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ENGL 349 B: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Meeting Time: 
MW 9:30am - 11:20am
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Kate Norako photo
Leila Kate Norako

Syllabus Description:

ENGL 349: Tolkien

Synchronous Class: Wednesdays, 9:30-11:20am

Zoom Link:  


Dr. Leila K. Norako


Office Hours: Mondays 9-10:30am  


Land Acknowledgment: The University of Washington exists on the unceded ancestral lands of the Dxʷdəwʔabš past and present. As univited guests on this land, I invite us to honor with gratitude the land itself and the Dxʷdəwʔabš people.



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 in synchronous sessions: 15%
  • Participation in weekly discussion forums: 40%
  • Participation in and completion of final project benchmarks (canvas forum workshops): 15%
  • Final Project (Creative or Expository): 30%


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 discussions. 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.

Discussion Forums (informal writing): This class would typically require each of its members to write a brainstorming/journal entry on our readings for each class meeting, but since we are online, and since we are doing a mix of synchronous and asynchronous, my feeling is that those breakout sessions will make for more than enough writing across the quarter! The key to earning full marks for the forums this quarter is consistency. If you are participating every week and contributing in meaningful and sustained ways to the conversations in your breakout group, you can expect to earn 100% on this part of your work. Reasons for point deductions would include: being absent from more than one week’s discussion forum, not following instructions, writing such short responses (without being balanced out by substantial ones) that it’s impossible to offer a meaningful response, etc. To reassure though, if I see you struggling in any of these ways, I will gently let you know via private email. And if you are at all worried about your performance in the forums, send me an email as often as you like to check in, and I will be happy to let you know your grade to date.

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 10-12 page expository essay on an aspect of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, on an adaptation of Tolkien’s works (i.e. Peter Jackson’s films, Alan Lee’s artwork, etc.) or on a work that, like Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea books, responds to Tolkien’s world-building in a compelling and sustained ways. You will be asked to engage with a minimum three scholarly sources (i.e. they must be cited/conversed with 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 quarter, and I will be offering at least one (ideally two) asynchronous workshops k. 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:

Zoom Ins and Outs:  

  • I strongly encourage, but do not require, folks to have their video on when we meet on Wednesdays. The reason for this is that it’s a lot easier for me to gauge how class is going if I can see faces vs. seeing a sea of black screens. That being said, I myself have had to be one of many black screens over the past year for any number of reasons (especially when I’m attending a meeting while also caring for my two young children). So! Please do not feel badly if you cannot turn your video on, and your video being on/off has absolutely no bearing on your grade in this class (that is a firm promise).
  • There will always be a waiting room for our class, and I will always admit students manually so as to ensure we do not get any unwelcome guests in the mix. Please make sure that your zoom name matches the name you use on Canvas. If you can’t sort out how to change it, use the chat to let me know who you are.
  • Our Wednesday sychronous meetings are a required component of the class, and missing more than 1 without an excused absence will result in a lowered grade.

On Canvas: Our class portal will be, in so many words, our lifeline this quarter. This is where all asynchronous discussion forums will take place, where all readings (aside from the required books) will be found, and where you will submit your formal assignment. All assignment prompts will be posted here 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 (again, 9-10:30 on Mondays, or by appointment if you have a conflict). 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
    • If you are reading this, congratulations! You have found the “egg.” Please send your favorite LOTR meme to Dr. Norako. If you don’t have a favorite LOTR meme, send a picture of your favorite animal (actual or mythical, either works!).
  • 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 Religious Accommodations: “Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy ( Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (”

On Children in the Classroom/On Zoom (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 needed. You do not need to turn off your camera unless you wish to – it is entirely your choice.
  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, and that this has been thrown into very sharp relief over the past year of pandemic. Please know that I would always rather have you with us in some capacity than not at all, so if the best you’re able to do on some days is “listen in” with a black screen, that is ok!
  4. Finally, I recognize (and oftentimes experience myself) that the exhaustion many parents feel once children have finally (hopefully?! maybe?!) gone to sleep can often make the task of completing academic work feel herculean at best and impossible at worst. While I maintain the same high expectations for all of my students regardless of parenting status, I am always 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, intellectual growth, and justice. 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:

For a detailed outline and list of readings, please see the weekly pages in the Assignments section of our Canvas Page.

Here are a series of important benchmarks to keep in your sights:

End of Week 4: Locate the designated workshop forum on canvas and share 2-3 ideas that you’re considering for your final project. Follow the instructions and assist your peers in brainstorming/refining/finalizing theirs.

End of Week 6: Locate the designated workshop forum on canvas and share a 400 word description of your project (including its goals, the main texts with which you’re working, which passages/characters (as applicable) you’re analyzing and, critically, what 2-3 main problems/concerns you are presently facing. Follow instructions (tbd) and respond to your small group peers and help them in kind.

End of Week 8: Submit a complete rough draft of your final project to your small group canvas forum. Note that this group will be very small (groups of 3 max). Follow the peer review prompt and answer all questions thoroughly as you evaluated and offer feedback to your peer.

End of Week 10: Submit your final project portfolio. This should be submitted as a single word doc, and must include the following in order:

  • Your self-reflection
  • Your final draft of the project itself
  • The rough draft you submitted in week 8
  • The early description of your work submitted in week 6
  • Any additional drafts/materials you want to include to show the extent of your work this quarter.
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: 
January 14, 2021 - 5:40am