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ENGL 349 A: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm
DEM 126
Kate Norako photo
Leila Kate Norako

Syllabus Description:

ENG 349: Worlds and Works of J. R. R. Tolkien

Prof. Kate Norako


Office Hours: TBD


Course Description:

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. This 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. If these seems daunting, fear not! Audiobooks have a tremendous amount to recommend them, and as it happens, the marvelous Andy Serkis (who brought Gollum/Smeagol to life in the Peter Jackson films) has recently narrative both The Hobbit and the entirety of LOTR. I am listening to them this Fall, in fact, and they are marvelous -- a very manageable alternative to wading through the print version between now and January!

In terms of grading, students will be evaluated on their preparedness for and participation in class, their participation in the online forums, and their successful completion of a robust final project. Their final project that can take one of two forms: a research essay (10-12 pages) on a particular “afterlife" of Tolkien’s work, or a creative adaptation in a medium/genre of the student’s choosing, 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: 15%
  • Commonplace Book: 40%
  • Final Project (Creative or Expository, includes benchmarks and peer review): 45% 

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: Full marks for participation 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.

Commonplace Book: A series of journal entries conducted prior to a given class, and weekly reflections on our in-class discussions, that follow a specific set of instructions found in the CP Book section in Assignments. One entry is due prior to each of our class meetings, and each week you need to complete a reflection on our in-class discussions by Friday 5pm. 

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 an 8-10 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).

On Canvas: All readings (aside from the required books) will be found here, and it's also where you will submit your formal assignments. All assignment prompts will be posted here as well. If at any point we need to hold class via zoom, you'll have access to our classroom link here also. 

Email and Office hours: If you have a question that can be answered in 1-2 sentences, 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
  • 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:  I take plagiarism very seriously because I know 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. 

A note on AI: Using AI constitutes a form of plagiarism because it pulls from a wide array of previously written work and ideas to generate content for you.  When you make use of these programs, you also rob yourself of the opportunity to think for yourself and to hone your critical thinking, writing, and revision skills through the assignments for this class. Added to which, and I can confirm this through prior teaching experiences this year alone, using AI for a class like this one results in a poor grade, because AI cannot produce new ideas and nuanced close readings. It can, at best, regurgitate the ideas that it has been fed already. AI generated essays are, in essence, used bandaid versions of original thought. Because of this, an essay produced through or reliant upon AI-generated content will typically end up with a D or low C at most. It is far and away in your best interests, then, to produce your own work.

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 (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! If you are reading this you have found the secret task: please email Prof. Norako either your favorite (SFW please) Tolkien meme or a picture of your favorite animal. 
  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 details on weekly readings, please head over to the Reading section in Assignments)


Week 1: Introductions/Syllabus Overview 

Monday: No class

Wednesday: Syllabus overview and Intro to the course (no readings for this week)

Week 2: Tolkien's Worldbuilding 

Week 3: Religious/Ethics/War in Middle Earth 

Week 4: Middle-Earth's Medievalism, a selective crash course

Week 5: Race, Racism, and Antisemitism in Middle Earth; Project Proposal + Bibliography due Friday of this week. 

Week 6: Adapting Tolkien for the Screen

Week 7: Adapting Tolkien/Fandoms 

Week 8: Gender and Sexuality in Middle Earth

Week 9: Middle-Earth EcoTheory and Environmentalism

Week 10: Concluding Discussions



Catalog Description: 
Study of historical developments and debates within the genres of fantasy and/or science fiction, with attention to the ideological implications of these genres' characteristic techniques for constructing alternatives to existing social norms and realisms. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
February 27, 2024 - 3:29am