Modern Fantasy:

Defining and Redefining a Genre.

This term-long option module is designed and convened by Dr Gerard Hynes


The genre of fantasy has become an unprecedented popular phenomenon in print, film and television. With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows selling 11 million copies on launch day and Game of Thrones drawing audiences of over 7 million viewers per episode, fantasy reaches an audience unbounded by age, class or gender. Yet fantasy is also a term of condemnation, implying triviality, nostalgia and escapism. This commercially successful yet critically disregard genre has defined and redefined itself since its inception, engaging in dialogue with its foundational texts (such as The Lord of the Rings), its genre neighbours (science fiction, horror, and romance) and with larger political and literary conversations about race and gender.
Fantasy literature is a dynamic and responsive field with varied lines of influence. This course will use several major works of modern fantasy literature (from early canon setters to recent innovators) to explore a genre distinguished by intertextuality, ongoing political, racial, and sexual dialogue, and broad crossover appeal, yet which has so far received insufficient critical attention.
By situating these works in the emergence of a flourishing and multifaceted literary genre, this course provides the opportunity for students to explore in depth questions of genre, audience, style, canonicity and literary influence. A field which is widely read yet critically understudied promises to both surprise and challenge previous literary assumptions.



Course schedule and primary reading list*

*subject to change
Week 1: What is Fantasy Literature and why are such terrible things said about it?
Fan love, critic hate and scholarly jargon.
Week 2: Official Beginnings: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1954-5)
Inventing a genre91mYvkBYluL
Week 3: Alternative Beginnings: Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
Fantasy as anthropology
Week 4: Domestic Fantasy: Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising (1973)
Landscape and history


51vvqw26d8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Week 5:Fairy Tale and Satire: Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)
Intertextuality and tropes


Week 6: Science Fiction Interlude: Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (1985)
Expectations and genre boundaries
week 7: Reading week


Week 8: The New Weird: China Miéville, Un Lun Dun (2007) Urbanism and fantasy

Week 9: Steampunk: Cherie Priest, Boneshaker (2009) Fantasy and alternative historyCover_of_Boneshaker
Week 10: Postcolonial Fantasy: Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death (2010)
Fantasy or magical realism?
Week 11: Grimdark: Joe Abercrombie, Half a King (2014)
Grittiness, ‘realism’ and audience
Week 12: Prestige and Power: Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things (2014)
Literariness, gender and trauma



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