Course Instructor Days Times Room


ENGL 4876 Fantasy Literature: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings as Metafiction

For this course, we will do one simple thing: read The Lord of the Rings together and discuss it. Although there will be several ancillary critical/theoretical texts assigned, at approximately 1,200 pages, the reading-load for the trilogy itself will be reasonable – about 80-100 pages per week, depending on the chapter divisions and the contours of the semester schedule.  

Our discussions will be focused on one main theme anchored to a question: "In what ways does The Lord of the Rings exemplify what Tolkien himself thought were the main features of good fantasy fiction?  A secondary set of questions approach the ways in which, within the fictional framework of the novel, some of the characters themselves provide commentary on the nature of story-telling in – broadly speaking – the genre of fantasy fiction and what this metacommentary might suggest about mimetic and extra-mimetic narrative fiction in any genre. 

Tolkien envisioned publication of The Lord of the Rings not as a 3-volume work but as part of a single volume together with The Silmarillion considered as an essential part of the whole fabric of his sub-created narrative universe – the Middle-earth legendarium, as he termed it. Although side references to The Silmarillion will be inevitable, it is not essential that students read or have read that work before taking this course.  It is likely that some students will have read the book already -- in some cases, more than once -- but those who have never read the novel before, and who will be reading it throughout the semester for the first time, in all likelihood will find the class discussions especially exhilarating. The novel was divided into six “books,” and subsequently these were published for convenience in 3 volumes – i.e., “the trilogy,” as it has come to be called.  We will spend approximately 2 weeks on each book, taking time throughout for discussion of the various theoretical issues suggested above as well as for several short papers and/or brief examinations over sections of the book.


Several short papers -- probably one for each book (i.e., six short papers), a mid-term exam, and a final examination.  A schedule follows:

  • Week 1: January 5 - Introduction 
  • Weeks 2-3 January 8 - 19: selected critical materials.
  • Weeks 4-5: January 22 - February 2: LOTR Book One – The Fellowship of the Ring, pp. 1-215.
  • Weeks 6-7: February 5 - 16: LOTR Book Two – The Fellowship of the Ring, pp. 217-407.
  • Weeks 8-9: February 19 - March 2: LOTR Book Three – The Two Towers, pp. 409-600.
  • Week 10-11: March 5 - 23: LOTR Book Four – The Two Towers, pp. 601-742.
  • Weeks 12-13: March 26 - April 6: LOTR Book Five – The Return of the King, pp. 743-893.
  • Weeks 14-15: April 9 - 20: LOTR Book Six – The Return of the King, pp. 895-1031.
  • Week 16: April 20-25: LOTR Appendices – pp. 1033-1138.

Note I have factored in the week of Spring Break (March 12-16), which will explain the extra long span from March 5 to March 23 for reading & discussion of Book Four.


A short paper every 2 weeks (i.e., after finishing each book):

  • February 2
  • February 16
  • March 2
  • March 23
  • April 6
  • April 20

Short (10-point, 10-minute) quizzes every few class periods.

  • Quiz average = 1/3 of the course grade
  • Short papers average = 1/3 of the course grade
  • Midterm & Final exam average = 1/3 of the course grade

University attendance policies in place; attendance is not part of the grading formula.

  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, 50th Anniversary One-volume Edition.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.  ISBN 978-0618640157.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf. London: HarperCollins, 2001. ISBN 978-0007105045.
  • Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs, eds. Understanding The Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.  ISBN 978-0618422536.
  • (Secondary, non-required): Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.  ISBN 978-0618642670.
Makeup Policy

Written work missed because of officially-sanctioned excused absences may be made up.