As shown by recent scholarly books such as Mark J. P. Wolf’s Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (2012), there has been a resurgence of interest in the creation of imaginary worlds as a human activity. While Wolf’s study is by no means the first to examine how successful worldbuilding works and when/why it fails — this is an interest as old as literature itself — his book is emblematic of a new branch of worldbuilding scholarship that aims to be more theoretically grounded, more widespread in the scope of its consideration, and more inclusive in the materials it considers.
Using Wolf’s book as a starting point, this course examines contemporary fantasy literature, its origins, and its offshoots. Beginning with Lord the Rings, we consider the development of epic fantasy as a genre and the techniques of worldbuilding used within that genre. While our required course reading will consider such many far-flung works of fantasy, such as A Game of Thrones, the Harry Potter series, the Chalion series, and The Name of the Wind, the class is constructed upon the understanding that fantasy is far too extensive a genre to even begin to survey in a single semester. Given this, students will be encouraged to bring other, outside reading into our discussions. In addition, while our required course materials will be books, the course recognizes that much fantasy worldbuilding is now happening in other areas, such a computer games, board games, movies, and television, and assignments are structured to provide students the opportunity to consider worldbuilding in those genres as well.