Reading Fantasy: J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis

Home/ Reading Fantasy: J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSUS1EL9164

Semester and Year Offered: WS17 and WS18 ( 4th and 6th semesters)

Course Coordinator and Team: Shelmi Sankhil

Email of course coordinator: shelmi[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: This course looks primarily at some works of J.R.R.Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Both these writers represent a collective whose literary project it was to resist the sweeping onslaught of modernist despair in art, literature and philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century in Europe. Their decision to produce a body of literary works that was different in spirit and message, and to steer clear of the philosophical tendencies of the period in preference for traditional virtue, meaning, order and hope, represent a literary constituency often sidelined for the more visible and glamorous practitioners of modernist trends in literary studies and canonisation. The choice of the fantasy genre was both philosophical and literary for Lewis and Tolkien. Both repudiated the idea that considered fantasy as mere exercise in literary escapism and fit only for children. Both strongly advocated the capacity and appropriateness of this genre to communicate truths of a higher order. In that important sense, their works represent a departure even within the fantasy genre.

What this course proposes to do is explore the works of Lewis and Tolkien as an important transition point in the development and “mainstreaming” of the fantasy genre, and to also read them as critiques of modernism and the philosophical tendencies of the period in which they lived.

Course Outcomes: After taking this course, students will be better placed

  1. To engage meaningfully and productively with the poetics of fantasy genre as well as the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The genre of fantasy, and myth by extension, will be seen in a different light, beyond mere escapism.
  2. To appreciate the interaction between literature and philosophy in grappling with the human condition.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Module 1: Introductory: There are four readings in this module. These texts have been selected to provide the necessary interpretive framework for the two modules that follow. The module will also introduce and trace the history of the development of the fantasy genre since the 19th century.


"Existentialism" by Copleston, F.C.

“This Fear of Dragons” by Ursula Le Guin

“The Meaning of Fantasy” by C.S. Lewis

“Mythopoeia” J.R.R Tolkien

Module 2: J.R.R. Tolkien: Tolkien’s prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy will be read in this module. Though the book can be read as a stand-alone work, other works of Tolkien will be discussed as well. This will provide continuity in the students’ engagement with other more familiar works of Tolkien and also facilitate the opportunity for a fuller appreciation of the author’s artistic vision. The module also envisages the exploration of artistic and philosophical divergences between the text and the movie version of the book.


The Hobbit (Any good edition)

Module 3: C.S. Lewis: The seventh and last book in the Narnia Series will be read in this module. Students are expected to have a working knowledge of the first six books as well. This is in keeping with the authorial design to read these books as narrating a single cohesive story of Narnia.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle (Any good edition)

Assessment Details with weights:

  • 20% : Questions will test the student’s ability to grasp the different points raised in the readings.
  • 40% (Mid-Term): Questions will test the student’s textual understanding and ability to articulate with a fair degree of criticality.
  • 40% (End-Term): Questions will test textual understanding and articulation with a fair degree of criticality.


  • Joseph Pearce. Tolkien: Man and Myth. HarperCollins, 1998.
  • Jane Chance (ed.) Tolkien and the Invention of Myth. University Press of Kentucky, 2004.
  • Michael Ward. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis. OUP, 2007.
  • Selections from The Victorian Fantasists Kath Filmer (ed.) Macmillan, 1991.
  • Selections from The Cambridge Companion to Modernism. Michael Levenson(ed.) CUP, 1999.
  • Selections from The Twentieth Century Fantasists Kath Filmer (ed.) Macmillan,1992.
  • Walter Hooper. C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide. HarperCollins, 1996.