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About Fantasy in Composition:

In his famous essay entitled On Fairy Stories, J. R. R. Tolkien tells us that “Fantasy is a natural human activity.” Mythologies and fairy stories have accompanied human evolution very closely, and even in the 21st century the Fantasy genre continues to provide entertainment and education to the masses. The Fantasy genre encompasses many things to many people: stories with vampires and werewolves are common, but fantasy often involves ghosts, demons, and other aspects of the supernatural. Magic is common, and the rules of the universe are often different. Science fiction is often closely linked with the fantasy genre. Giving us a broad definition of the genre, Terry Pratchett tells us in his essay Let There be Dragons that

I now know that almost all fiction is, at some level, fantasy. What Agatha Christie wrote was fantasy. What Tom Clancy writes is fantasy. … But what people generally have in mind when they hear the word fantasy is swords, talking animals, vampires, rockets (science fiction is fantasy with bolts on) and around the edges it can indeed by pretty silly. Yet fantasy also speculates about the future, rewrites the past, and reconsiders the present. It plays games with the universe.

Silly or not, I am a firm believer that Fantasy teaches us what it means to be human.This blog will seek to document how I explore this idea within the framework of Freshman Composition.

Composition is all about writing. I teach Freshman Composition at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA. VMI is a four-year, degree-granting, public college that offers training in both military and civilian sectors. I have been a faculty member here since 2009, and my duties involve teaching freshman about the importance of writing in both their professional and personal lives.

So, then, what do Fantasy and Composition have in common?

This title refers to a variety of concepts and ideas that I will explore with this blog:

  • Teachers often believe it is a fantasy about teaching composition that our students will leave our class with an understanding and appreciation about why writing is important in both their personal and profession lives. (I believe this fantasy can be made into reality.)
  • Other faculty have a fantasy about our classes as well: that we alone will teach our students everything they will ever need to know about composition. (I disbelieve in this fantasy.)
  • Students often believe it is a fantasy to receive an “A” on an English paper, either in a composition class or a literature class. (I disbelieve this one, too.)
  • And most importantly, the fantasy genre and science fiction sub-genre (in books and on television and the big screen) offers insight into all of the things we value in a composition classroom: language, communication, technology, culture, social awareness, and writing.

While there are many elements of classic fantasy I wish I could explore with my students, I am currently going to focus on contemporary fantasy – especially in television shows and movies. I do this for several reasons:

  • I believe that contemporary popular culture is important to my students and will therefore allow me to connect with them.
  • I believe there popular culture allows students to understand and relate to the world around them.
  • I believe that asking and requiring my students to think about popular culture as more than mindless entertainment teaches new ways of thinking that will be useful to them in their professional and personal lives.
  • I believe that the themes of many contemporary fantasy and science fiction television shows and movies contain the same themes of the classics we value: race, gender, class, religion, culture, war, death, morality, love etc.
  • I believe studying contemporary popular culture allows us to ask insightful and necessary questions relating to our culture and our cultural values.
  • Finally, I just love the genre and I know that if I teach what I love, I am more effective.

This blog will attempt to explore how I incorporate the fantasy and science fiction genres into my Freshman Composition courses at VMI. I hope to share things that worked well and things that didn’t and I also hope to share my own insights into why fantasy, especially in contemporary popular culture, is so important.


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