[DWJ] Teaching Dark Lord again

Jackie E Stallcup jstallcup at juno.com
Mon Nov 2 20:44:04 EST 2009

I have been thinking about you all because I just taught Dark Lord of
Derkholm again this week.  For those of you who haven't been here for a
million years, the first time that I taught it, it was a complete and
utter disaster.  I'm not going into that again, but I'm reminding
everyone of this because this time it went really well!


This time around, I taught it in a grad course on Childhood and the
Fantastic, with students who are mainly fantasy fans.  Some are creative
writers and some are literature majors and I don't think I have anyone
who is in the class just for the units.  Last semester, I taught it in an
Honors seminar (and it went over well in there too), but some of the
students were there because they had to have the junior honors seminar
and this was the only one being taught.  

I don't remember if I told you about this last semester, but I found it
very interesting that the students in that Honors course who were, um,
rather unenthusiastic about fantasy *loved* DL.  As one student said, "I
can't get into fantasy, but here are people that I KNOW."   On the other
hand, my fantasy fans were rather tepid about it.  

This time again the class was split, but not so clearly along fan/non-fan
lines.  Some of my fantasy lovers loved it and some didn't.  Some aren't
really into high fantasy and enjoyed it until it became more "high
fantasy" like.  Those students who loved it are going on to Year of the
Griffin (which I personally like even more than DL).

In both of these more recent classes, I think it went over better because
I prepared them for it.  We read the Hobbit the week before and discussed
high fantasy as a genre, and then we talked about parody and satire. 
Then we read DL.  (yes, I'm now remembering that I did tell you this last
semester--because we had a nice discussion on the list about pairing
these up with The Paperbag Princess).

Anyway, once we were done discussing genre, we had a great conversation
about ethics and choices.  We also talked about DWJ's use of violence and
how it compared to the way that violence and war are portrayed in
Tolkien's work.  In the honors course, we talked a lot about what happens
to Shona when the soldiers escape, but this time it didn't even come up
(hmm.... now that I'm thinking about that, I wonder why?)

We also discussed evil and how evil is portrayed in Tolkien vs. DL: 
Sauron vs Mr. Chesney, Saruman vs Barnabas, orcs vs demon and dragon. And
where does Querida fit in?  Why does she seem to get off scot free with
no consequences at the end?  (I hadn't seen it that way, but the students
were pretty unforgiving about her deceit).

Anyway, a good time was had by all, I think.  The class as a whole makes
me think of what it would be like if we all could have a big face to face

We'll be doing Sabriel next week and pairing that up in the following
week with Christopher Moore's Dirty Job.  I'm sure most of you have read
Sabriel, but how about Dirty Job?  I love it but haven't taught it before
(and am being observed by my chair during that session--eep!)


On Mon, 2 Nov 2009 14:16:25 -0500 (EST) deborah.dwj at suberic.net writes:
> I've been trying to debug with problems for a couple of people,
> in one thing which keeps coming up is "I'm not sure if my
> subscription is fine because there haven't been any posts!"
> And it is true! We are being so quiet.
> I'm curious what people are reading. Me, mostly I'm caught up
> with the materials I'm reading for class, but it's been so long
> since we had a good general book discussion that I'm not sure
> what we've talked about. I'm pretty sure we have never talked
> about Jellicoe Road, and I'd really love to know if other people
> read that one.
> There are plenty of other places online where you can get people
> talking about Hunger Games/Catching Fire or Liar or the other big
> buzz books in young adult literature, but you guys are always
> really good with discussions of other kinds of books as well.
> I taught Dark Lord this fall and I think we had some good
> discussions about it. Ironically, I think that book isn't the
> most teachable, because its commentary is so very in your face,
> at least if you have any other familiarity with quest fantasy
> (and I find it the week after they read The Chronicles of
> Prydain, so they did).
> -deborah
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