I will try to give you an annotated bibliography of what I might teach in my High Fantasy class. And I'll try hard for "no spoilers"!
EGL 301, "High Fantasy"
This Old English "mini-epic" contains many of the elements that make their way into High Fantasy. We meet with various monsters, a near-perfect hero, and we also examine the hero's journey.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Another "mini-epic," this time from the Middle English period. The personality of the hero is further explored, and the hero's journey is something quite different from what we expected. We also have encounters with the supernatural in surprising form.
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien
I prefer this book to The Hobbit, as there is much more "meat on the bones." This is a story of, again, the development of the hero, in this case a very unlikely one, of the importance of friendship, and of protecting our world.
A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin
This is the coming-of-age story to beat them all. Our protagonist starts out as a not very likable youth, but through training and adversity he develops in wonderful directions. There is a wizard school here, but nothing close to Harry Potter's!
The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
Pullman investigates science, religion, and the uncomfortable relationship between them through the character of intelligent and rebellious Lyra. Don't see the movie—it's horrible!
Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
The book explores a world that flies under the radar in London's Underground. This world is quite dangerous, but also full of people much more "genuine" than those met on the surface. And it sports the two most wonderful villains you're ever likely to come across!
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
What happens to the gods when people bring their gods with them to America over hundreds of years, only to forget about them? How will these gods "survive" without organized worship? For of course they are not just going to lie down and die. Our hero, Shadow, begins his journey as just that, an unsubstantial man, happy to fly under the radar. He ends up quite differently, though.
Lord Foul's Bane, Stephen Donaldson
This book catches fire for some students, but not too many, to my great sorrow. It may be an "age-thing," but still, those who like the book end up writing wonderfully about it. Thomas Covent, our hero, contracts leprosy and becomes quite curmudgeonly and unlivable-with. Because of his affliction, he is transported to a wonderful, near-perfect world of health and beauty, where he is tasked with eliminating Lord Foul, who threatens the entire fabric of this world. We meet wonderful Giants and a race of horses and their keepers that will stay with me forever.
Sabriel, Garth Nix
Many of you probably came across The Abhorsen Trilogy earlier than you should. It's a good idea to read it again. Sabriel is trained to take over from her father, who is a strange and different kind of wizard, who can, among other things, raise the newly dead and ban those dead who haunt the world still—and there are many of them, and they're way cooler than our zombies. Sadly, the father disappears early, and Sabriel must step up to face armies of the dead. This book has two worlds separated by a great wall, one much like ours, where technology works and magic is denied, and another much older and more dangerous where magic works and technology falls apart.
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
This book has so much to say about our contemporary society, and it explores the first person perspective wonderfully. It gives us a complicated protagonist in Katniss, whom it is a joy to follow as she develops and learns about herself and her fellow man.
Department of English, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5350 - Undergraduate: 631 632-7400 | Graduate: 631 632-7373