English 176

Literature and Popular Culture: Medieval Futures

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2021 Strub, Spencer
MWF 1-2

Book List

Delany, Samuel: Flight from Nevèrÿon; Du Bois, W. E. B.: Dark Princess; Herbert, Frank: Dune; Ishiguro, Kazuo: The Buried Giant; Miller, Walter: A Canticle for Leibowitz; Russ, Joanna: Extra(ordinary) People; Strugatsky, Arkady and Boris: Hard to be a God; Willis, Connie: Doomsday Book

Other Readings and Media

Further readings -- including Breton lais, excerpts from Chaucer and The Thousand and One Nights, and supplementary texts -- will be provided via bCourses. Films will include Star Wars (A New Hope), among others.


We usually think of speculative fiction as forward-looking. But it’s no accident that the most popular modern sci-fi saga narrates the struggles of knights and monks “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”: even our most futuristic fantasies look backward, too. This course traces the strangely central role of the Middle Ages in modern genre fiction and popular culture. We begin with the ways in which medieval writers themselves pioneered recurrent features of speculative fiction, from time travel to space exploration. From those early experiments in the fantastic and marvelous, we turn to modern novels and film that borrow form, content, and setting from the Middle Ages, whether as a fantasy of twentieth-century liberation movements structured as a medieval romance or a narration of postapocalyptic life imagined from the confines of a monastery. To supplement our understanding of these works, we will read short excerpts from the medieval texts that inspired them. Throughout the class, we will ask what role the past plays in our fantasies about the future, and what that tells us about attitudes toward race, gender, religion, and the literary imagination. In order to help develop your thinking, you will write two papers, as well as a number of short exercises and a creative assignment.

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