Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature's Most Fantastic Works

Course No. 2997
Professor Eric S. Rabkin, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
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Course No. 2997
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Course Overview

Many of literature's greatest works, from ancient myths to the works of Nobel laureates, rely on fantasy. Even when there has been a dominant preference for realism, generation after generation of readers have been drawn to stories of the fantastic not only for what they help us learn about ourselves as individuals and about our collective selves but also for what they show about our social values.

What can fairy tales and science fiction stories reveal about the psyches of individuals and nations? How does the literature of the fantastic reflect historical periods and preoccupations?

Join Professor Eric S. Rabkin, one of the world's foremost authorities on the literature of the fantastic and science fiction, as he takes you on a journey to explore Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind, Literature's Most Fantastic Works. You'll study strange tales of talking frogs and cannibal witches through Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to Arthur C. Clarke's astonishing 2001: A Space Odyssey and beyond. Focusing on the early 19th century to contemporary times, Professor Rabkin casts a wide net for fantastic works and delves deeply into some of the most astounding. You'll learn about the works and times of Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Franz Kafka, Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and more.

Once Upon a Time: The Lessons of Fairy Tales

In the early 19th century, two German brothers, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, sought to demonstrate the deep significance of German culture. In the process they collected oral tales, which they believed were handed down from prehistory. These fairy tales, including "Hansel and Gretel," "Rapunzel," and "Snow White," are certainly tales of the fantastic, but they also have profound lessons to teach. What they teach us, however, is not always classic morality. One tale ("Rumpelstiltskin") shows that it is better to be beautiful than honest; another ("The Little Tailor") demonstrates that you can lie your way up the social ladder from peasant to king. Others, such as "Cinderella," offer consolations, ways of symbolically moving through difficult transitions in life.

Fantastic Works of Literature

The imaginative minds of the 19th century did not leave the fantastic to ancient folk tales. E. T. A. Hoffmann, for example, an energetic and creative German Romantic who died in 1822, created his own wildly fantastic tales. Both Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet and the Offenbach opera Tales of Hoffmann are based on Hoffmann's tales. Hoffmann's stories even probe the psychology of fantasy itself and anticipate by a century Freud's theories of the power of the unconscious.

In the mid-19th century, writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe in the United States and Lewis Carroll in England explored their own notions of the fantastic and its powers on the reader. Hawthorne wrote fanciful stories about scientists who lose their way, often as a result of torturous love. The masterful Poe mixed fantastic situations and the torments of the human heart. Lewis Carroll's two Alice books are fantastic masterpieces, challenging our notions of language and reality.

Social Criticism and the Imaginative Mind

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, imaginative minds were creating astonishing and bizarre worlds, weaving into the fabric of their narratives a significant strand of social criticism. H. G. Wells criticized Victorian sexual repression in The Invisible Man and imperialism in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Franz Kafka created fantastic tales, many of which were critical of society's institutions. Virginia Woolf wrote a novel Orlando critical of gender stereotyping in which a man lives from the 16th to the 20th century and emerges as a woman and mother.

View the Breadth of Modern Fantasy

Nor has fantasy literature slackened since the early 20th century. The famous French "New Novel" writer Alain Robbe-Grillet uses the fantastic to free readers from what he perceives as the unconscious constraint imposed by society and language. J. R. R. Tolkien created whole fantasy worlds with their own geographies and languages. Children's literature – Prof. Rabkin devotes a lecture to it – has been especially fertile with fantasy. And Magical Realism has blossomed with important works such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate.

The Most Important Fantastic Genre Today

Professor Rabkin next delves into science fiction, the genre that claims plausibility against a background of science, while weaving in high adventure and intellectual excitement. In this half of the course, Dr. Rabkin shows why science fiction should be regarded as the most important fantastic genre today.

Professor Rabkin posits Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as the first true science fiction novel. You'll hear the story about the origins of that novel—a challenge to write the best ghost story – and you'll examine how Frankenstein explores themes of the struggle between the individual and society as well as the destabilizing possibilities of new knowledge. Europe remained the center of science fiction with such writers as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, but that was about to change.

The Golden Age of Science Fiction

Early in the 20th century, a popular blend of exciting tales and scientific speculation developed in the democratic milieu of pulp fiction magazines: Even Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, wrote of rousing adventures on Mars. Soon, however, pulp fiction gave way to longer treatments. The writers Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Heinlein, along with Isaac Asimov and Britain's Arthur C. Clarke, emerged as important voices after World War II and brought science fiction tales into the mainstream of serious literature. You'll discover how each of these important writers explored the wondrous and disturbing implications of science and technology, their stories raising profound questions about humanity, life, and the future.

What Does the Future Hold?

In Professor Rabkin's final lectures you'll learn about important and enduring links between science fiction and religion, and also between science fiction and utopian novels such as 1984 and Brave New World. You'll explore the works of outstanding science fiction writers today, including Ursula Le Guin, who writes of fabulous new worlds in her literature for children and in science fiction. You'll learn how William Gibson's Neuromancer introduced the words "matrix" and "cyberspace" into our language. You'll learn about Philip K. Dick, who wrote the novel that inspired the movie Blade Runner.

Recapture the Joy of Childhood and Learn about the Literature of the Fantastic

From talking frogs to human robots, from Mad Hatters to mad scientists, Professor Rabkin's course offers an illuminating journey through the world's most fantastic and imaginative literature. Discover the magic, wonder, and profound significance of that literature.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Brothers Grimm & Fairy Tale Psychology
    Professor Rabkin describes the course structure. In the first half, he will discuss fantastic literature from the earliest fairy tales to modern writers. In the second half, he will discuss the most significant genre of fantastic literature today: science fiction. He introduces the tales of the Brothers Grimm and explores the psychological truths in some of these stories. x
  • 2
    Propp, Structure, and Cultural Identity
    In 1928 Russian scholar Vladimir Propp discovered the structural universality of oral folk tales and devised several theories about them, including the notions that characters remain stable within a tale and that sequences of key events are the same across cultures. x
  • 3
    Hoffmann and the Theory of the Fantastic
    Professor Rabkin discusses E.T.A. Hoffmann, a romantic polymath and a spinner of true fantasy tales. Here Professor Rabkin defines the concepts of Romantic, Fantastic, and Fantasy. He also points out that long before Freud, Hoffmann posited a subconscious more powerful than the conscious. For Hoffmann, the achievement of art depends on both embracing and disciplining the fantastic. x
  • 4
    Poe—Genres and Degrees of the Fantastic
    Edgar Allan Poe used fantasy and created overpowering emotional effects for his readers by tapping into some of humanity's deepest fantasies and fears: for example, fear of death, fear of loneliness, and fear of one's self. Poe used art to accommodate his own fears, which, as Professor Rabkin points out, reflects what fairy tales have traditionally done. x
  • 5
    Lewis Carroll: Puzzles, Language, & Audience
    Lewis Carroll's Alice books make up a composite fantasy that captivates adults by inspiring us to rethink the roles of language, convention, and art in our lives. Here the fantastic is the world of Alice's own imagination. What are the limits of language and logic for understanding our world? x
  • 6
    H. G. Wells: We Are All Talking Animals
    Wells was once considered the pre-eminent novelist in English. In works like The Invisible Man, Wells shows how science offers a fantasy revenge against repression, both psychosexual and social. He argues for stories about issues that affect all people, not, as Henry James preferred, mere individuals. Wells analyzed the modern world but on a foundation of fairy tales. x
  • 7
    Franz Kafka—Dashed Fantasies
    Franz Kafka, an alienated man, recreated his life through parables of the fantastic. He drew his characters from the world of everyday experience and put them into settings that are familiar but situations that are fantastic. Professor Rabkin analyzes several stories, showing how Kafka criticizes social institutions as holding the potential for assistance but never giving any. x
  • 8
    Woolf—Fantastic Feminism & Periods of Art
    Virginia Woolf, who felt repressed in society because of her female sex, found consolation in the imaginative mind. Thus, in her fantastic novel, Orlando, the protagonist begins as a male in the Elizabethan era and ends up a mother in the 1920s. Professor Rabkin examines Woolf's works, also touching on important writings of Emily Dickinson and Laurence Sterne. x
  • 9
    Robbe-Grillet, Experimental Fiction & Myth
    Alain Robbe-Grillet's "New Novel" The Erasers challenges our notion of reality. It is a retelling of the Oedipus myth, suggesting ways to confront and erase that myth. Professor Rabkin links Robbe-Grillet's experimental novel with discussions of style by Roland Barthes and the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. x
  • 10
    Tolkien & Mass Production of the Fantastic
    Professor Rabkin pays tribute to the Arthurian legends of England and recounts how J. R. R. Tolkien built on these fantasy materials to create his monumental trilogy Lord of the Rings. Professor Rabkin also discusses Tolkien's stories "Farmer Giles of Ham" and "Leaf by Niggle," showing how these tales too reflect Tolkien's deepest notions of politics and religion. x
  • 11
    Children’s Literature and the Fantastic
    In this lecture, Professor Rabkin examines children's literature, pointing out that the loose constraints on it invite the fantastic. Attention is paid to the works of Beatrix Potter, Margaret Wise Brown, Dr. Seuss, and Norton Juster. Dr. Rabkin notes that children's literature has contributed to fantasy and imagination that enrich adult literature, for example, George Orwell's Animal Farm. x
  • 12
    Postmodernism and the Fantastic
    Postmodernism, the current literary age, tends to view Nature as a matter of perspective, and shares important traits with fantasy literature. Indeed, works of Magical Realism, like those of Gabriel Garc'a Márquez, explore this view with other experimental fantastic literature. x
  • 13
    Defining Science Fiction
    Professor Rabkin concentrates on science fiction, defining it as a fantastic genre that claims its plausibility against a background of science. x
  • 14
    Mary Shelley—Grandmother of Science Fiction
    The 1818 novel, Frankenstein, is the first fully achieved science fiction novel. It grew out of a form of Romanticism called Gothicism that Shelley re-formed in a crucial new way. The novel is not about science but about what goes wrong with it when controlled by an egoist. x
  • 15
    Hawthorne, Poe, and the Eden Complex
    Significant Hawthorne stories reflect the important Eden Complex, a concept discovered by Professor Rabkin, one element of which is a character striving to be godlike or to twist nature for his own ends. Poe too used Eden Complex constructs, with female roles played by symbols such as a whirlpool, a pit, or a bed. x
  • 16
    Jules Verne and the Robinsonade
    Jules Verne combined love of science with satire. Most of his works are "Rob­in­sonades—"fantasies of intellectual conquest that, like the character Robinson Crusoe, sought to recreate alien circumstances in a European image. x
  • 17
    Wells—Industrialization of the Fantastic
    H.G. Wells used science fiction as parables for political and philosophical criticism. In The Time Machine, Wells looks at the inhumanity of the British class system, and in War of the Worlds at British imperialism; he rebukes them both. x
  • 18
    The History of Utopia
    Utopian literature is fantastic and can assume three forms: a utopia can be pleasant, ambiguous, or horrible. Lately, most have been horrible—as in the novels We, 1984, and Brave New World—and they challenge readers to change society. x
  • 19
    Science Fiction and Religion
    Both science fiction and religion, although based on different notions of authority, try to better human life. Thus, science fiction sometimes uses religious speculation to explore spiritual concerns. x
  • 20
    Pulp Fiction, Bradbury, & the American Myth
    Edgar Rice Burroughs, who wrote about planets and unexplored continents, was a successful practitioner of pulp fiction. Ray Bradbury's groundbreaking The Martian Chronicles helped make the transformation from pulp fiction to subtler, more thoughtful science fiction. x
  • 21
    Robert A. Heinlein—He Mapped the Future
    Robert A. Heinlein's social imagination, his "hard science fiction"; extrapolation, and superior craftsmanship, represents the best of a generation of American science fiction. His stories embody a strongly libertarian critique of modern American life. x
  • 22
    Asimov and Clarke—Cousins in Utopia
    Both Isaac Asimov (The Foundation series and I, Robot) and Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey) were trained scientists as well as prolific authors. Both thought that humanity was perfectible and could achieve a good utopia—but first had to wake up to its shortcomings. x
  • 23
    Ursula K. Le Guin: Transhuman Anthropologist
    Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the most challenging writers of science fiction today. Her stories include genderless people, thus challenging gender stereotypes, and she also weaves Taoist philosophy into her novels. Le Guin's stories offer multiple changes of viewpoint to change attitudes toward language, human relations, and morality. x
  • 24
    Cyberpunk, Postmodernism, and Beyond
    Professor Rabkin's final lecture examines the latest trends in science fiction. He discusses William Gibson (Neuromancer); Philip K. Dick, whose fiction inspired the movie Blade Runner; New Wave; and Cyberpunk, an outgrowth of cybernetics and punk music. He ends by suggesting that we now live in a science fiction world. x

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Your professor

Eric S. Rabkin

About Your Professor

Eric S. Rabkin, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
Dr. Eric S. Rabkin is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He earned his bachelor's degree at Cornell University and his Ph.D. at The University of Iowa. Professor Rabkin received the Golden Apple Award, given annually by students for the outstanding teacher at the University of Michigan. Other awards include the University Teaching Award, the LS&A...
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Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature's Most Fantastic Works is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 74.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I could not finish this. The professor seems to be making an effort to show how intellectual he is. Much of the analysis is nonsensical and often so pretentious you want to scream. I thought this would be an entertaining look at sci fi. Worse course I ever bought. I defy you to get through some of these lectures without saying: Huh? Whats he talking about/"
Date published: 2018-11-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Interesting subject but problems with the disk I purchased the DVD which has all sorts of problems. I can't get from one chapter to the next without scrolling from the very beginning of the disk. It's a shame because I find the subject matter very intriguing.
Date published: 2017-10-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Erudite but Did Encourage Further Study For all the knowledge of its professor, “Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind” struggles to be as interesting as the name would suggest. For such an exciting-sounding title, the course is a little . . . boring. I was really looking forward to uncovering more about imaginative works such as “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Time Machine,” Tolkien, Verne, etc. I was also really looking forward to learning more about 20th century science fiction, as I had done some other reading about it. However, I found the course really didn’t get going until the 20th lecture (on the rise of science fiction). In lectures 20 to 22, Professor Rabkin is really in his milieu, explaining the development of this genre in practical and understandable terms. His reviews of Heinlein and Clarke were interesting and understandable. Again though, this was too long to wait for the “good stuff,” and I thought there were other flaws as well: (1) The professor’s statements are so dense – he seems very smart – it is very hard to take in this course in an audio format. His style is more suited to an essay or a treatise than an engaging lecture. I had not read most of the works referenced nor even a number of the authors – and the teacher seemed to pick the more obscure works at times. As a result, the summaries of plot and so forth were not enough to really get why it was an interesting work. (2) The professor seemed to ignore the popular in favor of the obscure. I have to skewer him for his treatment of Tolkien (Lecture 10 – “Tolkien & the Mass Production of the Fantastic”). His coverage of “Lord of the Rings” is so paltry; this is the biggest selling book of the 20th century after the Bible, yet he devotes only minutes to it. It has done more to introduce people to fantasy than any book and has spawned movies that have made hundreds and hundreds of millions. However, Professor Rabkin focuses on lesser-known Tolkien works such as “Leaf by Niggle.” He is far too reductionistic with Lord of the Rings, casting Frodo as a common English person, Aragorn as Arthur, and Gandalf as Merlin. The book has swept the imagination of people far and wide, yet he fails to really honor the incredibly imaginative landscape of the work: its world, its languages, its themes. (3) Rabkin states the great connection between how science fiction deals with themes typically only otherwise touched on by religion. Yet he diminishes someone like C.S. Lewis, who sought to express his religion through his works, who is far more known than Walter Miller, Jr., who gets the bulk of the time in that regard. The course did spur me on to want to read more on authors covered in the course. I just find that it was too hard to get real insight into the material. For a book about imagination, it really failed to excite. A so-so course but nothing grand.
Date published: 2017-10-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK, But Not Compelling I am not very interested in fantasy literature, but I thought I would take this course to see if it would kindle an inclination to explore the genre. I am sorry to say, it may be too much to expect, but this course does not do it for me. I have enough interest to have read much of Edgar Allan Poe, George MacDonald, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S, Lewis, Franz Kafka, and even Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’, all many years ago. Professor Rabkin expands my knowledge beyond these staples and helps in understanding the various kinds of fantasy (within which Professor Rabkin includes science fiction), citing many authors to explore. At times, however, there seems too much to absorb in this course. Professor Rabkin moves from one author to another, referencing others earlier and later in time, comparing and contrasting authors and their works, identifying traditions and influences, as well as providing appropriate context. Professor Rabkin does all of this in a rather flat delivery style. Perhaps I am just too accustomed to the liveliness of such other TC professors as Kenneth Harl and Rufus Fears. I cannot fault Professor Rabkin for failing to kindle my interest in the genre. Most of the works he describes, and those that I subsequently sampled, just do not appeal to me. Most likely this is a matter of taste and/or a failure of imagination on my part. This 2007 course has a fine course guide, complete not only with fine lecture summaries, but also a very useful glossary, biographical notes on the key authors discussed, and annotated bibliography.
Date published: 2017-08-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Poorly delivered, minimum interest I managed to listen and watch 3 lectures before I decided this course was not for me. The professor's delivery of the material was dull and the material itself may have been of interest to a specialist in the field but to me, a layman, it was too academic. He spent a lot of time discussing individual stories of authors without giving enough background or plot so that his conclusions made much sense. An English major or someone with an existing background in literature may benefit from this course, but it was too complex and detailed for me, a non-specialist.
Date published: 2017-06-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Tedious and pretentious I could not get through this course. It is simply way too high brow. I thought it might be an interesting walk through science fiction writing but it totally lacks entertainment value. Sounds more like a university round table where each professor attempts to show how pompously intellectual he or she may be. Gave set to my local library where I am certain it will merely gather dust. Quite disappointing.
Date published: 2017-06-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from rapid fire trip through fantasy Prof Rabkin started out good in this course and out of the 24 lectures he probably took 3 breaths. One sentence and topic quickly moved to the next without a pause. That was his style and I can forgive that, but how can you from the Brothers Grimm to 21 century scifi, and never mention Stephen King! Unforgivable.
Date published: 2017-04-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Insights into literature The lectures are enjoyable as they cover some books that I have never read. The professor is enthusiastic but sometimes jumps around from story to story and back as he is making a point. This can be hard to follow at times.
Date published: 2017-03-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The material is very high brow and somewhat dull. When I finish a lecture I tend to say .."huh?".. sounds great but couldn't remember a single point he made.. Alas kind of disappointing
Date published: 2017-03-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Can't compete with free material The lectures are mildly interesting, but no more than that. There's nothing wrong with these lectures, but also nothing excellent. In the days of virtually unlimited free podcasts, it's hard to justify spending money on a course of this caliber.
Date published: 2017-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Interesting presentation shows the way this is put together.
Date published: 2017-01-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course...there Hugo! Audio download...during a really good sale. I usually spend a great deal of time reading the reviews of lectures series before committing both the cash and the time to them. It took me a long while (and a very good sale + coupon) to get around to this one...mainly because the reviews are so negative. Many of those negative reviews focus on Dr Rabkin's interpretations of some of the literary works (books)...some of them may be valid...some may be pure speculation. After listening to these lectures I've come to the conclusion that those criticisms are a bit too harsh, and really don't reflect what a solid, well-presented course this really is. I've taken several upper-level lectures in undergrad and grad school in which the prof waxes philosophical and offers opinions about whatever subject on which he's lecturing. I'm sitting there, listening, and either thinking, 'hmmmm...good point; I never considered that point of view.' Or I'm thinking...'what the heck is that moron talking about?' But most importantly, I'm thinking. That's where I found myself in these lectures. I have read some (certainly not all) of these books...currently being reintroduced to the fairy-tale classics by my grandchildren (they don't give a hoot about Freud)...and have enjoyed them without much deep-meaning-thoughts. Dr Rabkin give me another point-of-view to think about and perhaps motivate me to reread some of them. This course will push me to investigate enlarging my reading list to include more Hugo Award winners...but I probably won't spend too much time worrying about why Little Red Riding Hood's cloak is red.... Recommended for the patient reader
Date published: 2016-10-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not an Overview of Speculative Fiction From the title, I assumed this would be a course on speculative fiction with an equal emphasis on all of its sub-genre. Unfortunately, it is mostly a course on science fiction. There is some discussion of fantasy, but it is used as background for the development of science fiction. I listen to the Great Courses for both their educational value and their entertainment value. Professor Rabkin is high on educational value for science fiction but is too dry and technical to provide the entertainment value I was looking for. This course might be good for someone who is primarily interested in science fiction, but it is not an overview of speculative fiction.
Date published: 2016-07-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Unimaginative presentaion about imagination Apparently an academic analysis of imaginative literature involves a boring slog through what are joyous beautiful works. Here's a professor who could put you to sleep discussing the most and adventurous and thrilling of writing. Nothing fantastic here.
Date published: 2016-06-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lives up to course title I was expecting a course on Science Fiction but once I started to listen I realized I had made a big assumption -- then I re-read the title of the course. Ah! "imaginative mind," "fantastic works." Starting with fairy tales, Professor Rabkin takes us on a journey though many genres of literature. In many ways this course took me through a lot of my own reading history. I'll mention just a few and my reactions to the contents of this course. "Hansel and Gretel" was scary to me as a kid, as was "Little Red Riding Hood." What were the lessons they were trying to teach? "Rapunzel" and "Cinderella" showed me the 'happily ever after ending' which is so pervasive in today's media. To this day when I think of Poe I think of fear while Lewis Carroll and Jonathon Swift take me on a journey of the fantastic (ah, there's that word from the title of this course) and fun. Jabberwocky brought back fond memories of my step-father reading/acting out the poem to me as a kid and me giggling throughout his presentation. How can one talk about H. G. Wells and not bring up how "The War of the Worlds" scared a whole population? [Just reading down the list of authors in the course description will give you an idea of how broad this topic is. Please read the Full Description of this course on the front page of this offering to get a feel for the range of this course.] Professor Rabkin does finally get to Science Fiction with the authors I know and love: The earlier sci-fi writers such as Mary Shelley and Jules Verne (works that are earthly and credulous); Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert A. Heinlein (works that are other-worldly and more sophisticated). Professor Rabkin discusses Pulp Fiction and Cyberpunk, two genres I have not read much of, but I appreciated one of his closing thoughts -- that we live in a world of science fiction. We live in a world where we can instantly send information around the world to millions of people (and I remember when faxes were considered great), can look at the stars up close, and talk to and see our loved ones hundreds of miles away. So when will be able to say "beam me up Scotty?"
Date published: 2016-05-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I thought this course was about Science Fiction Well, the term Science fiction is mentioned throughout the course, but it sure wasn't the course I wanted. Of the 24 lectures, I would have gladly skipped the first 15, and most of the next 5 - yawners all! The course finally got interesting with the lectures on Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Azimov and Ursula K. Le Guin. All of the lectures spent on ancient precursers would have been better spent on any of the dozens of authors that followed these four: Brunner, Card, Cherry, Forward, Harrison, Herbert, Hogan, Nivin, Panshin, Pournelle, Robinson, Schmitz, Silverberg, Stewart, Taylor, Vance, Vonnegut, and van Vogt - plus many, many others. By the way, in the profs telling of Le Guin's "Left Hand of Darkness," he confused the roles of the two main characters. It was Genly Ai who was imprisoned and it was Estraven who rescued him. Out of the ~60 courses I've watched, this was the second worse. (The worse was the one on Understanding Electronics).
Date published: 2016-04-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from An interesting, if somewhat uneven, course Rabkin’s Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind is an interesting, if somewhat uneven, exploration of fantasy and science-fiction. There are some curious omissions; not so much his choice of primary texts, though I would like to have seen Frank Herbert’s Dune receive more than a passing mention. But for someone as interested in the psychology of fairytales as Rabkin, failing to mention Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, which is THE groundbreaking and definitive work on the subject, is a curious oversight. Similarly, Darko Suvin was one of science-fiction’s first great theorists and his 1979 study, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, is essential to understanding the appeal of science fiction. Even more unsettling, given that Rabkin is a university professor, is the fact that he sometimes does not acknowledge key sources. It was Brian Aldiss who first proposed that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the first true science fiction novel, in his 1973 book The Billion Year Spree. Yet in making the same claim, Rabkin does not mention Aldiss at all. And at key moments Rabkin seems to rely too much upon biblical imagery almost as a last resort, as he does in his second lecture on H. G. Wells. It’s not that such an analysis is necessarily invalid as much as it is passé, as well as somewhat at odds with the postmodern theme in many of the lectures. And in the case of Wells it leaves out important cultural contexts, particularly the fact that Wells is writing during the age of decadence or the fin de siècle. The decadence theme permeates The Time Machine and would be the perfect context for a discussion of that novel, as well as The War of the Worlds.
Date published: 2016-03-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A knowledgeable professor. Course lacking Professor Rabkin obviously is knowledgeable about the subject matter here. At times he is excellent in explaining specific novels and authors. That being said, the class presentations were lacking. There were times he packs too much into the 30 minutes and that lost direction for me. The first dozen or so lectures there is also a problem with the filming. Sometimes he is addressing the camera, but sometime there are shifts from right side to left side and he is looking off in the distance. I found that really distracting. Perhaps if I had only listened to the class, rather than watching as well. I kept thinking the camera operators was not signaling properly when the view would shift. I did that with an older class by this same professor which was only on science fiction. That older class was better as it built up each lecture in a more focused way. My overall grade for this class is C+
Date published: 2016-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from worthwhile but not compelling At first this series did not captivate me. I felt the Professor spends too much time on literary allusions and symbolism. That does not interest me very much. I can remember, back when I was a student, my teacher trying to impress on me the religious symbolism of "Billy Budd". I remember wondering why I would need the symbolism when it's such a great story. As these lectures developed, however,I felt the richness of the Professor's approach. He not only explains the historical evolution of the genre of fantastic literature from fairly tales, though Poe and Shelly, and beyond my generation of science fiction but he also places the individual stories in the context of the cultures and personal lives of the authors. Also at first I was disappointed that the lectures were not inspiring me to read the books. The main reason I am attracted to the Great Courses' literature series is to find stuff worth reading. For example I drew several titles form "The Skeptics Guide to Great Books" that were new to me and that brought me great reading pleasure. To be fair I have already read several of the stories in this series so the comparison may not be entirely just. I was delighted, for example, to hear the professors insights into "A Canticle for Lebowitz", one of my favorites. Those insights have made my memory of the book richer. Now that I have thought more carefully about it. I don't remember having read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Perhaps I will seek it out. I am sure my experience will be richer for having experienced these lectures.
Date published: 2015-04-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Wide-ranging, sometimes puzzling Rabkin clearly knows the fields of fantasy and science fiction, but his choices were puzzling at times. For example, Poe is generally credited with inventing the modern detective tale in his tales of ratiocination. But these involve mostly logic, not science. Why then does Rabkin focus on Poe as a science fiction writer, but largely pass over Poe's obvious contributions to fantastic literature? I also wondered at times just who Rabkin's intended audience was supposed to be. He spends most of Lecture 13 explaining in great detail a particular definition of science fiction, then introduces a different definition in a later lecture. He introduces technical terms from literary studies, to no clear purpose. Do I really care whether "Erewhon" is an eutopia or a regular old utopia?? He sometimes focuses on lesser known works, even from major science fiction writers. And he misquotes the Bible: Eve eats the "forbidden fruit," not specifically an apple, and Esau (Edom) was so named because he was reddish in color, not because he had clay on his legs (that was Adam; the Hebrew for earth is "adamah"). In spite of these drawbacks, there is a lot of excellent information in this course. I especially liked Rabkin's analysis of Robbe-Grillet's "The Erasers" and his historical overviews. Organizing a course around this broad topic must have been a challenge, not to mention selecting which particular works to discuss. Fortunately, the lectures grow more assured in the later part of the course, and fans of science fiction should find this material engaging.
Date published: 2015-02-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not what I expected. The instructor did not even mention Homer, Virgil, Beowulf, Dante, which seem to me the obvious masterpieces of imagination. He begins with the Brothers Grimm, and interprets them in a decidedly and persistently Freudian manner that rings not only foreign to the material, but remarkably outdated, considering the actual value of Freud's ideas. One wonders if these notes were written thirty years ago. He did not help me see how Hoffman can be thought to have written masterpieces. It seemed that he wanted me to think highly of him as a scholar and that he wanted his personal opinion to weigh more heavily than I was prepared for it to weigh. Perhaps naming the course, "Studies in Imaginative Literature" would ward off the disappointment that I felt. I have greatly enjoyed most of the two dozen or so courses I have taken from this company. Thank you for being there.
Date published: 2015-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly imaginative! It is always interesting to see a familiar subject through different eyes, but especially so when the subject is imaginative literature. The works discussed in this course rank among my favorites, but I have always enjoyed them viscerally, never giving them critical scrutiny. The thoughtful lectures gave me new layers of appreciation and enjoyment. Thank you!
Date published: 2014-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is my absolute favorite course I have enjoyed this course tremendously, listening several lectures over and over. Just could not get enough. Each lecture holds surprises. What I found most enjoyable is the structure of each lecture, always ending with a great punch line. This is a style that should be thought to all teachers. I made two gifts to most special people in my life, who also loved the professor's style. I wish he would record another course - Eric Rabkin possesses style, imaginative mind on his own right, and brilliance of an outstanding teacher.
Date published: 2014-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and provocative DVD Review: While even I admit to finding Professor Rabkin's lecture style a bit odd at first (Odd in what way, I hear you ask? Hard to put into words, just odd.), I stuck with him and the course and was rewarded. He clearly has a vast knowledge; deep love and respect for his subject; and a passion for teaching. What more can one ask? I particularly loved his take on one of my favorite authors, Poe, and his putting Poe's life in context; his lectures on later science fiction authors whet my appetite for their works as well. The journey was well worth the time, effort, and money spent.
Date published: 2014-06-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not as good as imagined I apologize if I seem ambiguous here because that is how I feel about this course which reminded me of literature courses I took in college. I suppose that is appropriate and as it should be. But you must have a taste for visceral dissection of literature to enjoy this. Academics call kill the subject. Will I ever be able to enjoy another book of fantasy without thinking of themes, classifications and techniques? The professor seems to favor a Freudian analysis, meaning libido overtones. Little Red Riding Hood will never be the same again. There is nothing essentially wrong with this course, but in the end you might find yourself wondering-Why???
Date published: 2014-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable, entertaining, educational... DVD REVIEW ~ I'm not at all sure that analysing fantastic/fantastical literature from a Freudian, psychological or biblical point of view is totally valid. To use the vernacular, I simply do not buy that most authors, in writing their stories, purposefully insert all kinds of deep (often hidden) symbolism and metaphor, often alluding to Greek, Roman or biblical happenings or philosophies. [Joyce's Ulysses would be a major exception, of course!] Much of such analysis strikes me as the lecturer's forced interpretation or wishful thinking, and perhaps it even constitutes obfuscation. I have to add that I find objectionable the lecturer's remarks to the effect that you need to be especially clever/intellectual to catch the subtle references and metaphors: that sounds like plain academic snobbery. Nevertheless, the lectures were decidedly enjoyable, including those on works I was not very familiar with (within the first 12 lectures). The second half of this 24-lecture series had particular appeal to me: science fiction! Here I felt much more at home, with authors such as Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Shelley, Vernes and Wells. Dr Rabkin has a very steady, evenly-paced and rather slow presentation speed, with a serious demeanour which will not appeal to all. He lays very heavy emphasis on semantics, clearly likes to play with words, and I enjoyed that, too. The graphic content of the lectures is minimal but supplies some support. I almost always buy the DVD version; I like to see the lecturer in action. Note: the more recently-produced DVD series by Great Courses make excellent use of modern graphic technology, particularly in the sciences. I recommend Dr Rabkin's course, am happy to give a fantastic 4 STARS.
Date published: 2013-08-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing Inaccuracies I only managed to get through about three of these lectures before giving up. The introductory lectures were frustrating in their application of Freudian analysis and attempts to hang Christian symbolism on works where it didn't seem to fit. The Tolkien lecture seemed quite unfocused. I never did understand what the content of the lecture had to do with the "mass production" of the title. Excerpts were read in a rushed, sing-song manner, that, while appropriate to Tom Bombadil, quite took the pleasure out of the listening. What really disappointed was the lecture on C. S. Lewis. It seemed disjointed and superficial. But then it turned to just being inaccurate. Describing Eustace's time as a dragon #in light of the heresy this scene supposedly represents#, he misrepresented the details of the transformation in such a way as to miss #in my mind# the point of that whole section of the story. The shortcomings in the Lewis lecture left me feeling that I couldn't really continue to trust in the descriptions or analysis of other works in the course. Quite a disappointment, since most of the works on this list are on my to read list for the coming year. I know that it's hard to cover the vast topic of fantasy or science fiction in short lectures. But this course is just a miss.
Date published: 2013-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A brilliant and incredible journey! No one know more about SF and fantasy and can present it better than Professor Erik Rabkin. He will take you down rabbit holes and black holes you didn't even know existed. You will not be able to resist delving into the books he discusses and if you already have you'll see them in a brand new audacius light and want to read them again. So buckle up and take his trip--you will be lifted into the entrancing wondrous worlds of these great works and Rabkin's transcendant presentation.
Date published: 2013-08-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from aimless I found almost all the lectures in this course disjointed and unfocused -- wandering from thought to thought often without transition and usually with no thread to the lecture topic or thesis and no thread to the putative overall focus of the course. "Fantastic" is defined in a couple of sentences at one point but very few of the lectures refer to it specifically or even generally. Most of the lectures consist of interpretations of different texts with no real rhyme or reason or thematic connection, either implicit or explicit. The most coherent lecture in the batch is the one on the history of pulp science fiction, probably because it mainly conveys factual information & does not rely in the instructor's confusing interpretive tactics.
Date published: 2013-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Made me reconsider what I thought I knew I didn't always agree with the professor, but he did make me rethink works I thought I knew. And he made me want to go back and either read or re-read many of those works. I would definitely try another course with this professor who was entertaining and thought-provoking. If I were to consider a way to improve this course, I would lengthen it to include more authors. A section about the state of SF criticism would also be welcome.
Date published: 2012-09-18
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