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ENGL 349 B: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
SMI 405
Kate Norako photo
Leila Kate Norako

Syllabus Description:

ENGL 349: Tolkien

M/W 12:30-2:20

Smith Hall, 405


Dr. Leila K. Norako

Office: Padelford, A-309

Office Hours: Wednesdays, 3pm-4:30pm (see note below for details)



This course invites students to critically engage with and examine the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, with particular attention paid to The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. We will focus our attention throughout the quarter on topics such as the following:

  • the mechanics and ethics of world-building
  • the literary and cultural influence that Tolkien’s works have wielded
  • Tolkien’s medievalism and medieval sources of inspiration
  • representations of gender and gendered power in Tolkien’s Middle Earth
  • representations of racial and cultural difference in Tolkien’s Middle Earth
  • adapting Tolkien’s works for the big screen

To allow us to delve as deeply as possible into the works in question, I am requiring that all students have read The Hobbit and The LOTR in their entirety before the start of class. I will be sending out weekly reminders once registration opens so that you are made well aware of this requirement. Taking this approach will ensure that we are able to make the most of our course meetings and are able to have rich and fruitful discussions about the topics we aim to cover each week.

            Students will be evaluated on their preparedness for and participation in class (in large and small groups alike), and by way of both informal and formal written assignments. They will be asked to create an online journal and write entries prior to each class meeting, and their formal written assignments will consist of a mid-quarter essay that invites them to demonstrate their  close-reading and research abilities, and a final project that can take one of two forms: a research essay (7-10 pages) on the “afterlives” and cultural influence of Tolkien’s work, or a creative adaptation in a medium/genre of the student’s choosing, and which demonstrates levels of analysis commensurate with a research essay (i.e. a series of poems, a short story, a painting, short film, etc.). 


Major assignments:


  • Participation: 20%
  • Commonplace Book: 20% (check-in between Weeks 3-5; Due
  • Mid-quarter research essay: 20%
  • Final Project (Creative or Expository): 40%




Office Hours: These will typically be from 3-4:30pm on Wednesdays, but during weeks 3-5 I will hold them on Fridays 10:30-12pm.


Participation: The success of this class, and any humanities class really, hinges on the active engagement and intellectual curiosity of all in attendance. While I will lecture from time to time as needed, the majority of our class meetings will be focused on and driven by student-led inquiry and interest. Your ideas, interests, questions, etc. will be what propels us forward.


Attendance: Given the importance of student-led discussion, it’s imperative that all class members come to every class meeting on time and prepared to discuss the day’s readings. Failure to attend class regularly will inevitably result in a poor participation grade (because you aren’t there to participate!) so please make sure that you attend. 


Grading Participation: A 90-100% level participation grade will result from:

  • clear evidence that the reading has been done, and that the student has amply prepared for in-class discussion. They will come to class with independent ideas about the readings, and having made efforts to critically engage with the material (i.e. synthesis, close-reading, comparative analysis, attention to course themes/central questions). They will come prepared to address any specific questions/issues/prompts from the instructor.
  • Active engagement in class. This entails not only generating ideas and taking risks (by asking questions and/or offering up ideas-in-progress), but also listening to the ideas of others and engaging accordingly. The A-level participant will be able to advance our discussions in class not only by offering up their own ideas but also by responding directly and thoughtfully to the ideas of others.


Commonplace Book (informal writing): This journal will be comprised of a series of informal entries that will each invite you to deepen your engagement with our reading material. They will also help you get into the practice of near-daily writing, which will be integral to your success on your formal written assignments. To get full marks for this journal, you need to write an entry in advance of each of our class meetings that reflects careful engagement, analysis, and connection-making between Tolkien’s works and the secondary readings assigned for the class in question.


Short Research Essay: This mid-quarter assignment asks you to generate a manageable and focused topic and a debatable argument about one of tales we’ve read thus far in the quarter and write a paper that supports the argument in question by way of careful close-reading and engagement with works of peer-reviewed scholarship. You are welcome to build off of ideas generated in our class meetings, but do not simply replicate/rehash them. Rather than simplistic evaluative judgments (i.e. “The Miller’s Tale is better than The Merchant’s Tale because . . . ”) and personal opinion (i.e. “My favorite tale is The Knight’s Tale because . . .”), your essay should both analytic—keenly focused, clearly written, well-organized, and reflective of your careful engagement with the text in question. In short, this essay needs to reflect your efforts to improve your analytic, close-reading, and writing abilities. You must cite no fewer than four secondary sources; while you are welcome and encouraged to use as many of the sources listed in the syllabus as needed, only two of such sources will count towards the four required ones. This essay, in other words, requires you to do independent research, and will prepare you well for the work you need to do for the final project.


Final Project: The final project will invite all students to critically and creatively engage with adaptations Tolkien’s works. In groups of 3-4, you will be invited to pick one of the following options:


  • Compose a 7-10 page expository essay either on an adaptation of Tolkien’s works or on a work that, like Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea books, responds to Tolkien’s world-building in a compelling and sustained way. I will provide you with a list of adaptations and responses to pick from early on in the course, but you are welcome to select one that’s not on the list if you wish (provided you run the work by me in advance). You will be asked to engage with at least three scholarly sources (i.e. they must be cited in your essay and included in a bibliography at the end of the short essay.
  • Create your own adaptation or response to Tolkien’s works! This assignment must reflect keen critical engagement with the material (i.e. it must signal that careful research and close-reading have been done); to this end, you will also be asked to consult and engage with scholarly material, though you will obviously not “cite” said material as you would in a scholarly paper.


Students will be given ample time to develop their project throughout the second half of the quarter, and the final week of class will be given over to workshopping their respective drafts. The class will culminate with an online extra credit assignment wherein students will be invited and encouraged to substantively respond to their peers’ work. Note (Prof. Norako will be out of the country during Week 10, but the workshops will be facilitated by Shane Peterson and Sarah Moore).


Other Policies and Notes of Import:

On Technology in the Classroom: I do not, as a rule, ban the use of electronic devices in class. However, I ask that all students remember to be respectful of their peers and refrain from using their electronic devices for anything aside from our work in the classroom (i.e. no Facebook, game playing, etc – that kind of engagement is profoundly distracting to those around you). It is very obvious when students are surfing the web/watching movies/playing games/checking Facebook, and students who do so will get a zero for participation for that class meeting. 

On Canvas: Our class portal will be the predominate way in which you’ll keep up to date on course announcements, and is also where you will gain access to supplementary course materials. All secondary readings will be found there, as well as additional resources on Middle English pronunciation and the like. All assignment prompts will be posted there as well, and unless otherwise stated, all formal written assignments will be submitted to Canvas, and all feedback from me will be found there as well.

Email and Office hours: If you have a question that can be answered in 1-2 sentences, please feel free to send an email, and I will respond as soon as possible (if you email me over the weekend, expect a response no earlier than noon on Monday). If your questions require a lengthy response, please bring them to me during office hours. If my office hours conflict with your class schedule, contact me and we will find an alternate time/way to meet. Please note that I am committed to checking email at least once a day on weekdays, and ask that all of you make the same commitment. With rare exception, I do not check email over the weekend, so if you have pressing questions that need to be addressed before the following week, make sure that you send them to me before noon on Friday.

Access and Accommodations It is very important to me that all students are able to thrive in this classroom environment. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.  Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, your instructor(s) and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.


On Plagiarism: The Student Conduct Code defines plagiarism as follows:


“Plagiarism, . . .  is the submission or presentation of someone else’s words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:

  1. The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or
  2. The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.”


If plagiarism is suspected, a student will be asked to meet with me, and the following general rules/procedures will apply:

  • For minor infractions (1-2 missing citations, failure to use quotation marks in 1-2 instances, clear evidence that plagiarism was accidental, etc):
    • Option either to revise and earn up to 75% for the assignment in question; or to abandon the assignment. Final grade will be an average of the rest of the assignments in the course.
    • Possible reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct
  • For major infractions (i.e. numerous plagiarized passages, clear evidence that the essay was written by someone else and/or stolen or purchased wholesale)
    • Automatic zero for the assignment.
    • No option for revision of said assignment.
    • Automatic reporting of said student to the Dean’s Representative for Academic Conduct.


The bottom line: Don’t plagiarize! It is never, ever worth it, and it is shockingly easy to detect. I take plagiarism incredibly seriously because I believe strongly in the value of the work I’ve assigned you. I want you to learn and grow through the work that I’m asking you to do in this class, and that learning and growth will not happen if you take the work of another person and pass it off as your own. 


On DACA: The University of Washington strives to provide a safe, secure, and welcoming environment that protects the privacy and human rights of everyone in our community. UW’s longstanding policies do not permit immigration officials to enter UW classrooms or residence halls without a court order, and I will not share any information about a student’s immigration status. For guidance regarding immigration status, please consult the following resource through Leadership Across Borders ( and the following through the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity ( You can also email with questions and concerns.


On Children in the Classroom (heavily drawn from Dr. Melissa Cheyney’s Syllabus) :

The University does not have a robust or formal policy, so this list reflects my own commitments to student parents:

  1. I ask that we all, as a community, work together to create an environment respectful of all forms of diversity, including diversity in parenting status.
  2. All breastfeeding babies are welcome in class as often as is necessary.
  3. For older children and babies, I understand that unforeseen disruptions in childcare often put parents in situations where they might have to miss class. While this can’t be a long-term solution, please know that occasionally bringing a child to class in order to cover gaps in care is perfectly ok.
  4. If/when babies or small children come to class, I ask that the parents and children sit close to the door so that if the little one(s) need special attention and/or are disrupting learning for other students, parents can easily step outside until their needs have been met. Speaking from experience, this set up will also make the parent’s learning experience more conducive, since they won’t be worrying about how to make a discrete exit if the little one’s needs require it!
  5. Finally, I recognize that the exhaustion many parents feel once children have finally (hopefully?!) gone to sleep can often make the task of completing homework feel more than herculean. While I maintain the same high expectations for all of my students regardless of parenting status, I am happy to problem-solve with you in a way that fully supports you as you strive for balance as a parent and student. 


On Our Classroom Environment:

Here is the English Department’s Statement of Diversity: 

The UW English Department aims to help students become more incisive thinkers, effective communicators, and imaginative writers by acknowledging that language and its use are powerful and hold the potential to empower individuals and communities; to provide the means to engage in meaningful conversation and collaboration across differences and with those with whom we disagree; and to offer methods for exploring, understanding, problem solving, and responding to the many pressing collective issues we face in our world--skills that align with and support the University of Washington’s mission to educate “a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship.”

As a department, we begin with the conviction that language and texts play crucial roles in the constitution of cultures and communities, past, present, and future.  Our disciplinary commitments to the study of language, literature, and culture require of us a willingness to engage openly and critically with questions of power and difference. As such, in our teaching, service, and scholarship we frequently initiate and encourage conversations about topics such as race, immigration, gender, sexuality, class, indigeneity, and colonialisms. These topics are fundamental to the inquiry we pursue.  We are proud of this fact, and we are committed to creating an environment in which our faculty and students can do so confidently and securely, knowing that they have the backing of the department.

Towards that aim, we value the inherent dignity and uniqueness of individuals and communities. We acknowledge that our university is located on the shared lands and waters of the Coast Salish peoples. We aspire to be a place where human rights are respected and where any of us can seek support. This includes people of all ethnicities, faiths, gender identities, national and indigenous origins, political views, and citizenship status; nontheists; LGBQTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised.

Our classroom will, as a result, be radically inclusive, open to ideas, questions, and debates born out of genuine curiosity and rooted in a desire for knowledge and intellectual growth. It will be a space for rigorous and deep discourse, and it will be a space that actively resists any and all racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, religious and nontheist discrimination, and misogyny.



Course Outline:


Note: Readings are due on the day that they are listed.


Week 1: Introduction/Intro to World-building


April 1st: Course Intro, Syllabus overview


April 3rd: World-building, pt I

  • Required: Silmarillion, The Silmarillion: AinulindalëValaquenta, and Quenta Silmarillion 1-12; Akallabêth; Genesis 1-3; Kalevala Runes I-X; Voluspä; Skim: John Milton, Paradise Lost, I: 1-669, II. 629-1055; V. 771-907; VI. 1-892
  • Also required: “Introduction,” Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation


Week 2: World-building, pt II:


April 8: Sub-creation and Imagined Worlds

  • Required: In The Silmarillion: Quenta Silmarillion21; The Children of Húrin; Kalevala Runes 31-36; SKIM: Volsungsaga 3-11
  • Also required: Tolkien, Preface to LOTR, focus in particular on his discussion of “applicability” vs. “allegory; Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”
  • Recommended: “Confronting the Worlds Weirdness: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin.”


April 10th: Runes, Riddles, and Invented Language

  • Required: Riddles from the Exeter Book (read a sampling – at least 12), The Hobbit, Fafnismal, Havamal
  • Also Required: From Elvish to Klingon, ed. Michael Adams (Introduction, Chapter 1 (skim), Chapter 4); Appendix E and F.I from Return of the King.


Week 3: Religion, Ethics, and War in Middle Earth


April 15: A Christian Middle Earth?

  • Review: passages focused on the ring(s) and their effects, on representations/discussions of good vs. evil, on the figures of Aragorn, Frodo, Gandalf, Morgoth, Saruman, Sauron.
  • Read: Smith, T. W. (2006). Tolkien’s Catholic Imagination: Mediation and Tradition. Religion & Literature, 38(2), 73-100; “Augustine of Hippo,” “Thomas Aquinas,” “Good and Evil” entries from Encyclopedia
  • Recommended: The Ring and the Cross (Introduction; “Eru Erased: The Minimalist Cosmology of The Lord of the Rings”; “The Ring and the Cross: How Tolkien Became a Christian Writer.”)


April 17: War and Ethics in Middle Earth:

  • revisit passages devoted to the ring, to Morgoth and Sauron, and on the representation of war (in the Silmarillion, Hobbit, Hurin, and LOTR) and how the various characters discuss and describe it
  • Read: Croft, “The Great War and Tolkien’s Memory”; Chism, “Middle-Earth, the Middle Ages, and the Aryan Nation: Myth and History during World War II”; Letters 45, 66, 81


Week 4: Race and Alterity in Middle Earth


April 22nd: (Re)Creating the Dwarves and the charges Anti-Semitism

  • Review: Relevant sections of Silmarillion and Children Hurin (especially their creation by Aulë, relationship of Mim and Turim Turambar), The Hobbit, and LOTR (pay particular attention to how they are characterized and depicted by themselves and by others); Letter 37
  • Read: Brachmann, “Dwarves Are Not Heroes: Anti-Semitism and the Dwarves in

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Writing”


April 24th: Orcs, Urukai, Southrons, Easterlings

  • Review: depictions of the Orcs and Urukai in Silmarillion and LOTR respectively;
  • Read: Letters (66, 71,144, 153, 210 #19, 294); From the Encyclopedia (“Race and Ethnicity in Tolkien’s Works”; “Racism, Charges of”); Helen Young, “Founding Fantasy” (Chapter 1 in Race and Popular Fantasy literature)
  • Recommended: Anderson Rearick, “Why is the Only Good Orc a Dead Orc? The Dark Face of Racism Examined in Tolkien’s World”; Margaret Sinex, “‘Monsterized Saracens’, Tolkien’s Haradrim, and Other Medieval ‘Fantasy Products’



Week 5: Middle Earth’s Medievalism: A Selective Crash Course


April 29th: The Medieval Elegy

  • read: selections from Canu Llywarch Hen, selections from Y Gododdin, The Ruin, The Seafarer, The Wanderer, The Ruin, Beowulf (skim/revisit, paying particular attention to the Dragon Episode to the end)
  • To review/think about in Tolkien’s works: Sad Poetry (examples, usages of, function of, etc.)


May 1st: Medieval Romance

  • read: Sir Orfeo (EITHER the Norton or Tolkien’s), Beren and Luthien (excerpt from Chapter 19 of Silmarillion and, SKIM the verse version)
  • review: Aragon and Arwyn material, Eowyn and Aragon and (eventually) Faramir story-line, Fellowship of the Ring (pay careful attention to the depiction of journeying, the quest narrative, and the dissolution of the Fellowship at the end) Frodo and Sam storyline from beginning of Fellowship to End of Return of the King)


May 3rd, 5pm: Mid-quarter Essay Due!


May 5th: Movie Marathon (time and location TBD, but plan on us starting Fellowship sometime mid-morning! Costumes encouraged.)



Week 6: Adapting LOTR


May 6: Adapting Tolkien, Pt I: Games, Fanfic, and Art, oh my! (Caitlin Postal)

  • Assignment 1: By Tuesday 5pm, send Prof. Norako and the TA’s links to at least two different adaptations of Tolkien that you were able to find via open web research. Come to class with a 1-2 page write-up analyzing each one.
  • Assignment 2: Come to class with no fewer than THREE pitches for a final project. We will devote at least 15-20 minutes of class time to workshopping/brainstorming.


May 8: Adapting Tolkien: The Peter Jackson Films

  • Watch: All three extended versions of the LOTR films
  • Note: There is very little homework and/or reading assigned for this week due to the length of the required films and in the hope that you’ll use this time wisely to get a jump on your final projects!


Week 7: Gender and Sexuality in Middle Earth


May 13: Of Monsters and Women (Sarah Moore)


May 15: Masculinity and the possibilities of Queer Readings

  • review: depictions of male friendship and fellowship, especially Frodo and Sam, Legolas and Gimli, Aragorn and Faramir, etc. Look carefully at the representation of various kinds of masculinities throughout Tolkien’s works.
  • read: “Masculinity” in Reading the Lord of the Rings; “On Fairy Stories,” by Valerie Rohy


Week 8: Middle Earth’s Ecotheory and Environmentalism 


May 20th: Tolkien and the Anthropocene (Shane Peterson)

  • Read: Introduction and at least two of the first three chapters of Susan Jeffers Arda Inhabited: Environmental Relationships in The Lord of the Rings, "The “Anthropocene” by Paul J. Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer in GBP Newsletter (pg. 17-18),  and"Learning to Die in the Anthropocene" by Roy Scranton in New York Times,  
  • Revisit/review: Instances of environmental devastation or industrialization, namely in the "Siege of Gondor," "The Land of Shadow," and "Scouring of the Shire" chapters in Return of the King


May 22nd: On Trees, Ents, Entwives, and Guardians

  • Revisit: relevant passages from Silmarillion and LOTR: pay special attention to the preservation and/or destruction of trees, the depiction of the Ents and the reason – from Silmarillion – for their creation, relationship of the trees to other inhabitants of ME), look at Beorn and Radagast as well; Entries from Encyclopedia (Ents, Environmentalism and Ecocriticism, Environmentalist Readings of Tolkien)


Week 9:


May 27: No Classes, Memorial Day


May 29: Course Wrap-up Evaluations/Celebration (Readings TBD)


Week 10: Final Project/Essay Workshops


June 3rd : Workshop I (bring complete draft to class)


June 5th: Workshop II. Bring your revised final project and your two completed peer evaluations to class. Make sure that your peer evaluations are also uploaded to Canvas so that they can be graded. 



June 9th: Final Project and Completed Commonplace Book Due by 5pm.


June 13th 5pm: Deadline for Concluding Extra Credit Assignment



Catalog Description: 
The study of the development of and specific debates in the related genres of fantasy and science fiction literatures
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:20pm