Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved this course! There are many things I loved about this course but I'll just mention a few. First, I admired the wide range of types of heroes Prof. Shippey selected and the insight into how the definition of a hero has changed over time. As a woman, I appreciated the inclusion of many remarkable female characters and I found Prof. Shippey's critique of them to be both insightful and generous. I enjoyed his elaboration of how these literary figures have been expanded on and morphed over time. I had read most of the works Prof. Shippey discussed but he never ceased to provoke new ways of thinking about them and he did an excellent job of weaving all of the material into a high-level, historic fabric that made each individual work even more interesting. And he suggested some excellent additional reading. Prof. Shippey is that rare lecturer who you feel you get to know by the time course is done. He is generous in sharing his own experiences, ideas, and doubts. For a reader, it is like having the best book club buddy ever, which I really needed during the pandemic. Thank you, Prof. Shippey!
Date published: 2020-11-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Heroes and Legends Stiff presentation. Not the kind of Heros and Legends I expected.
Date published: 2020-11-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Engaging Professor and Great Figures A wonderful course surveying great literary figures through time. Very enjoyable and insightful. Recommend for high school and older.
Date published: 2020-09-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointed The material is interesting but, the professor is difficult to listen to and to watch (to put it mildly)
Date published: 2020-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All your courses are excellent I have not started to listen to this tape yet but wanted to let you know that your course and professors are awesome! I have learned so much from them and been able to participate in so many conversations because I listened to your great courses
Date published: 2020-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful content Great for story development studies. This is a deeper layer beyond the famous Hero's Journey.
Date published: 2019-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved the Professor I really enjoyed his analysis of the various characters. His range of characters went from Beowulf to Harry Potter. He is an entertain lecturer but he has some odd pronunciation quirks but that was fine.
Date published: 2019-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An unexpected delight This course was a complete surprise to me, and turned out to be both fascinating and academically outstanding in every way. Thomas Shippey (a British professor emeritus and widely-recognized Tolkien scholar) is one of our 3 or 4 favorite presenters in the 90-plus Teaching Company courses my wife and I have done. He’s fantastic. He took 24 main characters from literature—from Odysseus to Elizabeth Bennet to Dracula to Lisbeth Salander—and considered each in terms of his primary criteria for a hero/heroine, with each illustrating a different type and different attributes making them important and emblematic. Along the way he covered contextual history (for both the authors and the books), changing social mores, and relevance to today, considering different media and means of communication. A truly special experience which we were sorry to see come to a close.
Date published: 2018-12-28
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Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature
Course Trailer
Frodo Baggins-A Reluctant Hero
1: Frodo Baggins-A Reluctant Hero

What makes certain characters successful? Begin your study with a look at Frodo Baggins, the hobbit-hero from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In considering what makes him a hero-and how he runs counter to our notions of the traditional hero-you'll see how changing cultural values connect to heroism.

34 min
Odysseus-The Trickster Hero
2: Odysseus-The Trickster Hero

Go back to the beginning of world literature to explore what made Homer's traveling hero such a powerful figure. Odysseus's story set the model for countless road narratives, but his character, which is surprisingly sly and resourceful, is unique. Here, follow him on some of his many adventures.

31 min
Aeneas-The Straight Arrow
3: Aeneas-The Straight Arrow

Turn now to the Roman straight arrow. Aeneas's story takes him from the Trojan War to the courtship of Queen Dido and on to the founding of Rome. In writing this epic, Virgil helped shape the Roman Empire's sense of self. It also shows how old legends provide the inspiration for new tales.

32 min
Guinevere-A Heroine with Many Faces
4: Guinevere-A Heroine with Many Faces

Trace Guinevere's adulterous affair with Lancelot and consider what effects it had on cultural values and Western history. As a powerful woman in the heart of King Arthur's court, Guinevere is an intriguing heroine-passionate, strong-willed, and complex in a way that still captures our imagination today.

31 min
The Wife of Bath-An Independent Woman
5: The Wife of Bath-An Independent Woman

Chaucer worked harder on the Wife of Bath than on any other character in The Canterbury Tales, leaving us not one but four separate perspectives on one of literature's most memorable female characters. Discover what Chaucer reveals about her, the time she lives in, and the surprising complexity of her character.

30 min
Cressida-A Love Betrayed
6: Cressida-A Love Betrayed

Cressida is an archetypal femme fatale, embroiled in a love triangle between her true love, Troilus, and the bad boy, Diomedes. Through the lens of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the Scottish poet Robert Henryson, discover what makes Cressida tick-why does she send Troilus a "Dear John" letter? What doesn't she understand about love?

31 min
Beowulf-A Hero with Hidden Depths
7: Beowulf-A Hero with Hidden Depths

Beowulf is not an easy poem to understand, but Beowulf is not an easy character to understand. Here, analyze how this classic male hero-a big, strong, monster killer-may have a hidden vulnerability. Then, look at what insights Beowulf's story offers about life and death, the limits of self-reliance, and the path to achieving wisdom.

32 min
Thor-A Very Human God
8: Thor-A Very Human God

Thor may seem like another classic male hero-the god of thunder in Norse mythology and a superhero today-yet the Icelandic poems and stories from the 13th century undercut the image of Thor as a straightforward hero. These amusing tales will give you a new window into a character you thought you knew.

31 min
Robin Hood-The Outlaw Hero
9: Robin Hood-The Outlaw Hero

Who was Robin Hood? He's an anomaly in this course because his story cannot be traced to a single work or figure. Perhaps because of these gaps in the story, he seems to be a bundle of contradictions. Delve into the politics, religion, and society of Robin Hood's origins to understand his character and lasting appeal.

29 min
Don Quixote-The First of the Wannabes
10: Don Quixote-The First of the Wannabes

Turn next to Don Quixote, a wannabe knight-errant whose infamous exploits mark a pivotal moment in the history of literature. Explore his fantastic adventures and meet Sancho Panza, who is perhaps literature's first antihero. See why this novel is so innovative and how it has influenced writers in the centuries since its publication.

31 min
Robinson Crusoe-A Lone Survivor
11: Robinson Crusoe-A Lone Survivor

Robinson Crusoe might be the most flawed hero in the course-a colonizer and a slave-owning capitalist. Why, then, is he such an enduring character? Is it the desert-island story? Or is there something inherent in Crusoe's character, beyond the flaws, that has helped him stand the test of time?

30 min
Elizabeth Bennet-A Proper Pride
12: Elizabeth Bennet-A Proper Pride

Meet the charming heroine from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The story of her complicated relationship with Mr. Darcy is a realistic Cinderella story and has lent itself to numerous adaptations, including Bridget Jones's Diary. Consider the integral role that money and social class play in this classic tale of love and romance.

31 min
Natty Bumppo and Woodrow Call-Frontier Heroes
13: Natty Bumppo and Woodrow Call-Frontier Heroes

Shift your attention to two very American heroes: Natty Bumppo from James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans and Woodrow Call from Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove series. These frontier heroes bring to life the conflict between Anglo- and Native American cultures-and capture a reality often glossed over by the romance of the Wild West.

32 min
Uncle Tom-The Hero as Martyr
14: Uncle Tom-The Hero as Martyr

The name "Uncle Tom" has complex associations today, but Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel had a truly powerful impact when it was published in 1852. Explore the historical circumstances of slavery that inspired Stowe's novel, and then consider the fortitude that makes this meek, long-suffering character a hero.

32 min
Huckleberry Finn-Free Spirit of America
15: Huckleberry Finn-Free Spirit of America

Join Huck Finn on his American odyssey down the Mississippi River. Although the story at first seems to be the fun adventure of a free-spirited hero, you'll explore the moral complexities of 19th-century America as Huck struggles with the tension between his conscience and the social circumstances in which he grew up.

30 min
Sherlock Holmes-The First Great Detective
16: Sherlock Holmes-The First Great Detective

We are familiar with Sherlock Holmes's methodology-using clues, facts, evidence, and reason to solve the case. Here, go inside the world of the 19th century and see what circumstances paved the way for such a hero. Then, turn to some of Sherlock's most exciting cases.

31 min
Dracula-The Allure of the Monster
17: Dracula-The Allure of the Monster

The 19th century produced a radically different kind of hero: the spooky and fantastical Dracula. After observing the structural complexity of this novel, you'll examine the hidden fears and repressed sensuality that led Bram Stoker to create this vampire and his seductive brides. Then ponder Dracula's lasting effect on world literature.

33 min
Mowgli-The Wolf Child
18: Mowgli-The Wolf Child

A boy in the woods, raised by wolves and living by the law of the jungle: This story is familiar to us, thanks to Rudyard Kipling's classic stories and the later Disney film. Revisit the original stories to see what they tell us about humanity, morality, imperialism, and political responsibility.

30 min
Celie-A Woman Who Wins Through
19: Celie-A Woman Who Wins Through

We've seen that heroes don't always have to be gods or queens or the social elite. Dirt poor in Georgia in the 1930s, Celie-the heroine from Alice Walker's The Color Purple-is at the bottom of the social totem pole, yet she exhibits remarkable heroism in the way she overcomes the forces pressing against her.

31 min
Winston Smith-The Hero We Never Want to Be
20: Winston Smith-The Hero We Never Want to Be

Winston Smith, the central figure in George Orwell's nightmare scenario, 1984, is fearful, undernourished, and oppressed by the state-not exactly the image we conjure up when we think of the word "hero." Dive into the dystopia of Big Brother and Ingsoc and find out what makes Winston worthy of being called a hero.

32 min
James Bond-A Dangerous Protector
21: James Bond-A Dangerous Protector

Thanks to novels, movies, and an array of charismatic actors, nearly everyone in the developed world knows about James Bond and how he drinks his martini-"shaken, not stirred." But who is Bond? What makes him tick? Look beyond the girls, gadgets, and glamour and discover the secret to the James Bond franchise.

30 min
Fairy-Tale Heroines-New-Style Princesses
22: Fairy-Tale Heroines-New-Style Princesses

Cinderella. Snow White. Rapunzel. These fairy-tale heroines are imbued in our cultural consciousness. What lessons are they meant to teach? And do these lessons align with our current cultural values? Study the composite fairy-tale heroine, both in the classic fairy tales and in modern revisions from authors such as Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood.

33 min
Lisbeth Salander-Avenging Female Fury
23: Lisbeth Salander-Avenging Female Fury

Lisbeth Salander, the heroine from the popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, seems to be an original character well suited to our times-hip, ingenious, computer savvy. But as you'll discover in this lecture, her character also has echoes of ancient myths, from the Greek Furies to the Scandinavian Valkyries.

32 min
Harry Potter-Whistle-Blower Hero
24: Harry Potter-Whistle-Blower Hero

Finish your course with one of the most unexpected hits of our time-and a smash hit at that. What can the surprising success of Harry Potter teach us about successful heroes? And what do his battles against Lord Voldemort tell us about our world today and the need for love, faith, and inner heroism?

34 min
Thomas A. Shippey

There's nothing to beat a new idea, a new angle, a new response-except a new idea that people have been waiting for without knowing it; a new idea that responds to an existing new situation.

ALMA MATER

University of Cambridge

INSTITUTION

St. Louis University

About Thomas A. Shippey

Dr. Thomas A. Shippey is Professor Emeritus at Saint Louis University, where he held the Walter J. Ong, S.J., Chair of Humanities. He holds a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.\r\nProfessor Shippey has published more than 100 articles, mostly in the fields of Old and Middle English language and literature, and he has a long-standing interest in modern fantasy and science fiction. He is a regular reviewer for The Wall Street Journal on both medieval and modern topics, and he also writes for The Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books, among other journals. His books include The Road to Middle-earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology; Beowulf: The Critical Heritage (with Andreas Haarder); J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century; and his edited collection The Shadow-Walkers: Jacob Grimm’s Mythology of the Monstrous.\r\nHe has given invited lectures and keynote speeches at conferences in at least 25 states and more than 10 European countries. He appeared on an often-replayed television program, The Story of English, hosted by Robert McCrum and Robert MacNeil, and he was an adviser on pronunciation for Peter Jackson’s three Lord of the Rings movies.

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