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Heroic Worlds in Fantasy and Fiction: From Tolkien to Game of Thrones

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Fantastic characters, beasts and adventures appear frequently in films, novels, television, computer games and many aspects of popular culture.

This course will consider the fantasy worlds of four writers – J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Ursula Le Guin’s The Wizard of Earthsea, Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor Chronicles and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

The rich and complex fantasy worlds created by these writers draw on history, mythology and folklore. This course will consider the relationship between fantasy worlds and their historical sources, in particular the ways in which society in these tales reflects ‘heroic’ cultures in Europe and beyond.

Magic is a feature of all these worlds, and we will examine how it resonates with attitudes to Renaissance and medieval magic and how it creates a unique quality to each of these fantasies.

This course is for anyone with an interest in history 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

This course consists of nine units. Each unit comprises a two-hour face-to-face session.

These sessions will include lectures, class discussions and debates, pair-work and group-work, source analysis activities and exercises to develop your academic skills.

There will also be a strong emphasis on learning outside of the classroom, facilitated by the University’s virtual learning environment, Learning Central.

Coursework and assessment

You will be expected to complete two pieces of assessed work: a 500-word source analysis or review and a 1,000-word essay.

Advice and support will be provided for both assignments and you will receive detailed feedback relating to strengths and areas for improvement on both pieces of work.

Reading suggestions

  • Douglas A. Anderson, Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction (New York, 2008).
  • Jane Chance and Alfred K. Siewers (eds), Tolkien’s Modern Middle Ages (New York, 2009).
  • William Clapton and Laura J Shepherd, ‘Lessons from Westeros: Gender and Power in Game of Thrones,’ Politics, 37 (2017), 5-18.
  • Dimitra Fimi, Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology (London, 2017).
  • Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (Cambridge and New York, 2012)

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.