Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature

Course No. 2192
Professor Thomas A. Shippey, Ph.D.
St. Louis University
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Course No. 2192
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Course Overview

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.

Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature is an incredible opportunity to study some of the most memorable and important characters ever created. Taught by Professor Thomas A. Shippey of Saint Louis University—one of the most well-known scholars of J.R.R. Tolkien—these 24 eye-opening lectures give fresh insight into familiar characters and a generous survey of characters we may be less familiar with. We think we know Robin Hood, for instance, but where does his story originate? What made the medieval outlaw popular, and how has he been rewritten for modern times?

Delve into original sources and explore the notable impact of these characters on world history. Get an inside glimpse into the writer’s process and see how authors “write into the gap” to flesh out—or, in some cases, reimagine altogether—old stories, making them new for new readerships with changing cultural values. In Professor Shippey’s words, you’ll “trace the buried power lines of great and successful fiction.”

What does it mean to be a hero?

The word “hero” might bring to mind a strong, fearless warrior who swoops in to save the day. You’ll investigate several of these “traditional heroes,” and by examining what makes them such compelling characters, you’ll see how they provide a window to better understand ourselves.

  • Beowulf, the oversized monster slayer, is a model for the modern-day superhero, yet as he ages—and weakens—the epic poem treats us to a poignant look at vulnerability and the process of attaining wisdom.
  • Sherlock Holmes has a narrow-minded, self-centered, addictive personality, but he also gives us a new sense of human potential. He gives us the chance to outguess him—to see more clearly, to gather more information, to deduce faster.
  • James Bond allows us a certain kind of wish fulfillment: Men want to be him, and women want to date him. But beneath the charisma is a wounded and complex character.

Beyond these traditional heroes—strong, smart, glamorous—this course introduces you to other models of heroism. Characters who are meek, frail, or poor might run counter to our expectations for what makes a hero, but they play an important role in our imaginative world. For instance, you will

  • study Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, whose sexual autobiography perhaps makes her the first complex woman in literary history;
  • see how Sancho Panza’s role as an “antihero” deepens the story of Don Quixote;
  • consider the heroic qualities in Celie, the impoverished and abused protagonist of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple; and
  • reflect on what Harry Potter has to teach us about heroism.

What do heroes tell us about our culture?

Heroes and Legends gives you the chance to study 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 values—and the way historical circumstances pave the way for certain heroes.

Perhaps the best example is Frodo Baggins, the meek hobbit hero of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. In his opening lecture, Professor Shippey explains how, after the horrors of global war, the world was waiting for a down-to-earth hero, someone called to duty rather than born strong and fearless.

Throughout the course, you 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.

  • Trace the way different cultural eras have viewed Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot, from medieval admiration through Victorian prudery to modern sympathy.
  • Look at the relationship between love and romance on one hand and money and social class on the other in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
  • Reflect on Robinson Crusoe and the geography of undiscovered lands.
  • Revisit the American frontier and see what heroes such as Natty Bumppo (from Last of the Mohicans) and Woodrow Call (from Lonesome Dove) tell us about the myth of the Wild West and Manifest Destiny.

Just as history shapes heroes, so, too, do heroes shape history. From creating narratives that define a nation to redefining our sense of self and our relationships, great heroes have changed the course of history. Professor Shippey surveys a wealth of memorable stories, helping us understand why such heroes were necessary and how they continue to influence us today.

  • The mythical journey of Aeneas created a cultural history for ancient Rome and helped define its new imperial image.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe furthered the abolitionist cause with her saint-like Uncle Tom.
  • Winston Smith, the unlikely hero of George Orwell’s 1984, reinforced the need for vigilance against state control.
  • Writers such as Angela Carter who rewrote fairy tales in the 1970s constructed a new morality better suited for modern times.
  • Storytelling at Its Finest

    One of the most enjoyable aspects of the course is that it covers the high and the low. Rather than employing the traditional academic approach to “theme” and “symbolism” and dense critical language, Professor Shippey is interested in story, with its entertainment value and memorable characters.

    As such, he covers some canonical favorites—Homer, Virgil, Chaucer—but he also gives considerable attention to characters often ignored in academia, such as the “New Romancers” of the late 19th century and the fantasy writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. The result is an enjoyable approach to the great stories across the ages.

    At the heart of the course is Professor Shippey himself, a charming, top-notch storyteller who is as engrossed in (and moved by) these stories as we are. But as a true authority on his subject, he offers a unique viewpoint and fresh insights to every lecture, making this course a memorable—and moving—experience.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Frodo Baggins—A Reluctant Hero
    What makes certain characters successful? Begin your study with a look at Frodo Baggins, the hobbit-hero from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In considering what makes him a hero—and how he runs counter to our notions of the traditional hero—you’ll see how changing cultural values connect to heroism. x
  • 2
    Odysseus—The Trickster Hero
    Go back to the beginning of world literature to explore what made Homer’s traveling hero such a powerful figure. Odysseus’s story set the model for countless road narratives, but his character, which is surprisingly sly and resourceful, is unique. Here, follow him on some of his many adventures. x
  • 3
    Aeneas—The Straight Arrow
    Turn now to the Roman straight arrow. Aeneas’s story takes him from the Trojan War to the courtship of Queen Dido and on to the founding of Rome. In writing this epic, Virgil helped shape the Roman Empire’s sense of self. It also shows how old legends provide the inspiration for new tales. x
  • 4
    Guinevere—A Heroine with Many Faces
    Trace Guinevere’s adulterous affair with Lancelot and consider what effects it had on cultural values and Western history. As a powerful woman in the heart of King Arthur’s court, Guinevere is an intriguing heroine—passionate, strong-willed, and complex in a way that still captures our imagination today. x
  • 5
    The Wife of Bath—An Independent Woman
    Chaucer worked harder on the Wife of Bath than on any other character in The Canterbury Tales, leaving us not one but four separate perspectives on one of literature’s most memorable female characters. Discover what Chaucer reveals about her, the time she lives in, and the surprising complexity of her character. x
  • 6
    Cressida—A Love Betrayed
    Cressida is an archetypal femme fatale, embroiled in a love triangle between her true love, Troilus, and the bad boy, Diomedes. Through the lens of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the Scottish poet Robert Henryson, discover what makes Cressida tick—why does she send Troilus a “Dear John” letter? What doesn’t she understand about love? x
  • 7
    Beowulf—A Hero with Hidden Depths
    Beowulf is not an easy poem to understand, but Beowulf is not an easy character to understand. Here, analyze how this classic male hero—a big, strong, monster killer—may have a hidden vulnerability. Then, look at what insights Beowulf’s story offers about life and death, the limits of self-reliance, and the path to achieving wisdom. x
  • 8
    Thor—A Very Human God
    Thor may seem like another classic male hero—the god of thunder in Norse mythology and a superhero today—yet the Icelandic poems and stories from the 13th century undercut the image of Thor as a straightforward hero. These amusing tales will give you a new window into a character you thought you knew. x
  • 9
    Robin Hood—The Outlaw Hero
    Who was Robin Hood? He’s an anomaly in this course because his story cannot be traced to a single work or figure. Perhaps because of these gaps in the story, he seems to be a bundle of contradictions. Delve into the politics, religion, and society of Robin Hood’s origins to understand his character and lasting appeal. x
  • 10
    Don Quixote—The First of the Wannabes
    Turn next to Don Quixote, a wannabe knight-errant whose infamous exploits mark a pivotal moment in the history of literature. Explore his fantastic adventures and meet Sancho Panza, who is perhaps literature’s first antihero. See why this novel is so innovative and how it has influenced writers in the centuries since its publication. x
  • 11
    Robinson Crusoe—A Lone Survivor
    Robinson Crusoe might be the most flawed hero in the course—a colonizer and a slave-owning capitalist. Why, then, is he such an enduring character? Is it the desert-island story? Or is there something inherent in Crusoe’s character, beyond the flaws, that has helped him stand the test of time? x
  • 12
    Elizabeth Bennet—A Proper Pride
    Meet the charming heroine from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The story of her complicated relationship with Mr. Darcy is a realistic Cinderella story and has lent itself to numerous adaptations, including Bridget Jones’s Diary. Consider the integral role that money and social class play in this classic tale of love and romance. x
  • 13
    Natty Bumppo and Woodrow Call—Frontier Heroes
    Shift your attention to two very American heroes: Natty Bumppo from James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans and Woodrow Call from Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove series. These frontier heroes bring to life the conflict between Anglo- and Native American cultures—and capture a reality often glossed over by the romance of the Wild West. x
  • 14
    Uncle Tom—The Hero as Martyr
    The name “Uncle Tom” has complex associations today, but Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel had a truly powerful impact when it was published in 1852. Explore the historical circumstances of slavery that inspired Stowe’s novel, and then consider the fortitude that makes this meek, long-suffering character a hero. x
  • 15
    Huckleberry Finn—Free Spirit of America
    Join Huck Finn on his American odyssey down the Mississippi River. Although the story at first seems to be the fun adventure of a free-spirited hero, you’ll explore the moral complexities of 19th-century America as Huck struggles with the tension between his conscience and the social circumstances in which he grew up. x
  • 16
    Sherlock Holmes—The First Great Detective
    We are familiar with Sherlock Holmes’s methodology—using clues, facts, evidence, and reason to solve the case. Here, go inside the world of the 19th century and see what circumstances paved the way for such a hero. Then, turn to some of Sherlock’s most exciting cases. x
  • 17
    Dracula—The Allure of the Monster
    The 19th century produced a radically different kind of hero: the spooky and fantastical Dracula. After observing the structural complexity of this novel, you’ll examine the hidden fears and repressed sensuality that led Bram Stoker to create this vampire and his seductive brides. Then ponder Dracula’s lasting effect on world literature. x
  • 18
    Mowgli—The Wolf Child
    A boy in the woods, raised by wolves and living by the law of the jungle: This story is familiar to us, thanks to Rudyard Kipling’s classic stories and the later Disney film. Revisit the original stories to see what they tell us about humanity, morality, imperialism, and political responsibility. x
  • 19
    Celie—A Woman Who Wins Through
    We’ve seen that heroes don’t always have to be gods or queens or the social elite. Dirt poor in Georgia in the 1930s, Celie—the heroine from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple—is at the bottom of the social totem pole, yet she exhibits remarkable heroism in the way she overcomes the forces pressing against her. x
  • 20
    Winston Smith—The Hero We Never Want to Be
    Winston Smith, the central figure in George Orwell’s nightmare scenario, 1984, is fearful, undernourished, and oppressed by the state—not exactly the image we conjure up when we think of the word “hero.” Dive into the dystopia of Big Brother and Ingsoc and find out what makes Winston worthy of being called a hero. x
  • 21
    James Bond—A Dangerous Protector
    Thanks to novels, movies, and an array of charismatic actors, nearly everyone in the developed world knows about James Bond and how he drinks his martini—“shaken, not stirred.” But who is Bond? What makes him tick? Look beyond the girls, gadgets, and glamour and discover the secret to the James Bond franchise. x
  • 22
    Fairy-Tale Heroines—New-Style Princesses
    Cinderella. Snow White. Rapunzel. These fairy-tale heroines are imbued in our cultural consciousness. What lessons are they meant to teach? And do these lessons align with our current cultural values? Study the composite fairy-tale heroine, both in the classic fairy tales and in modern revisions from authors such as Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. x
  • 23
    Lisbeth Salander—Avenging Female Fury
    Lisbeth Salander, the heroine from the popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, seems to be an original character well suited to our times—hip, ingenious, computer savvy. But as you’ll discover in this lecture, her character also has echoes of ancient myths, from the Greek Furies to the Scandinavian Valkyries. x
  • 24
    Harry Potter—Whistle-Blower Hero
    Finish your course with one of the most unexpected hits of our time—and a smash hit at that. What can the surprising success of Harry Potter teach us about successful heroes? And what do his battles against Lord Voldemort tell us about our world today and the need for love, faith, and inner heroism? x

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Your professor

Thomas A. Shippey

About Your Professor

Thomas A. Shippey, Ph.D.
St. Louis University
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...
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Reviews

Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 69.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Unexpected Journey I normally gravitate more to the History Courses, so selecting this particular course was the result of a passing whim combined with one of the regularly enticing sales that the Teaching Company so frequently utilizes. In this case, I found the course to be not merely a pleasant diversion, but fun. Yes, there were two or three of the books reviewed that did not necessarily capture my interest, but for the most part, both the selection and the treatment were thoroughly engaging. I found the professor's presentation to be a bit quaint (I am also an "old guy"), but I actually enjoyed him and especially toward the end of the series where he shared just a bit of his own story and how it interacted with several of the books in the review. It is interesting to note that I have found myself reading a couple of the selections from the course and they were not the ones I would have chosen prior to listening to the course. Nicely done Professor Shippey!
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a superb, entertaining and thoughtful course Why are certain literary heroes, like Odysseus, Aeneas and Beowulf, immortal? The same question applies to characters like Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and Bilbo Baggins, who are as yet too new to be initiated into the canon, but look likely to join it in another few generations. Professor Thomas Shippey expertly asks and answers that question, starting with a look at JRR Tolkien's Hobbit saga. Anyone familiar with Professor John Bowers' course, The Western Literary Canon in Context (also excellent), is acquainted with the argument that Tolkien belongs in the canon alongside Dante and Shakespeare. Here, though, Professor Shippey starts his course with JRR Tolkien's creations, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, to show how they spoke to the zeitgeist and thereby gained durable fame. Bilbo and Frodo, small in stature and uninterested in the glory Odysseus craves, are the kind of heroes the post-WWI public was waiting for without knowing it. The hobbits overcome loneliness and terror similar to that encountered on the modern battlefield, which Tolkien and his early readers knew first hand. This is Professor Shippey's standard for a wildly successful literary creation-giving the public what they want even though they do not know they want it. With each hero he examines, Professor Shippey makes astute observations about the culture which produced him or her and the values which he or she embodies. Harry Potter, the last hero of the course, has to contend not only with his nemesis Voldemort, but also with being a celebrity, an agonizing challenge for an adolescent, and a new twist on the hero's story reflecting our celebrity-mad world. Robin Hood, on the other hand, embodies the rise of the English yeoman, skilled with the long bow, a weapon that put the yeoman on more equal footing with the armored knight. Professor Shippey does a wonderful job of summarizing each hero's story, and his account usually includes similar characters from other related stories. For example, the lecture on James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo also covers another American frontiersman, Woodrow Call, the hero the Lonesome Dove series. These compact accounts will whet your appetite to read (or reread) the stories. Lastly, early in the course, Professor Shippey says that heroes arise when civil order has crumbled, and people crave its return. If so, expect a new crop of old style heroes, gifted warriors who restore order with their weapons.
Date published: 2016-01-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but not Great When this course was released, I was very excited. Many of the characters I grew up with and the opportunity to learn more about them was tempting me to buy this course. In the end I found it to be good but it needed to be more than just as quick treatment of these heroes and legends. Professor Shippey, I felt gave a cursory glance at many of the characters. Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice is one example. The lecture felt like a Spark Notes version of the story with little commentary on the historical background to her character and society. It is not enough to say that in early 19th century Britain that women had to get married or face possible spinsterhood. However, there were some lectures I thought served their characters well. Guinevere showed me how Medieval people had complex views of women, which accounts for so many different adaptations of her story. On the one hand she is the innocent princess bride, on the other she is a tempting dominatrix. The Robinson Crusoe lecture made me uncomfortable for a couple reasons. One, he does not see any conflict between his Christian religion and engaging in the slave trade. He promises to take care of his slave Xury, only to sell him, and doesn't . Second he is an early imperialist who seeks any way to find how he can subjugate the land he occupies. It is a eerie foreshadowing of show Europeans will conquer the lands and people of Africa and Asia for profit and exploitation. Another one that I really like was on Dracula. For someone so famous, he absolutely deserved to be on this course. Professor Shippey had some very thought provoking questions about this famous vampire. Does he deserve pity, because as a vampire he cannot help being what he is? It was an intriguing idea. Dracula is a victim of vampirism and needs to be saved, just as Lucy Westenra had been. Harry Potter's lecture could have had more meat on it. Professor Shippey choose to look at him in only one novel, when he could have examined him both as the whistleblower hero and the hero of the boarding school novel. It was disappointing but considering that of all the characters chosen, Harry Potter is in the longest book series featured in this course. This course was more Western centric than it should have been. I think the watchers and listeners would have been better served if heroes and legends from Persia, India and China were represented. I also question the addition of the character Woodrow Call from Lonesome Dove. While the novel is great in its own right, I do not believe that he is as influential as Professor Shippey . I think that the title character of Own Wister's 1902 novel The Virginian would have been a more astute choice. The novel and its character are among the most influential in American culture, as it set the standard for Western literature and films for the entire century. Without the Virginian, there would have been no Woodrow Call. However, with all that being said, I would love it if the Great Courses would do another course on great literary characters. This lecture could easily have been 36 instead of 24 and there are just as many more iconic literary characters to be included such as Gilgamesh, Simbad, Oliver Twist, Sam Spade, Captains Ahab and Nemo, Scarlett O'Hara, the Phantom of the Opera, the Lady of the Camellias, Edward Waverly, Fa Mulan, and Frankenstein.
Date published: 2015-09-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Interesting Wide Slice of Literature's "Heroes" Shippey is well known for his works on Tolkien, which I have read some of, so I looked forward to this. Shippey brings in some true classics, like Odysseus, Robin Hood, Beowulf to modern (or at least recent) such as Frodo. He also smartly shows how Orwell's Winston Smith or Twain's Finn can also be seen as heroes. A couple choices are a bit off: Harry Potter and the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo may be successful, but they are too recent to be in the "most influential." Check back in 30 years. And who is still reading The Color Purple? On the other hand, I was surprised at what he pulled out of Ian Fleming's Bond books, and it will give you a new appreciation for those and the films. In the fairy tale lecture, he should have spent more time on the fairy tales, rather than the odd reinterpretations that hardly anyone reads. Overall, though, a worthwhile course. Go all the way through, or skip around to books you read.
Date published: 2015-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Baby bear's portion Although one reviewer complained that the professor spent too much time retelling the stories and another complained that he assumed the listener already knew them, I think he told enough to illustrate his points without giving an exhaustive rehash (which would have been impossible in the time he had anyway). Like baby bear's portions in the three bears it was just right. I have read most of the tales (though there seems no particular text for Thor or Robin Hood) and Prof Shippey told enough to remind me of the episodes he was highlighting. I haven't read The Color Purple and he told enough of the story for me to appreciate the points he made. I wanted to argue with him that desert island stories didn't begin with ocean travel. Philoctetes was marooned for years on the deserted island, Lemnos, during the Trojan War. Also that Tarzan showed more than just muscle (at least if you consider the whole of Burroughs Tarzan corpus). He learned to read English by finding some books although he had no prior knowledge of even the existence of written language or of English. A feat I believe impossible but certainly heroic. I consider the desire to argue with the instructor a pretty good sign that I got new ideas from the course.
Date published: 2015-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Course on Influences of Heroes and Legends Our lives, culture and history have been influenced by heroes and legends. In the history and literature of humanity, there are hundreds if not thousands of heroes and legends. Selecting only 24 of these of this course would not have been an easy task for Professor Shippey. However, Professor Shippey has provided an interesting selection of 24 heroes and legends for the course. These heroes and legends span a wide spectrum of good and bad and of hopes and fears. Some of the heroes are from modern times and some from classics from antiquity. Some of the reviewers may not agree with Professor Shippey’s selection but I believe this selection to be a fair and balanced representation of the numerous heroes and legends. I recommend this course to anybody who wants a better understanding of how heroes and legends have influenced other lives, our culture, and our language.
Date published: 2015-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Value Rare insights from a superior mind. I recommend this professor and lecture series highly to those who wish to be further enlightened about what they thought they already knew, but didn't even guess at.
Date published: 2015-03-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed This was one of my great disappointments - perhaps because I had such high expectations. I had hoped to use this as part of a homeschool literature course but we abandoned it halfway through. The lectures are more a retelling of the stories rather than providing indepth analysis of the stories themselves. There's more about what happened than context or setting or relevance. It's almost there...if only Professor Shippey had come at these lectures from the perspective that people watching the course had already ready the books then it would have allowed him to go into the depth that he clearly knows. A 30 minute lecture is brief enough as it is, but if you take up half that time with retelling there's not much left. As an aside if you have an issue with Anglicised rendering of names, then a half an hour of Don Quix-oat will probably push you over the edge.
Date published: 2015-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Odd choice of characters I have always loved literature and the characters portrayed or invented. I have read many of the books - some of them, such as the Odyssey and the Lord of the Rings, numerous times - in which the heroes appear, or, in some cases, seen movies based on the characters. I found the course illuminating and thought provoking. I may not have agreed with all the opinions or conclusions of Professor Shippey, but I was never bored or at a loss to follow his argument or presentation. The one missing person, in my opinion, was the explorer/adventurer, as exemplifies by Indiana Jones, or the writings of H. Rider Haggard or Jules Verne. But then, one cannot have everything.
Date published: 2015-02-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from HEROES AND LEGENDS It was not as interesting as I wanted, it went in one ear and out the other, I might not watch it again are maybe I will to something out of the course
Date published: 2015-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but Because Professor Shippey's background is England/India rather than American, he has different perspective which made me think about his choices quite a bit. This really came across in his selection of Mowgli whom I doubt that an American could have given much thought to. I completely disagree with his inclusion on Winston Smith. 1984 certainly influenced all of us, but not Winston. On the other hand, his inclusion of Natty Bumppo and the writings of James Fenimore Cooper pleasantly surprised me. I knew that we have a western mystic in our American psyche, but Professor Shippey really explained to me where this came from. I think what confused me is the inclusion of many heroes so when Dracula or Robinson Crusoe showed up I was thrown. I reviewed the title of the course at that point and realized that he was now looking at influence in literature rather than heroism. This confusion accounts for my rating of 4 stars rather than 5. Don't avoid this course, but be prepared for the shifts between heroes and characters of influence. By the way, the two courses I added which are taught by Professor Paxton are must haves! Enjoy!
Date published: 2014-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great story teller This professor can certainly tell a yarn and keep one interested. I admire his willingness to tackle Odysseus, The Aeneid, and Don Quixote in ½ hour lectures. His talk about Beowulf is worth the cost, as is his talk on the Wife of Bath. One wonders how he would have addressed Milton's Satan and Hamlet. He provides fresh insights to those of us that have read some of these books many times, and his enthusiasm is catching.
Date published: 2014-12-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable I felt like I learned a lot, in an enjoyable fashion. I came away wanting to read new books and wanting to meet new characters. Very good experience.
Date published: 2014-11-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Entertaining I consistently looked forward to watching these lectures. Professor Shippey is an entertaining and gifted lecturer. I thought his early lectures were some of his most engaging. Shippey actually made me want to spend time reading about Odysseus, Aeneas, Thor, and Guinevere – literary figures I haven’t been interested in learning much about. While I enjoyed this course, I was disappointed that the lectures weren’t more in-depth. I expected more analysis and less summary. No doubt this is because I have a graduate degree in British and American literature and have talked about many of these books in classes throughout my college and graduate years. I felt that many of these lectures could be lifted to fit any literature course that wanted to give an overview of that particular character/story. Those are my only complaints though. I think this is a worthwhile course for anyone, but especially for those who may not be familiar with the majority of the heroes and heroines Shippey discusses.
Date published: 2014-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent review of literary figures We thoroughly enjoyed this course. It helped me look at some of my most beloved fictional friends in a new light, and introduced my husband to some of them for the first time. I truly appreciated the balance between heroes and heroines. Too often in The Canon the ladies are overlooked. If you put together another survey on villains, we'll be the first in line to pick it up. Thanks
Date published: 2014-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Enjoyable This was like a survey course of all the things you ought to remember about the characters you have read about or seen on the silver screen. His pick as Frodo as the first "hero" to dissect set the stage for the rest of the cast of characters to discuss. We picked this as a good listen for a road trip from Illinois to Colorado and back. We were entertained as we gained insight into 24 characters he selected as hero archetypes in literature through the ages.
Date published: 2014-10-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from could be interesting but is not The topics are interesting, but there are problems: 1. He assumes that we have read the stories & makes comments that are not too meaningful if we have not read the stories. He should first make at least a brief summary of the story. 2. He often refers to other authors or reviewers that are not clearly tied into what he is talking about. 3. His British accent is frustrating. I am hard of hearing & miss a lot due to his pronunciation.
Date published: 2014-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from At the end, begin again To delight and instruct, and inspire tired minds to take up the classics and new legends with renewed interest -- that's what this excellent course accomplishes. When I finished the last lecture, I was ready to watch the entire series again and begin reading. The course provides such an interesting perspective -- never a dull moment. A resounding thank you for this course!
Date published: 2014-08-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Potpourri of Summaries and Personal Reflections After completing over fifty Teaching Company courses, I found little incentive to complete this course. I entered with high expectations of great insights into important figures in literature. Perhaps if I had looked more closely at the list of lectures, I might have passed on the purchase. However, I simply trusted that the Teaching Company would make sure that the lectures would be interesting and significant. Probably the best part of some of the lectures involved the summary of the works from which the "heroes and legends" were taken. The choice of characters seemed strange and then the actual description of why Professor Shippey considered them important seemed even stranger. It is as if he first decided that he wanted to pick a human characteristic, either positive or negative, and then pulled a character from literature to fit that characteristic rather than giving a full description of a complex character. In addition, his at times strident voice was challenging to listen to. In summary, this is one of the least enjoyable and educative of the company's literature course.
Date published: 2014-08-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Entertaining But Not Educating First, let me put in the good points. Prof. Shippley does a terrific job engaging the listener in each individual lecture. His delivery is excellent, with his British accent adding a certain cachet to each lecture. I found myself looking forward to each new lecture as the previous one ended. I listen to lectures during my commute, and the lecturer makes a wonderfully entertaining travel companion. Now, the downside. Too many of the character choices seem to be driven by Prof. Shippley's idiosyncratic preferences, ignoring more influential and important characters in literature. Obviously, any such attempt to distill down literature to 24 "most influential characters" is going to leave out some favorites, but ignoring Shakespeare entirely is a glaring omission. No Falstaff, no Hamlet, no Iago or Richard III. At every step, he chooses some characters that I would consider obscure in favor of more well known exemplars. Aeneas, but not Oedipus. Mowgli, but not Tarzan. Cressida and Guinevere seem to be inserted solely to bulk up the number of female characters. The lecturer roots the importance of each character to their social milieu, and never inquires into the psychological reasons some characters speak to us over thousands of years, and other fall by the wayside. I was hoping for a more structured, Jungian approach that would explore why some characters have endless repetition and duplication. The bottom line for me is that these are cracking good stories, but I do not feel like my critical understanding of literature has been enhanced.
Date published: 2014-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly Entertaining I found Professor Shippey's audio course delightfully entertaining. He is a great story teller and presents the concept of "hero" in a refreshingly modern and expansive way - including classic examples such as Odysseus, Beowulf and Thor, but also more unlikely examples (which make up the bulk of these lectures) - such as Chaucer's Wife of Bath, Stowe's Uncle Tom and Stoker's Dracula. I especially liked the earlier lectures where he brought out essential (and often flawed) qualities of some better known characters of literature. For example, I loved his summary of Robin Hood as being someone modern American's could easily recognize; a democratic liberty loving hero who would support the NRA, dislike lawyers, politicians and bureaucrats, vote for the Tea Party, and of course, hunt deer! But towards the end I thought he was stretching at times to include an appropriately wide range of characters. Yet it all worked well to illustrate his point - that heroes and heroines can be found in unexpected places, and are effective not because they are ideals of perfection, but because they express the diversity of the human heart, and show what is possible for even the most humble of us. Throughout the 24 lectures Professor Shippey's delivery was top notch, both charming and insightful. And his English/Scottish accent and emotive intonations were very enjoyable to listen to. Although he pointed out some distinctive archetypal qualities of these heroes, he also shied away from overly psychological analysis. And while this understated approach was refreshing, it also meant he left out detailed discussion of the deeper levels of the timeless (transpersonal) meanings of these stories which Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell did so much to illuminate (I would so love for Great Courses to offer a series on these two…). Instead, Shippey focused more on contemporary social and personal themes such as corruption, racism and sexism. This gave him a platform to include just about any character he fancied, so that it wasn't surprising to have him begin with Frodo Baggins and end with Harry Potter. Along the way I would not have been surprised if he had included Jesus Christ from the Bible or Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill. Overall I was left with the feeling that literature, like ancient mythology, is the best that humanity can offer (compared to a more pedantic study of the sciences, philosophy or religion), since it tells it's stories with a healthy dose of humor, skepticism, ambiguity and heart.
Date published: 2014-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New sheriff in town Dr Shippey is new to TGC. He is excellent and I certainly hope he is seen again. For those with exposure to other professors in this series I think a good comparison can be made with Dr Fears ( of whom I am a great fan). Imagine Fears with a british accent, a bit more thoughtful, and less bombastic and you have a pretty good idea of Shippery. Now I still prefer Fear's humor, and I guess I just like bombast because I rank him higher. The material is a review of major characters of literature with some interesting choices: Frodo Baggins (interesting how LORD OF RINGS) continues to asend in literary circles): Dracula (metaphor for STD and uncontolled lust in victorian England) this is certainly not a new Idea, but presented well. James Bond , Shippey reviews books and movies on this Icon. Hard core literary types (people who have actually read REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST) , may well find some of this material too elementary for there tastes. Most others will quite enjoy! l
Date published: 2014-05-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from More story summaries than analysis Parts of the lectures were interesting but the lectures were only in a small degree about the actual character of the heroes, and far more just general summaries of the stories in which they occurred. In additional, some of the heroes (for example, Chaucer's wife of Bath and Guinevere) didn't strike me at all as belonging among the most influential characters of literature... felt like they were thrown in to give a few more female heroes. Furthermore, the course as a whole had a feeling of disunity to me: like there wasn't a string to tie all the beads together... each lecture included story summary with some brief comments on a few key qualities in the characters with some passing allusions to other lectures, but a lack of analysis that required any of the lectures to need what was developed an other lectures; it was less a unified course the developed some deeper theme than a collection of 24 talks that each stood fairly independently. So, overall, despite liking most courses, I really didn't care for this one.
Date published: 2014-05-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Bit on the Light Side! In this series of lectures, Professor Thomas Shippey unabashedly discusses a wide range of fictional characters, from Odysseus to Lisbeth Salander. He spends much time summarizing the plot of the works in which they appear. This is useful to those who have not recently read these _ or perhaps never read them at all_ but implies that the actual analysis conveyed is rather limited. For instance, no discussion is attempted as to why so many characters known world-wide are of British origin: Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, James Bond, Harry Potter etc. Though he speaks with a rather gruff voice and clearly reads out his lectures, Professor Shippey comes out as a friendly grandfather figure. He is certainly highly knowledgeable but remains modest and it is through passing references that the listener becomes aware that his mother language is an Indian tongue, that he learned Scots in boarding school and that he certainly adequately speaks French and German given his fine pronunciation of certain phrases in either language. Overall, this course is certainly enjoyable though not extraordinarily substantial.
Date published: 2014-04-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing despite some very positive reviews Despite the very enthusiastic early reviews of this course, I found it a major disappointment. After getting to the halfway point of the course, I actually returned it because I found the content unsatisfying. The lectures followed a fairly consistent formula: a character is introduced; a few words are said to give context to both the character and the work as a whole; a synopsis of the story illustrates the character's traits; and a few concluding remarks are made in summary. I have no issue with the formulaic structure of the lectures, but in my opinion far too much time is spent on the synopses, and too little time is spent on the context and analysis. Do we really need to hear how Odysseus outwits the cyclops in drawn-out detail? Or how much trouble Thor runs into in a wrestling match? Most of the characters and stories I'm painfully familiar with, but I wanted to hear so much more about the context...why do we see a 'Heroic Age' after a civilization collapses? How did Robin Hood go from being a medieval Tea Partier (the professor's label, not mine) to a socialist icon? How did the unlikely heroes Bilbo and Frodo resonate with a post World War audience? The course seemed to have so much promise, but fell so far short. I had no issues with the lecturer's style, except perhaps his use of the old British pronunciation of Don Quixote, 'Don Quick-sot'. But this is really a minor quibble, given that I didn't enjoy the course.
Date published: 2014-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring and Informative I loved this course. Just wish it had more heroes and heroins. The course does an excellent job of telling you who they were, why they were important in their time, why they are still important, where they fit in literary history. These heroes span over 3,000 years and take many forms. Learned a lot from this course,
Date published: 2014-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Marvelous course What a wonderful experience it has been listening to Professor Shippey analyze what makes a hero! In these entertaining, though-provoking lectures, he shows us that there is not one archetype hero with a thousand faces. Rather, there are innumerable heroes that express different cultural values, different eras, and different aspects of heroism. An absolutely delightful series!
Date published: 2014-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Hero With Twenty-Four Faces A phrase mentioned in this lecture series is “the hero with a thousand faces,” which was coined by the scholar Joseph Campbell to describe the hero archetype in world mythology. In the compact structure of twenty-four lectures, this Great Course might be appropriately titled “The Hero With Twenty-Four Faces.” Our lecturer, Professor Thomas A. Shippey, is an expert on the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien. In his analysis of the hobbit hero, Frodo Baggins, the professor carefully places “The Lord of the Rings” in the context of Tolkien’s writing in the interwar period of the 1930s and extending through the global conflict of World War II. When Frodo exclaims, “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” his words recall those of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who asserted that “peace in our time” was achieved in his fateful Munich pact with Hitler in 1938. Those words would reverberate for decades as the essence of appeasement. For Tolkien, this is the antithesis of the hero’s quest that Frodo Baggins must fulfill. A study of the great heroes places us in touch with the essential awe and mystery of life. The characters described in this lecture series share the goal of blazing a trail into the unknown. When Odysseus leaves the comfort zone of Calypso’s island after seven years of living in luxury, he must navigate uncharted waters in order to return to Ithaca. When Lancelot attempts to rescue Guinevere, he literally encounters “the edge of a razor.” When Huckleberry Finn breaks the law in order to protect his friend Jim, who is a slave, Huck is asserting the prerogative of the hero as the founder of a new and higher moral authority. In some instances, the authors themselves demonstrate heroism in the act of literary creation, especially Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Orwell, and Alice Walker. In this course, the range and variety of character selections are superb, as we relive the journeys of the twenty-four heroes. In recounting the stories, the lecturer draws on a wealth of examples from literary works. The lively presentations are salted with wit, as the professor provides examples from both the literature of the past and popular culture today. And for icing on the cake, Professor Shippey has a smooth lecturing style with crystal clear articulation, plus the cadences, inflections, and brogue resembling those of the actor Sean Connery. In such a wide range of stories, it becomes apparent that the adventure of the hero is the adventure of being alive. This material is so engaging that, upon completion of the course, it is difficult not to want to undertake the reading of all twenty-four of these extraordinary works of literature. The course should have an appeal to those already familiar with the literature, as well as to young people for whom the course may serve as an introduction to these unforgettable characters. A hero is defined by deeds that transcend the ordinary range of human experience. As we read these works of literature, a pattern emerges in the journeys of the characters: they are all making a voyage into the unknown, sacrificing their needs for those of others. While the outcome is uncertain, the journey itself is enlightening, as the hero draws upon his or her inner strength for the crucible that lies ahead. As we become engaged in their stories, it becomes clear that the journeys of these great heroes may also be our own. COURSE GRADE: A
Date published: 2014-03-12
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