Some of the most popular children’s books of all time—The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, and, of course, the Harry Potter series—have richly intertextual resonances with medieval English literature. From the narrative structures of their plots (which are modeled on Germanic sagas and Anglo-Norman romances) to the fantastic nature of their characters (elves, dragons, werewolves), and even in the linguistic details of the novels themselves (Gandalf means “wand-elf” in Old Norse and was originally a character in Norse poetic saga; the spells in Harry Potter are medieval Latin), these books are infused with medievalism.
This course examines four popular children's books of the twentieth century in concert with the medieval literature that has so richly enhanced them. J. R. R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit will be paired with Anglo-Saxon riddles and Norse saga; C. S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader read with scenes from Beowulf and John Mandevile’s Travels. Then, we’ll turn to Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, a legend of Robin Hood and short medieval poems featuring animals. Finally, we’ll read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban alongside a medieval romance about a werewolf and heroic tales of battle.