theoretical postulates of the fantastic, introduced in the 20th century.
Course requirements: the final grade is based on continuous assessment which includes regular attendance (max. absences allowed: 4), preparation for class, in-class participation, writing small assignments, obligatory sitting for midterm exam and timely submission of the final paper. The paper is worth 40%, midterm exam 40% and other elements of continuous assessment are worth 20% of the final grade. Students must fulfill all elements of continuous assessment.

Week by week schedule
Introduction to key problems: the notion of reality in different time periods; mimesis-mimetic; fantasy-fantastic

What is fantastic in fantasy; historical positioning of the fantastic; fantasy as a mode and/or a genre; introduction into the theory of the genre (Todorov, Brooke-Rose,Chanady, Hume, etc.)
– Christine Brooke-Rose (Ch. 2); Kathryn Hume (Ch. 2 & 5)

The problem of locating the fantastic in Anglo-Saxon (OE) literature

Beowulf , c. 8th c. (excerpts) – historical context, Anglo-Saxon listener and encoded reader; the problem of the real and the unreal; heroic or fantastic epic
Beowulf (cont.) – relevance of epic for the development of fantastic literature; Beowulf and Tolkien’s high fantasy; Tolkien. “The Monster and the Critic”

Fantasy and the Middle-Ages

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales  (“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”) (1387-; Caxton 1st ed. 1476) – historical context, medieval forms, fable, fantasy of the so-called “simple forms” (Einfache Formen)
Sir Thomas Malory. Le Morte Darthur (1485) (excerpts): medieval intertext; from epic to romance; Arthuriana as myth and historiography; characters and narrative strands

Le Morte Darthur (cont.) –Tolkien. “On Fairy Stories“; Karol Čapek. “Towards a Theory of Fairy Tales“; “A Few Fairy-Tale Motifs“; Monthy Python and the Holy Grail (1975) dir. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones

Midterm exam (genre theory: Todorov/Brooke-Rose/Jackson)
Academic writing skills (guidelines for writing research paper)
Fantasy and the Early Modern Period

William Shakespeare. The Tempest (1623) – Elizabethan worldview; Prospero’s magic and how to present it on stage and screen; application of Todorov
Cinematic adaptations: discussion of clips from Silent Shakespeare (1899-1901); Forbidden Planet (1956) dir. Fred M. Wilcox; Prospero’s Books (1991) dir. Peter Greenaway; The Tempest (2010) dir. Julie Taymor

Fantasy in the Neoclassical Period

Jonathan Swift. Gulliver’s Travels (4th voyage) (1726, 1735)– utopian literature (Plato, Thomas More), Menippean satire, fantasy and allegory, location of the 4th voyage; problems of the 4th voyage
Fantasy and the Victorian Period

Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) –Victorian children literature; nonsense verse (Jabberwocky); source of the supernatural
Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – application of Todorov

Towards SF

H. G. Wells. The Time Machine (1895) – ‘impure’ SF, novum (Suvin); The Time Machine (1960), dir. George Pal

Reading list:
Beowulf (excerpts)

Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales (“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”)
Sir Thomas Malory. Le Morte Darthur (excerpts)
Jonathan Swift. Gulliver’s Travels, IV voyage
Lewis Carroll. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
H. G. Wells. The Time Machine; “The Grey Man”

Critical editions:
– Brooke-Rose, Christine. A Rhetoric of the Unreal. Studies in Narrative and Structure, Especially of the Fantastic, CUP, 1981. (Ch. 2)

Chanady, Amaryll Beatrice. Magical Realism and the Fantastic: Resolved Versus Unresolved Antinomy, Garland Publishing Inc, 1985. (excerpts)
– Čapek, Karel. In Praise of Newspapers and Other Essays on the Margin of Literature, Allen&Uwin, 1951. Essays: “Towards a Theory of Fairy Tales”; “A Few Fairy-Tale Motifs”.
– Hume, Kathryn. Fantasy and Mimesis. Responses to Reality in Western Literature. Methuen. 1984. (Ch. 2 & 5)
– Jackson, Rosemary. Fantasy. The Literature of Subversion, Routledge, 1981. (excerpts)
– Polak, Iva. Futuristic Worlds in Australian Aboriginal Fiction. Oxford:Peter Lang, 2017: Ch.1 & 2
– Suvin, Darko. “On the Poetics of the Science Fiction Genre”. College English. Vol. 34. No. 3, 1972: 372-382.

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic. A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Cornell UP, 1975.
– Tolkien, J.R.R. The Monster and the Critics and Other Essays, HarperCollins, 2006. Essays: “The Monster and the Critics”; “On Fairy Stories”.

All texts shall be made available to the enrolled students in electronic form. Additional materials are received in class.