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Publisher's Summary

The overwhelming success of the Lord of the Rings films and the Harry Potter series aptly demonstrates that the fantasy genre is alive and well in the new millennium. The names of authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Terry Brooks evoke ripe tales of heroism and the clash of good versus evil in magical, faraway lands. The rich collection of King Arthur tales have also captured the imagination of millions and resonates with audiences to the present day.

Should fantasy be considered serious literature, or is it merely escapism? In this course, the roots of fantasy and the works that have defined the genre are examined. Incisive analysis and a deft assessment of what makes these works so very special provides a deeper insight into beloved works and a better understanding of why fantasy is such a pervasive force in modern culture.

©2006 Michael D.C. Drout (P)2006 Recorded Books

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Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

An Informative, Stimulating, and Enjoyable Class

I enjoyed Professor Michael D. C. Drout???s 14-lecture class on modern fantasy, which mainly focus on J. R. R. Tolkien, which is fine, because Tolkien is a major figure in modern fantasy. Professor Drout has a pleasing enthusiasm and a comprehensible clarity as he lectures.

After discussing the fantasy genre (a hybridization combining oral epics with novelistic techniques and concerns), Drout limns the origins of modern fantasy (Victorian works like the Alice books, The Waterbabies, and The Princess and the Goblin), and then dives into Tolkien, depicting relevant facts about his life and philological study before assessing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as difficult work like The Silmarillion and important scholarly essays on Beowulf and fantasy. Drout next covers two followers of Tolkien, Brooks the imitator and Donaldson the reactor, as well as two ???worthy inheritors??? who create fantasy as aesthetically and thematically consistent and compelling as that of Tolkien: Ursula K. Le Guin and Robert Holdstock. He then discusses children???s fantasy (Narnia, The Dark is Rising, Prydain, and a bit of Rowling and Pullman) and then the Arthurian genre (T. H. White, Mary Stewart, and Marion Zimmer Bradley). He concludes with a chapter on magical realism (Borges and Garcia-Marquez), arguing that, unlike most modern fantasy, it denies rather than provides healthy escape and is oriented around tragedy rather than Tolkieniean eucatastrophe.

I like the many insights that Drout provides as he lectures, like about Le Guin???s solution to death in The Other Wind or about class in The Hobbit or about the way in which Peter Jackson???s movies make Tolkien???s world smaller. Sure, I wish he???d have covered more authors (like L. Frank Baum, Lord Dunsany, E. R. Eddison, Robert E. Howard, Mervyn Peake, or Michael Swanwick) and to have gone into more detail in non-Tolkien chapters, but that only shows how much I enjoyed his ???class??? and wished it could have been twice as long.

23 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

One of my very favorite Audibles ever!

I've been going through some family health crisis stuff lately and I find that's Drout's lectures are so fascinating they are the one thing that can completely take my mind off my problems. I started with his lecture on Anglo Saxon stuff and was delighted to find this one when I finished. I downloaded and saved it for a day I expected to get some bad news. Sure enough... it was bad but like magic this lecture kept my mind occupied for hours on end and left me in a good mood. I didn't realize there would be so much on The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings my two favorite books of all time. I've no interest whatever in poetry and writing but I'm thinking about getting those lectures too. The guy is just so enthusiastic about the material. What a treasure!

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Insightful and Entertaining

Prof Drout is both extremely knowledgeable and an excellent lecturer. His enthusiasm for the subject is contagious; it's also very good to hear an audio course where the professor is truly lecturing rather than reading notes or a teleprompter.

Half the course (7 of 14 lectures) is dedicated to Tolkien, but perhaps that's fitting given the way he dominates the literature of the fantastic. However, the other authors who are discussed (Brooks, Donaldson, LeGuin, Holdstock, Lewis) are given good coverage as well. And the discussion of broader topics (what is fantasy, origins of fantastic literature, children’s fantasy, Arthurian fantasy, magical realism) are very interesting and insightful as well.

Highly recommended.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Engaging voice, ,disappointing content

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

I expected a good, thorough overview of fantasy literature. Instead, the professor spent over half the class summarizing Tolkien's stories. I'm sorry, but even if I hadn't read Tolkien, I can get plot synopses on Wikipedia. I wanted more discussion of different types of fantasy, etc. The professor also showed a surprising ignorance of children's fantasy... he claimed that 1980-1995 was a desert for children's fantasy, ignoring important works by writers such as Jane Yolen, Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Peter Dickinson, and Diana Duane.

What about the narrator’s performance did you like?

Michael Drout's manner and voice was engaging & easy to listen to. No complaints there.

What character would you cut from The Modern Scholar?

Much, MUCH less Tolkien summary, please! I love Tolkien as much as the next fantasy nerd, but... no, this class didn't need to consist mainly of retelling his stories.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Tolkien Tunnel Vision

Is there anything you would change about this book?

Professor Drout's breadth of knowledge for medieval literature is both obvious and rather impressive too. But whether that holds true for fantasy too is somewhat less certain here. His exhaustive focus on Tolkien monopolizes nearly all of this lecture series, and while Brooks, Le Guin and Donaldson are discussed, others are conspicuous by their nagging absence. Neither Michael Moorcock nor George Martin are mentioned at all, leaving the listener to wonder if they've been deliberately excluded, despite their enormous contributions, for defying the themes of epic fantasy that Tolkien himself found so endearing. This excessive concentration on Tolkien, and the gross omission of two giants, is a bit of a slap, given their influence.

A comparative look at the genre's evolution would have been something to truly enjoy here. He engages in this with the writers included, but with the exception of Donaldson, the rest never pushed the envelope into corners as yet unvisited. Relating to Moorcock and Martin's work would have accomplished this more effectively. How the Ring of Power, whose implications he addresses so well, relates to a weapon like Stormbringer, Elric's treacherous magic sword. How each affected the fates of characters, as well as their authors' respective worlds. How Aragorn compares perhaps, with a character such as Daenerys Targaryen, who like him, is an uncertain yet worthy heir to a dynasty in forced exile. These were the sorts of things I was hoping for. These were the things I really missed.

The portion on magical realism is nothing short of excellent, though why he feels the need to draw sharp distinctions - between it and fantasy in this day and age - is really somewhat puzzling. It speaks to a need to simply reject "dark fantasy" of the epic variety, which comes off very nearly as the kind of literary discrimination he criticizes, in realists like Henry James.

So these lectures are well thought out and presented. If you're mainly into J.R.R. Tolkien.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent, entertaining and illuminating!

This series of lectures is absolutely amazing! The Professor absolutely LOVES his subject and makes listening to the series a pure joy. I'm a big Fantasy geek, but this series has given me new insight into the genre as well as sparked my interest in books I might not have otherwise read. (Harry Potter) Over half the lectures focus on Tolkien, for good reason. The father of modern fantasy is explored and I learned more about Tolkien and Lord of the Rings in just a week of listening to these lectures than I have in years. He doesn't over analyze Tolkien like some people tend to do, but definitely treats him with the respect he deserves. It's also fun to hear him read some of the poems in Elvish etc... He touches on the Earthsea books and a number of other fantasy books as well. I would like to have heard his take on some books and authors he left out, (The Last Unicorn, the Sword of Truth) however I was more than pleased with this course and will listen to it over and over again. 5 stars for anyone interested in Fantasy!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Margaret
  • San Francisco, CA USA
  • 05-05-12

A whole new appreciation

What made the experience of listening to The Modern Scholar the most enjoyable?

Prof Drout's enthusiasm shines through his lectures.

Any additional comments?

I got several new ideas of books to read that I've never considered before. And a better understanding of Tolkien and his work.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good Read But Wanted More

I enjoyed the scholarly view of some of my favorite works by Prof. Drout. I had not listened to a scholar book of this nature before and did not know what to expect but he delivered quite nicely. He takes us from early mythology up through Tolkien and into the modern age of fantasy writers and stories. I only wish it had been a little longer and with a bit more detail in spots.
That being said I do plan on reading Drout's Science Fiction companion to this book, From Here to Infinity: An Exploration of Science Fiction Literature.

Prof Drout was a bit hard to listen to in the beginning but once I caught on to his cadence it made things a bit easier to follow. Listen to the example, some people might be put off just a bit by this.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Christa
  • Decatur, Georgia, United States
  • 12-01-11

Wish it had been longer.

This series of lectures was very interesting, and I think any fan of the fantasy genre would appreciate learning more about its history and origins. Professor Drout spends a great deal of time on Tolkien, and while he may be correct in his idea that Tolkien is the 'father' of the field and all writers following are either imitating or reacting against his influence, I would have liked to have seen a wider exploration of authors and styles.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ralph
  • Newberry, SC, United States
  • 08-22-10

I love all of Drout's audiobooks

I have listen to almost all of the Drout Modern Scholar lectures. They are all very informative and I have learned much from them. This book talked about several fantasy books and give lots of analysis of the books. There is a big focus on Tolkien, but it is a merited one. I was very happy with the book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mark
  • 07-26-15

A fantastic lecture

Where does The Modern Scholar rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Amongst the best

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Modern Scholar?

I enjoyed listening to the heroes quest section.

Have you listened to any of the narrator’s other performances? How does this one compare?

From Here to Infinity - I feel this was the better of the two.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Bernd
  • 07-20-15

Very enjoyable explanations and narratives.

If you could sum up The Modern Scholar in three words, what would they be?

I't always an delectation to hear one of The Great Courses. I bought a lot of them and appreciate all of them. As a German without former English experience I could improve my language knowledge und learn parallel many interesting stuff to diverse fields.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Modern Scholar?

It was the moment when I finished my first book of the "Great Couses. Starting it as a beginner of English I had concluded it as a advanced learner. The same is true for some other works by the Great Courses.

Have you listened to any of the narrator’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Yes, I heard about 6 books from the same narrator (he is also the author). It`s always high quality.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It was instructive and very good to hear for hours. But cause all the books are nonfictional, there was sparsely emotion to appreciate. But sometimes it was very amusing.

Any additional comments?

I recommend this book without reservations.