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Archaeological and Historical Fantasy: From Boudicca to the Bard

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Duration 9 weekly meetings
Tutor Dr Juliette Wood
Course code ARC20A5400A
Fee £225
Concessionary fee £180 (find out about eligibility and funding options)

50-51 Park Place
CF10 3AT

This module is an introduction to the interplay between history, archaeology and the genres of historical fantasy writing.

The rich and varied fantasy worlds described in contemporary novels, games, films and television series intertwine Vikings, Celts, Saracens and Samurai with exotic locations and multi-cultural mythic themes.

Although these detailed alternative realities have become part of popular culture, the worlds created by writers like Tolkien and George R.R. Martin are grounded in a view of an historical past, and the disciplines of archaeology and history are as important in creating fantasy as demons and dragons.

This module traces the ways in which fantastic worlds integrate historical sources and archaeological research into fantasy, and how this interplay shapes our attitudes to what is real and what is not. The course will also examine some of the precursors of modern fantasy writing.

For example, the way in which classical writing and contemporary archaeology shaped the historical Boudicca into a legendary figure, and the lasting effects of Shakespeare’s sweeping depiction of the Wars of the Roses on the Tudor world and beyond.

This course is for anyone with an interest in history, archaeology and/or its representation in literature, and the enthusiasm to take that interest further.

It operates as part of the Exploring the Past and Inside Narratives pathways, and will equip you with the knowledge, understanding and skills that will help you to study other courses in these pathways.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through nine 2-hour sessions, made up of lectures, class discussions, small group work and debates. Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central.

Topics to be discussed include:

  • The use of ‘Dark Age’ European culture in fantasy and history writing
  • The creation of Boudicca as national heroine
  • Shakespearean history and the Wars of the Roses.
  • Archaeology as a source for fantasy writing
  • The Celtic world in fantasy
  • Gender in fantasy and historical novel writing.
  • The geography of fantastic worlds
  • Games, books and cosplay events- commodification of fantasy worlds
  • A visit to Special Collections and Archives will give students the opportunity to examine material related to this course

Coursework and assessment

This module will be assessed by two short assignments, comprising around 1500 words in total.

Reading suggestions

Essential Reading: Fantasy and Historical-Fantasy

Students can choose from a selection of recommended fantasy and historical-fantasy novels.

For example, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, Rosemary Sutcliff or Mary Stewart’s Arthurian novels and Andrej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series or Ursula le Guin’s  Earthsea Tetrology.

Recommended reading on archaeological and historical fantasy:

  • Jane Chance and Alfred K. Siewers (eds), Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages (New York, 2009).
  • Robert Tittler and Norman Jones (eds.), A Companion to Tudor Britain (Oxford, 2004)
  • Micheal Alexander Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England (New Haven, 2017)
  • Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (Cambridge and New York, 2012).
  • Robert Eaglestone (ed.), Reading the Lord of the Rings: New Writings on Tolkien’s Classic (London and New York, 2005).
  • Jacqueline Furby and Claire Hines, Fantasy (London and New York, 2012)
  • Sarah L. Johnson, Historical Fiction: A guide to the genre (London, 2005).

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.