The Lord of the Rings and Medieval Heroic Poetry
Profs. Eileen Joy and Douglas Simms

Spring 2008

Mon/Wed 3:00-4:15 (Peck Hall 0306)

Office Information:

E. Joy: Peck Hall 2225; 650-3971;
D. Simms: Peck Hall 2333; 650-2177;

Office Hours:

Mondays 4:30-5:30 p.m.


J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastic world of The Lord of the Rings appears full of marvelous detail to contemporary readers.  Constructed languages, peoples, cultures, and creatures abound, yet many of the most fascinating aspects of Tolkien’s works are not creations of his own per se, but reflections of the world of medieval European literature well-known to Tolkien. This course will provide a window into many of the literary texts of the European Middle Ages from which Tolkien drew in writing his trilogy. To read all the texts that have a connection to The Lord of the Rings would be beyond the scope of any semester-long course; therefore, this course will focus on medieval poems of a heroic nature: poems of warriors and war, of defeat and exile, of fidelities and betrayals, and of transcendence through action and reputation.

During the course you will be introduced to an array of literature from various cultures. You will become acquainted with the heroes and villains of Anglo-Saxon England, the myths and legends of early Scandinavia and Germany and their tragic heroes and lovers, the Frankish horn-blowing hero Roland, to name a few.  In becoming acquainted with these texts we will explore the connection between the medieval and the modern as well as challenge the notion of who and what a hero is. We will find that heroes are mythic as well as mundane, masculine Vikings and feminine Valkyries, and that heroes are not defined so much by who they are, but rather by how they choose to act. We will also spend some time thinking about what might be called the development and attraction of the heroic mentality in literature and society from the Middle Ages to modern times. What accounts, ultimately, for the cultural staying power of the myth of the hero?

REQUIRED RENTAL TEXTS (available at SIUE Textbook Service)

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. (FotR)
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. (TT)
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Return of the King. (RotK)
Crossley-Holland, K., trans. The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology.
Merwin, M.S., trans. The Song of Roland.

*Additional Readings on Electronic Course Reserve [ECR] and BlackBoard as Assigned*


By the end of this course it is expected that students will not only be familiar with the characters and plots of the texts covered, but equally as important, students should become acquainted with the medieval and modern worlds and how they continue to interact, rather than exist separately from one another.

Also, by the end of the course, students are expected to be able to:

  1. compare and contrast texts of similar type
  2. formulate and express opinions regarding the textual similarities
  3. address challenging notions such as ‘heroic’, ‘medieval’, and ‘modern’
  4. conduct research using a variety of primary and secondary source materials in learning and writing about literature
  5. see how the study of literature from a variety of cultures and eras can be intellectually valuable


Preparing for Class
This course requires a good deal of reading on a daily basis.  Watching Peter Jackson’s recent film versions of The Lord of the Rings, though enjoyable, is not an acceptable substitute for reading, as the films do not always contain the same material in the same order as the books, which could leave you sorely disappointed come exam time. Rest assured, however, the nature of Tolkien’s writings makes this reading a thoroughly pleasant experience, and the adjoining medieval literature will only add to your enjoyment and appreciation of The Lord of the Rings. Though some class time will be spent with lectures by the professors, classes of this nature work best through a dialogue between the professors and students. Such dialogues are only possible if students come to class having read the assigned material, and are prepared to engage in active discussion of the topics at hand.

Much of what is covered on the exams will come from class lectures and discussions, which necessitates daily attendance. Should you not be able to attend class for whatever reason, it is YOUR responsibility to contact BOTH PROFESSORS about your absence and to find out about the topics covered. Much is covered in each class session, and much can be missed from only one absence. After two unexcused absences, the student’s final grade will be reduced a full letter grade for each absence thereafter. Excused absences are absences due to illness, death in the immediate family, and other such dire situations. Over-sleeping and transportation problems do not count as excused absences, though they sometimes occur (hence the two unexcused absence leeway). Furthermore, students should not interpret this two unexcused-absence leeway as a free-pass to skip two classes during the course.


Students will write two exams during this course: one mid-term exam and one cumulative final exam. Exams will consist of identifications and essay answers. It is of utmost importance that you attend on the days scheduled for exams. Except in the instance of a documented excused absence, no make-up exams will be permitted. Failure to take the final exam on the scheduled day will result in a grade of F for the final exam.

Group Project
In addition to exams, students will form groups of 4-5 members and complete a group research project to be submitted during the last week of the course. The topic of the research project will be determined by the group members and is subject to approval by the professors. The goal of the research project is to hone your skills as readers, researchers, writers, and team-workers. Each group will select an aspect or portion of The Lord of the Rings and connect this aspect of Tolkien’s work to a piece of medieval literature, noting how Tolkien adapted the original piece of literature and how this adaptation fits into The Lord of the Rings as a whole.

Each project will consist of the following components:

  1. A written paper of at least 10-12 pages in length (Times New Roman, 12 pt. font, 1” margins, double-spaced), written in accordance with proper MLA citation style
  2. A sources-cited page of at least 10 secondary sources from academic books or journals, and a minimum of one medieval primary source (in translation, of course) provided in proper MLA bibliographic format
  3. A half-page individual assessment written by and for each team-member detailing which portions of the project each team-member contributed to the whole

Each member must contribute equally to the writing and researching of the project.  The grade for the project will be given not to the group as a whole, but to each individual for their contribution. Groups do not have to meet in person to accomplish the project, as each individual can work independently and communicate with others via e-mail or BlackBoard. Individuals who do not contribute to their group will not receive a grade for their team-workers’ efforts. Material giving further details on the requirements for the project will be posted on BlackBoard.

Homework and Participation
Given the nature of this course, it is expected that students come to class prepared having read the assigned materials and having given attention to questions for discussion provided prior to the readings. Homework as such will not be collected or graded. It is up to the individual student to be prepared.

Participation is welcomed and encouraged. There are many ways to participate. Asking questions and engaging in classroom discussions is best, and will be noted. Making use of the class weblog, Tolkien and Medieval Heroic Poetry (it’s quite simple and you will be shown how to do this), will also count towards your participation grade. Postings irrelevant to the course material will not count toward participation (with the possibility of lowering your participation grade) and such postings will be removed.

Participation grades will be determined according to the following rubric:

A (95%): The student actively and repeatedly volunteers in class and initiates and engages in on-line discussions with fellow students in a productive manner
B (85%): The student actively volunteers in class on several occasions and often engages in on-line discussions with fellow students in a productive manner
C (75%): The student participates only when called upon in class, and occasionally engages in on-line discussions with fellow students, or engages in on-line discussions with fellow students with minimal thought and effort
D (65%): The student when called upon to participate in class is unprepared, and does not engage in on-line discussions with fellow students, or engages in on-line discussions with fellow students in a counter-productive manner

Weighting and Calculation of Final Grade:
Grades are calculated according to a 100 pt. scale (A = 100-90, B = 89-80, C = 79-70, etc…)
Mid-Term Exam: 25%
Final Exam: 40%
Group Project: 25%
Participation: 10%


Students are expected to adhere to SIUE’s policies regarding plagiarism and academic dishonesty.  If an assignment or exam shows evidence of cheating or plagiarism, no credit will be given for that assignment or exam. Further appropriate actions for student academic misconduct may be taken in accordance with the guidelines included in SIUE's Student Conduct & Student Grievances: Rights and Responsibilities.  Please contact us should you have concerns or if you would like to find out how easy it is to avoid plagiarism.
Low grades are not a reflection of you as a person, but rather are a reflection of performance on a given task. There is no shame in receiving a low-grade, provided it was the result of honest work. Cheating, on the other hand, does not benefit you in the long run and reflects solely on your personal character. Should you receive a low grade on an assignment, please view it as an opportunity to come talk to the professors in order to learn why a low grade was earned and how to improve your study habits so that you can do better in the future.


Should you require additional assistance due to a physical limitation or documented learning disability, please contact us so that appropriate arrangements can be made. Disability Support Services, located in 1311 Peck Hall, can be contacted also at 650-3726.


If at any point during the semester you have concerns, please feel free to come by during our office hours, or to contact us via phone or by email (see contact information listed above). The sooner a problem is noticed, the sooner it can be resolved, whereas leaving things to the last minute can multiply difficulties. Above all, we hope that this course is an enjoyable and enlightening one.


SCHEDULE OF EVENTS (subject to revision as semester progresses)

FotR=Fellowship of the Ring; TT=The Two Towers; RotK=Return of the King

Monday Jan. 14 Introduction to Course & Syllabus
Wednesday Jan. 16 FotR, Bk. I, Ch. 1-2
    Neils Werber, "Geo- and Biopolitics of Middle-earth: A German Reading of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings," New Literary History 36 (2005) [online]
Monday Jan. 21 NO CLASS -- MLK HOLIDAY
Wednesday Jan. 23 FotR, Bk. 1, Ch. 3-5
selections from Old Norse Sayings of the High One [online]
Monday Jan. 28 FotR, Bk. 1, Ch. 6-8
    Baldr's Dream [online]
Wednesday Jan. 30 FotR, Bk. 1, Ch. 9-10
    Ferdinand de Saussure, "Static Linguistics and Evolutionary Linguistics," Course in General Linguistics [online]
Monday Feb. 4 FotR, Bk. 1, Ch. 11-12
    Beowulf [Crossley-Holland Anthology, pp. 74-103]
    Course Notes #1: The Heroic Tradition & Beowulf
Wednesday Feb. 6 FotR, Bk. II, Ch. 1-2
selections from Beowulf [Crossley-Holland Anthology, pp. 103-21]
Grendel's Approach to Heorot Read Aloud [lines 702b-745a]
Monday Feb. 11 FotR, Bk. II, Ch. 3-5
    selections from Beowulf [Crossley-Holland Anthology, pp. 121-end]
    Course Notes #2: The Heroic Journey
    Popular Culture Monomyths []
Wednesday Feb. 13 FotR, Bk. 11, Ch. 6-7
    Film Clip: Crimes and Misdemeanors
    Film Clip: Gandalf versus the Balrog [Fellowship of the Ring]
Monday Feb. 18 FotR, Bk. II, Ch. 8-10
    selection from the Prose Edda: "Ragnarök," or "The Doom of the Gods" [online]
    Ragnarök [Wikipedia]
    The Lay of Hildebrand [online]
Wednesday Feb. 20 TT, Bk. III, Ch. 1-2
Monday Feb. 25 TT, Bk. III, Ch. 3-5
    The Battle of Maldon [Crossley-Holland Anthology]
    Course Notes #3: Courage and The Battle of Maldon
    Film Clip: Band of Brothers ["Carentan" episode]
    Audio Clip: John McCain, "Why Courage Matters" []
Wednesday Feb. 27 TT, Bk. III, Ch. 6-8
  The Finnsburh Fragment [Crossley-Holland Anthology]
Monday Mar. 3 TT, Bk. III, Ch. 9-11
    Anderson Rearick III, "Why is the Only Good Orc a Dead Orce? The Dark Face of Racism Examined in Tolkien's World," Modern Fiction Studies 50.4 (Winter 2004): 861-74 [online]
Wednesday Mar. 5 MID-TERM EXAM
Wednesday Mar. 12 NO CLASS -- SPRING BREAK
Monday Mar. 17 TT, Bk. IV, 1-3
    selections from the Prose Edda: "Otr's Weregild" and "Sigurd/Gunnar/Gudrun/Byrnhild" [online]
Wednesday Mar. 19 TT, Bk. IV, 4-5
Monday Mar. 24 TT, Bk. IV, 6-8
Wednesday Mar. 26 TT, Bk. IV, 9-10
    selections from The Heliand [online]
Monday Mar. 31 RotK, Bk. V, Ch. 1-3
    The Seeress's Prophecy [online]
Wednesday Apr. 2 RotK, Bk. V, Ch. 4-5
    selections from the Old and Middle Welsh Y Goddodin [online]
Monday Apr. 7 RotK, Bk. V, Ch. 6-8
    selections from The Song of Roland
    Study Guide: Song of Roland
Wednesday Apr. 9 RotK, Bk. V, Ch. 9-10
    selections from The Song of Roland
    Urban II's Speech at the Council of Clermont (1095)
    Film Clips: 300 #1 & 300 #2
Monday Apr. 14 RotK, Bk. VI, Ch. 1-2
    selections from The Song of Roland
Wednesday Apr. 16 RotK, Bk. VI, Ch. 3-4
    selections from the Prose Edda: "The Ash of Yggdrasill and the Aesir" [online]
Monday Apr. 21 RotK, Bk. VI, Ch. 5-6
Wednesday Apr. 23 RotK, Bk. VI, Ch. 7-8
Monday Apr. 28 RotK, Bk. VI, Ch. 9
Wednesday Apr. 30 Final Exam Review -- Group Projects Due
Tuesday May 6 FINAL EXAM: 2:00-3:40 p.m.