Heroes and Legends: the Most Influential
Characters of Literature
With Dr. Thomas Shippey

Facilitated by Cameron Bove, Monday Scholars is a weekly series that meets in the library’s Jamie Gagarin Community Room. The series combines the best of online learning with the best of classroom discussion. Each week, a new lecture topic will be watched and discussed. All participants need to do is come ready to engage their minds and participate in the discussion.
Heroes hold a special place in our imagination. Names such as Odysseus, Beowulf, and Queen Guinevere summon up mythic legends, while Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Huckleberry Finn are some of the most recognizable figures in all of world literature. Robinson Crusoe and Elizabeth Bennet are as real to us today as they were when Daniel Defoe and Jane Austen first created them. Meanwhile, Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, and Lisbeth Salander are heroes for our age and the legends of the future.
What do these memorable characters have in common? Why do we turn to certain stories again and again? And what impact have they made on world history? The answers to these questions tell us more than you might think. Great heroes have lasting power because they offer templates for behavior by showing us models of courage and fortitude. Whether by reinforcing traditional values or challenging values in flux, heroes reflect the mores of society. Some, such as Uncle Tom from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel, have changed the course of history, while others have inspired countless leaders, writers, and artists.
Throughout the course, we will analyze stories through the lens of culture and find out how our changing culture and values affect our sense of what makes a good hero, and how our heroes reflect the mores of our society.
We will study and discuss a diverse spread of characters from the beginnings of world literature through today’s bestsellers. In addition to exploring the core of what makes a character successful, the breadth of this course provides a window on our shifting cultural value – and the way historical circumstances pave the way for certain heroes.
Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature is an incredible opportunity to study and discuss some of the most memorable and important characters ever created.
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.
Professor 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. He was also an adviser on pronunciation for Peter Jackson’s three Lord of the Rings movies.

Mondays, May 1 – June 12, 12:30 – 2 pm

Free
Registration required

Oliver Wolcott Library
160 South Street
Litchfield

860-567-8030
www.owlibrary.org