Brainstorm
Services

EDUCATIONAL
MATERIALS


West Chester University

Spring 2006 and Fall 2005

West Chester University

Fall 2004and
Spring 2005

Spring 2003

Fall 2002

Spring 2002

Fall 2001

 

 

 

Home

Contact

Course Syllabi and Announcements
  LIT 165 Syllabus
  LIT 165 Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  WRT 120 Announcements and Assignments

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2008)
  A Reading of THE TEMPEST

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
  Goals of the Course
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Valuing Literature
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Literature as ART
  Ambiguity
  Approaching the Art of Fiction
  Defining the Short Story
  Evaluating Short Fiction
  Craft of Fiction: PLOT
  Craft of Fiction: CHARACTER
  Small Group Exercise
  ARABY by James Joyce
  WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? by Joyce Carol Oates
  Our RITES OF PASSAGE Theme
  A note about GIRL
  POE and the art of STORY OF A HOUR
  THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
  YOUNG MAN ON SIXTH AVENUE
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Fiction and Ambiguity - Your Questions
  Writing Workshop - Short Fiction
  Poetry Journal Project Assignment Sheet
  LITERARY SYNTHESIS PROJECT
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  Drama and Tragedy
  Study Questions: DEATH OF A SALESMAN

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
  Paper #4 Assignment Sheet
  Critical Thinking and Commentary
  Casebook: Evaluating Sources Worksheet
  Selecting Information
  Evaluating Arguments
  CASEBOOK PROJECT Assignment Sheet
  Approaching Persuasive Writing
  Topic Development - Profile Essay
  Generating Ideas for the Profile Essay
  Paper #2 Assignment Sheet
  Profile Exercise
  Analyzing THE FIVE BEDROOM, SIX FIGURE ROOTLESS LIFE
  Objective Writing: Selected Readings
  Writing Workshop: Paper #1
  Expressive Writing in the NYTimes
  Writing Effective Introductions and Conclusions
  Paper #1: IDENTITY
  Expressive Writing
  Open Letter Exercise and Examples
  EMERSON on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Literature related to IDENTITY
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
  Franz Kafka's BEFORE THE LAW
  Analyzing WAITING FOR GODOT
  Approaching WAITING FOR GODOT
  Paper #3: Assignment Sheet
  Paper #4: Independent Project
  The Problem of Stability in BRAVE NEW WORLD
  UTOPIA/DYSTOPIA Links
  Analyzing Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  Defining Utopia
  Embarking on Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD
  A Reading of Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST
  From today's news (11/3/05)
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #2
  Goodbye to Dante's Imaginary World
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 10-34
  Stepping Through Dante's Inferno: Cantos 1-10
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 32-34
  INFERNO: Questions/Analysis: Cantos 18-31
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 12-17
  INFERNO: Structure
  INFERNO: Questions for Analysis: Cantos 1-5
  INFERNO: Analyzing Canto 1
  Relating to Dante's Inferno
  Approaching Dante's DIVINE COMEDY
  A Little Help with Dante's INFERNO
  Assignment Sheet for Paper #1
  Notes on LEAF BY NIGGLE
  Responses to LEAF BY NIGGLE
  ON FAIRY STORIES: An Essay by Tolkien
  Notes on Axolotl
  Reading Ovid's Tales
  From Myth to Literature: Approaching Ovid's Tales
  Notes on THE EYE OF THE GIANT
  Functions of the Genesis Tales
  Analyzing Mythic Tales
  Defining Mythology
  Filtering the Introduction to FANTASTIC WORLDS
  Commentary on LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI by Keats
  Commentary on DARKNESS by Byron
  Handout: Imagination Poems Set
  What is Imagination?
  Our Course Theme: Imaginary Worlds
  LIT 165 Assignments: Fall 2005
  LIT 165 Announcements: Fall 2005
  Imaginary Worlds: Course Syllabus

Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
  Paper #4: Independent Thinking/Reading/Writing
  Casebook Preparation Checklist
  Casebook Assignment Schedule
  Evaluating Sources for the Casebook
  Casebook Project Assignment Sheet
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Argument
  Assignment Sheet: Objective Writing
  Reviewing Elements of the Profile Essay
  Writing the Profile Essay
  Readings: Objective Writing
  Assignment Sheet: Expressive Writing
  Rubric for Evaluation of Writing
  About SKIN DEEP
  Emerson on Individuality vs. Conformity
  Mind-map: Identity
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'
  Assignments Page
  Announcements Page
  WRT 120 Course Syllabus for Fall 2005

ENG Q20: Basic Writing

Go Exploring
  Weblog for WRT 120
  Writing Assistance on the Web
  Blackboard at WCU
  WCU Homepage
  WCU's Francis Harvey Green Library

 
~~ Filtering the Introduction to Fantastic Worlds ~~


I'm a little worried our anthology may come off a little long-winded. Here are a few of its salient points, in my view:

Alternative worlds are valuable to us if we recognize their relationship to the real world. They become "responses" to the real world that we can entertain and ponder. Their ultimate power depends on how artistically accomplished they are, how much power they have to create something aesthetically arresting (beautiful) and evocative.

The first fantastic worlds—MYTH—represent our oldest efforts to cope with FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS about who we are exactly, where we come from, where we're going. What is this world? What is this universe? Why are we here? How did we get here? Why is the world the way it is? What is our place in it? Why do we die? What happens when we die? Of course, there have probably always been "laid back" individuals who didn't care, as long as they had their rack of meat. Perhaps even there were even ancestral secular humanists hiding in their ivory caves somewhere. But there were significant scores of others whose consciousness would not rest, and these were the mystics. The journeys they took and the answers they brought back were the ones that got most peoples' attention. The mystic is the person who has a transcendental mystical experience, a transcendental spiritual union with God, or as Joseph Campbell likes to generically call it, the "ground of all being." The mystic tries to bring that experience back to people in ordinary words that refer to ordinary things. But since the mystical experience is an extraordinary thing, you need extraordinary words, a meta-language, a METAPHORICAL language, that will break through and communicate what is practically incommunicable. The language of mystical experience is myth.

Every fully developed literary tradition—every tradition which has raised literature to the status of art—has fantastic texts dating back to its earliest sacred texts. Myth is the origin of literature, of all the arts in fact. So we're at the groundspring, the fountainhead when we study myth. When you read an ancient tale, and there aren't many in your anthology, unfortunately, you are really connecting with your prehistoric ancestors, because long before these stories were written down—nobody knows how long—they were spoken orally.

Your introduction explains that the simple progression the textbook follows is from myth to fantasy to modern literature. Simple enough, but then Rabkin springs into a microscopic reading of a line from a Tolkien story, which I fear may have lost some of you. If you had patience, good for you. There are just a few of his points I would highlight:

  • "suspended disbelief" — as we already discussed, this is an essential part of reading fantastic literature. If we're not willing to entertain the "impossibilities" we encounter, we're done. So why are we willing, if we are? He says it's because we trust that there'll be a payoff.
  • "mythical" — this is a good one for us to key in on because we are about to study myth. What does this word signify? While it might mean "not true" to some, what it really means is, "not literally or historically true, but symbolically true—metaphorically true."

Mythical language is not literally true. It was never intended to be literally or historically true. Mythic stories take place in a world outside of time, beyond time, before time (human time, ordinary time). Unless you can literally believe a man was able to begin having scores of children when he was 100 years old, or that another lived past 900, you are probably going to read the stories in Genesis metaphorically rather than literally.

Take the Prometheus story that Rabkin uses as an example. In that story Prometheus steals fire from Zeus to give to man, who he has created, and Zeus is furious. He punishes Prometheus by chaining him to a rock and setting an eagle to eat out his regenerating liver… A brutal punishment. (He's eventually rescued.) Now we may not choose to believe that the story is literally true, but we can still relate to the way it expresses how uneasy we feel about this god-like power we have, this special knowledge which enables us to harness the awesome power of fire. Fire in the story becomes a metaphor for something more abstract, more difficult to pin down, something akin to "intelligence," but more than that. It's the intelligence that's used to develop tools, technologies, how we can harness this powerful natural element and use it to our devices. Animals don't do that, but humans do. Fire is just the beginning. It's a primitive technology in our eyes. But it's a technology. And the uneasiness with technology is what's still with us, what still makes this outdated religious story still psychologically true. Our intelligence gives us godlike powers, and we are not comfortable with that power in our imperfect hands. It's a punishable offense therefore. It's still true today—that discomfort, that uneasiness, except the changes are so fast and furious, we don't have a mythology to catch us up. How blasé are we when it comes to nuclear technology, the atom bomb? Or the power to clone new life in a tube… what do we call that life? Is a genetically engineered human being still a human being? What about stem cell research, or abortion? These are all examples of technologies we've developed as a result of this intelligence we have, and we're not always thrilled about them; we're often uneasy about using them, and even thinking about it gives us the chills. We are capable of destroying the world, redesigning a new "transhuman" that's like us, but not us. That ability raises all kinds of conflicts and the mythic tale is what tries to cope with those conflicts; the tale provides resolution. Prometheus is punished. (But we're not stupid. Later, he's rescued.)

Psychologically, the Prometheus tale is accurate, true, though literally it may seem outlandish, and historically it's nowhere. That doesn't mean it's got nothing to tell us.

Rabkin asks a pertinent question, I think. Is fantastic literature for children? And the answer is yes, and no. It's for all of us.

Children enter fantastic worlds effortlessly because they aren't fully invested in "reality" yet. They haven't grown into it. For children immersed in idealized worlds, the illusions of fantasy are always at hand. You don't have to see it to believe it. Magic is everywhere. Do we simply grow out of that? Yes.

We all move from the childhood state of innocence, a state in which all our needs are magically met (hopefully, for the lucky ones), a state in which we are of central importance. From this vantage point the world seems like a wonderful place. But as we grow older, we discover "realities" that gradually replace this illusion: the world is nice sometimes, and other times it is brutally violent, dirty, disease-stricken, miserable, and unjust. Instead of being of central importance, you discover you are one being among many and that, far from being immortal, you could easily die. This movement from innocence to experience is a universal human passage. Many, many myths deal with it, including Genesis. It's a passage that involves a "reversal" of attitudes, where you think the opposite of what you thought before.

Strangely, fantastic literature employs this very technique of "reversal," except instead of moving us from innocence to experience, it moves us from experience to innocence. This is not a regression. It's a doorway. By making us temporarily innocent again, we can more easily pass into that metaphorical fantasy realm, where a certain kind of truth can be communicated (mystical truths, in the case of myth).

In fantastic tales, reversals can appear in plot, theme, character, style—any which way. They're the lifeblood of the imagination. They are what help us shed the baggage we bring so we can see the world in a fresh new light.

 

 

 

     

 


Questions? Contact me.

All materials unless otherwise indicated are copyright © 2001-2008 by Stacy Tartar Esch.

The original contents of this site may not be reproduced, republished, reused, or retransmitted
without the express written consent of Stacy Tartar Esch.
These contents are for educational purposes only.