Fantasy is a key term both in psychology and in the art and artifice of
humanity. The things we make, including our stories, reflect, serve, and
often shape our needs and desires. We see this everywhere from fairy tale
to kiddie lit to myth; from "Cinderella" to Alice in Wonderland to Superman;
from building a fort as a child to building ideal, planned cities as whole
societies. Fantasy in ways both entertaining and practical serves our persistent
needs and desires and illuminates the human mind. Fantasy expresses itself
in many ways, from the comfort we feel in the godlike powers of a fairy
godmother to the seductive unease we feel confronting Dracula. From a practical
viewpoint, of all the fictional forms that fantasy takes, science fiction,
from Frankenstein to Avatar, is the most important in our modern
world because it is the only kind that explicitly recognizes the profound
ways in which science and technology, those key products of the human mind,
shape not only our world but our very hopes and fears. This course will
explore Fantasy in general and Science Fiction in specific both as art
and as insights into ourselves and our world.
This course comprises ten units. Each will include a significant reading, typically a novel or a selection of shorter works. I will offer video discussions of each of the readings and also of more general topics in art and psychology that those readings help illuminate. Each unit will include online quizzes and ask you to write a brief essay offering your own insights into the reading. In order, the units are:
Grimm — Children's and Household Tales
Carroll — Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Stoker — Dracula
Shelley — Frankenstein
Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems
Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, "The Country of the Blind," "The Star"
Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland
Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles
LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness
Doctorow — Little Brother
In Unit I, the specific stories are the ones in the Lucy Crane translation (1886) which was published by Dover and is available online through Project Gutenberg. In Unit V, the specific readings are: Hawthorne's "The Birthmark," "Rappaccini's Daughter," "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," and "The Artist of the Beautiful"; Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat," "The Oval Portrait," "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," "The Bells," "The Raven," "Annabel Lee." All the readings except Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness will be available online at no charge.
There are no prerequisites for this course. However, the course
will be conducted at the level expected of advanced undergraduate students.
Therefore, for all participants, reading comfortably in English at
the undergraduate college level is desirable. For those also participating
in the writing and written responses, which is recommended, some experience
in writing about literature is desirable. ( A Note on Reading in Translation. )
This was my first experience of Coursera and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. I have done a few paid-for online courses and been very disappointed by the standard and the structure, but this exceeded all my expectations. I have learned a lot about the subject and all for free. I am an education junkie who is currently hampered by lack of funds, so Coursera suits me down to the ground.
I have a degree in literature and the level of this course was certainly degree standard in terms of the video lectures. Professor Rabkin is an inspiring lecturer with a tangible passion for the subject. This was infectious. There were two to three hours of lectures each week plus a short extra video in response to something that came up that week on the forum. I felt that the Professor put a lot of time and effort into the course himself. For anyone thinking of doing the course, be aware that it takes quite a bit of time each week - I estimated that I spent 15 - 18 hours each week in reading, research, writing the essay, reviewing other essays, watching the videos and using the forum.
There has been some criticism of the peer-review process and while I had a few reviews from people who did not seem to know what they were talking about (making erroneous comments about grammar, mostly), the majority of my reviewers were courteous and knowledgeable and made an effort to give constructive feedback. The grading system could be better, but overall I felt I got the grades each week that I deserved. I also felt that I learned a huge amount from doing reviews of other people's work. This democratic approach of learning from each other (with some input from the Professor but gentle and from afar) was a new experience and I found it very rewarding.
The forum was fascinating - not only in terms of the ideas which people discussed, but as a fascinating study into human behaviour and psychology. Sometimes it was infuriating and sometimes perplexing, but always entertaining and often enlightening.
I loved reading and thinking and writing essays but, finally, the best thing of all has been interacting with people from all over the world. I felt very much part of a global community, sharing ideas and experiences (oh, the excitement of waiting for results each week). I have also made several new friends and the learning continues as several of us (78 to date) have set up a Facebook Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Group.
I've also signed up for at least twelve other courses and become an unofficial ambassador for Coursera to anyone who will listen!
I would recommend this course for all who would like to enhance their reading. I ended up reading more than ten works that I otherwise would have put off for lack of time. The course also helped me develop the skill of thinking analytically while reading and then writing about it.
This was my first experience of an online course and I thoroughly enjoyed it! The subject material was very interesting. I had the opportunity to read (and read carefully) works that I always wanted to read but never got around to do it, like Grimms' tales, Dracula and Frankenstein, but also works by authors who I didn't know and have now become favorites, like Cory Doctorow and Ray Bradbury. I particularly liked the structure of the course. In my opinion, the fact that we had to write our assignments prior to watching any lectures was very important, because I could write without prejudice and it gave me the freedom to write about whatever I thought was interesting and express my own ideas about the works. Thus, after going through that process every week, when I finally got to watch the lectures and take the quizzes, I had an adequate familiarity with each work to really enrich my reading through the lectures! It also removed the stress to having to watch the lectures in order to complete the assignments, which would have made it impossible to do them and get a grade given my busy schedule. As for the lectures, Prof. Eric Rabkin is an excellent speaker! It was easy to concentrate on what he said and understand his analyses. Regarding the content of the lectures, I found that it was rich, interesting and it really made me think more critically about the works and about fantasy literature in general. Now, regarding the peer-reviewing system... Though in an ideal world the professor and/or his assistants would (also) mark the assignments, I understand that this is impossible given the large numbers of students. However, even if at times I found the peer-reviewers' comments out of place or unhelpful and felt that I would have liked to be able to discuss it with them, it was still an interesting experience and... I did manage to get good grades. Also, that I was able to peer-review other essays, was a constructive and helpful exercise, and I hope that I did those essays justice. Lastly, through this course I came in contact with lots of great people with similar interests, with whom I had very interesting discussions and exchange of ideas on fantasy literature and more, which was very exciting and it gave me the "feel" of an actual (in-class) course. Overall, this was a great course and I hope there would be more courses like it!