Contribute to an MLA Volume on Teaching the Works of Karen Tei Yamashita

Approaches to Teaching the Works of Karen Tei Yamashita, edited by Ruth Y. Hsu and Pamela Thoma, is now in development in the MLA Approaches to Teaching World Literature series. Instructors who have taught the works of Karen Tei Yamashita are encouraged to contribute to this volume by completing a survey about their experiences. Information about proposing an essay is available at the end of the survey. The deadline for completing the survey and submitting an essay proposal is 1 June 2016.

book cover

Approaches to Teaching Sand’s Indiana

This volume on Sand’s Indiana is greatly needed not only because the novel is widely taught but also because it could be taught better—and this volume provides exciting new insight for teaching it.

— Annabelle Rea, Occidental College

Indiana, George Sand’s first solo novel, opens with the eponymous heroine brooding and bored in her husband’s French countryside estate, far from her native Île Bourbon (now Réunion). Written in 1832, the novel appeared during a period of French history marked by revolution and regime change, civil unrest and labor concerns, and slave revolts and the abolitionist movement, when women faced rigid social constraints and had limited rights within the institution of marriage. With this politically charged history serving as a backdrop for the novel, Sand brings together Romanticism, realism, and the idealism that would characterize her work, presenting what was deemed by her contemporaries a faithful and candid representation of nineteenth-century France.

This volume gathers pedagogical essays that will enhance the teaching of Indiana and contribute to students’ understanding and appreciation of the novel. The first part gives an overview of editions and translations of the novel and recommends useful background readings. Contributors to the second part present various approaches to the novel, focusing on four themes: modes of literary narration, gender and feminism, slavery and colonialism, and historical and political upheaval. Each essay offers a fresh perspective on Indiana, suited not only to courses on French Romanticism and realism but also to interdisciplinary discussions of French colonial history or law.

Volume editors

David A. Powell
Pratima Prasad


James Smith Allen, Christopher Bains, Carolyn Vellenga Berman, Kathrine Bonin, John T. Booker, Aimée Boutin, Patrick M. Bray, Peter Dayan, Molly Krueger Enz, Nigel Harkness, Doris Kadish, Véronique Machelidon, Shira Malkin, Françoise Massardier-Kenney, Margaret E. McColley, Isabelle Hoog Naginski, Allan H. Pasco, Lynn Penrod, Lauren Pinzka, Charles J. Stivale, Margaret Waller

viii & 219 pp.
Published: 2016
ISBN: 9781603292108 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781603292092 (cloth)

This volume is available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book formats. Visit the MLA bookstore for more information.

book cover

Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Henry Fielding

The works of Henry Fielding, though written nearly three hundred years ago, retain their sense of comedy and innovation in the face of tradition, and they easily engage the twenty-first-century student with many aspects of eighteenth-century life: travel, inns, masquerades, political and religious factions, the ’45, prisons and the legal system, gender ideals and realities, social class.

Part 1 of this volume, “Materials,” discusses the available editions of Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, ShamelaJonathan Wild, and Amelia; suggests useful critical and contextual works for teaching them; and recommends helpful audiovisual and electronic resources. The essays of part 2, “Approaches,” demonstrate that many of the methods and models used for one novel—the romance tradition, Fielding’s legal and journalistic writing, his techniques as a playwright, the ideas of Machiavelli—can be adapted to others.

Volume editors

Jennifer Preston Wilson
Elizabeth Kraft


Stephen C. Behrendt, Scott Black, Pamela S. Bromberg, Jill Campbell, Leigh G. Dillard, J. A. Downie, James Evans, Carl Fisher, Joshua Grasso, George E. Haggerty, Anthony J. Hassall, Nicholas Hudson, Regina Janes, Christopher D. Johnson, Eric Leuschner, Nancy A. Mace, Brian McCrea, Lisa Maruca, Adam Potkay, Manushag N. Powell, Chloe Wigston Smith, Rivka Swenson, Earla Wilputte

ix & 236 pp.
Published: 2016
ISBN: 9781603292245 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781603292238 (cloth)

This volume is available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book formats. Visit the MLA bookstore for more information.

Contribute to an MLA Volume on Teaching Plum in the Golden Vase

The volume Approaches to Teaching Plum in the Golden Vase, edited by Andrew Schonebaum, is now in development in the MLA Approaches to Teaching World Literature series. Instructors who have taught this work are encouraged to contribute to the volume by completing a survey about their experiences. Information about proposing an essay is available at the end of the survey. The deadline for completing the survey and submitting an essay proposal is 1 March 2016.

Review of Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Mansfield Park

The June 2015 issue of Sensibilities published a review of the MLA’s Approaches to Teaching Austen’s Mansfield Park, edited by Marcia McClintock Folsom and John Wiltshire.

Tony Voss writes:

These essays together call continually on our imagination. I am struck particularly how often they refer to the true responsibilities of teaching.

You can read the full review in Sensibilities ([June 2015]: 79–85).

Purchase this book at the MLA bookstore (members get 30% off all titles).

An Interview with the Editor of Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Other Works

Leslie Donovan discusses her edited volume Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Other Works with James C. Hatch.

JH: How did you get interested in Tolkien, and when did you start teaching his works?

LD: I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was in high school, somewhere around 1974 and 1975. A family friend knew that I was a big reader and had read all of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books. She gave me a copy of Tolkien’s books, and I immediately fell in love with them, especially The Lord of the Rings. But I never thought Tolkien could be a subject for serious academic study until I enrolled in an undergraduate course on Tolkien at the University of New Mexico in 1982. I never intended to be a teacher. But after I completed my PhD in medieval literature, I tried to make ends meet by working as a part-time instructor at a community college and decided to propose a course on Tolkien, because I knew such a course would attract strong enrollment and therefore bring in a paycheck. Over the years I had yearned to teach such a course; my training as a medievalist only deepened my love for Tolkien’s accomplishments. Since my proposal included a healthy dose of medieval literature (Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Prose Edda, and selections from Le Morte D’Arthur), it was accepted, and I taught my first Tolkien course in 1995. At the University of New Mexico, where I landed a tenure-track job, I have now taught at least six different variations of the Tolkien course at different levels.

JH: Many student readers already know The Lord of the Rings well and have a difficult time seeing the book subjected to the rigors of literary criticism. For many readers, Tolkien’s works are more than literature or fantasy: they are a consolation. How do you teach a book that means so much to so many students personally?

LD: It is a delicate task. Yet Tolkien’s works, when we apply literary criticism to them, hold up beautifully. My students consistently have told me how much greater their enjoyment and understanding of his achievements were after studying the books systematically in a college course. For me, it continues to be the very best kind of teaching experience. In no other course I have taught can I expect almost all the students to have done the reading before they step into my classroom on that first day. This means we can begin discussing together meaningful topics and interpretations immediately. That’s an extraordinary experience for a teacher, to feel as much like a colearner as a teacher. Because of the highly personal connection so many of us have to Tolkien’s works, my students and I end up bonding. We argue about the texts as much as we revel in the pleasures we find in them.

JH: How has teaching Tolkien changed over the past decade or two, especially since the Peter Jackson movies were released?

LD: In some ways, teaching Tolkien has changed substantially over the last twenty years, but in other ways I feel that very little has changed. When I first started teaching his works, the vast majority of students were male. Very few female students enrolled, probably because cultural stereotypes at the time suggested that such books were not intended for them. I remember vividly that the first time I taught Tolkien in an interdisciplinary honors course, out of the eighteen students enrolled, only three were women. I felt out of place. But, as Shelley Rees discusses in her essay in this volume, we women have cared deeply about Tolkien’s works from the very beginning: back then, we were just more reluctant to reveal our interest publicly. In my current Tolkien course for honors, the enrollment has reversed: of my seventeen students, only six are male.

One of the other changes in teaching Tolkien is a result of the movies. Most of my students have seen the films before they ever read Tolkien’s text. Whether one admires or despises Peter Jackson’s work, all of us who have seen his films have been influenced by them. No longer can any of us read The Lord of the Rings; (and now also The Hobbit) without having in our minds the faces of the actors. Even though I have read Tolkien’s texts many, many times, I still sometimes have to check to see if I am remembering a scene from the book or from Jackson’s version of it. This can become problematic in a class discussion. I always make a point to emphasize that we are focusing on Tolkien’s actual text in class, and I often pause class discussion to check to make sure some piece of evidence is actually a feature of Tolkien’s (unless we are discussing the films, specifically). We cannot pretend the movies do not exist or ignore them, but I insist that we acknowledge them as separate, though related, works. When I first began teaching Tolkien, we had no need to make such distinctions or take such care to identify and distinguish Tolkien’s intentions and meanings as the original version rather than a recent, modern adaptation.

Yet, despite the differences in student populations and despite Jackson’s films, the core of what makes teaching a Tolkien course special for me has not changed much at all. Students who sign up do so because they deeply love the stories. What matters to them is that even the smallest, most insignificant people can be heroes, can save the world. My students want to make their lives matter, to build friendships that change the course of their life, to comprehend the complex moral and ethical choices they must make. Today, in my Tolkien classes, we often talk about how the work echoes our own contemporary fears related to terrorism, but we have always focused on the impact of unexpected alliances, the problems of greed, and the joys of living simply. If we talk more these days about issues of race, gender, and culture, we talk no less about the relation between fate and free will, the nature of power, and the need to respect the natural world.

JH: How do you teach some of Tolkien’s ideas—secondary worlds and eucatastrophe, for instance?

LD: These are central concepts that I include in all my Tolkien courses. We spend at least a week early in the semester reading and discussing Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories.” It provides a foundation for later discussions of his fiction. As the course progresses, I ask students to identify moments in their own lives when they have engaged in acts of subcreation, as Tolkien explains it in his essay, or personally experienced eucatastrophe. To illustrate such ideas, we discuss not only Middle-earth and Tolkien’s larger legendarium but also his short works Smith of Wootton Major and “Leaf by Niggle,” both of which provide students with additional models for understanding Tolkien’s ideas of subcreation, eucatastrophe, and mythopoeia.

JH: Many readers perceive Tolkien’s text as based on medieval contexts and tropes. In what ways is the content of The Lord of the Rings as much indebted to modern ideas as to medieval ideas?

LD: The medieval traditions embedded in Tolkien’s works are what first drew me to them and kept me reading them over and over. The Lord of the Rings, in many ways, offers all the tropes and conventions of medieval literature and culture rolled into one package—the dragons, heroes, elves, hand-to-hand battles with swords to save people and places; horses descended from the gods; and so on. The Middle-earth texts bring together the best aspects of medieval studies, kind of like a Best Hits of the Middle Ages album. Yet, Tolkien’s texts, especially The Lord of the Rings, are modern in many fundamental ways. Even though we have the model of the chivalric hero from the lineage of ancient kings in Aragorn, a type of Arthurian once-and-future king, the real hero of the story is Frodo, an ordinary person, a modern everyman. Perhaps even more heroic is Sam, a simple gardener. In fact, neither Frodo nor Sam alone is in himself a hero, but together they are the heroes that come to mean so much to the reader. Two characters whose support of each other makes them heroic is a modern concept, not a medieval one. Neither Aragorn’s journey through the Paths of the Dead nor his crowning as King of Gondor brings a lump to readers’ throats; that lump arises when Frodo and Sam in the darkness of Shelob’s lair in Cirith Ungol wonder together whether anyone will remember their deeds or when they face their fate side by side amid the rivers of fire rising to destroy Mount Doom at the end of their quest. Gollum, with his divided psyche, is clearly a monster but one portrayed in terms of much more modern nuances than medieval monsters were, such as Grendel. Also, as Sharin Schroeder discusses in her essay in our Approaches volume, Tolkien’s work has much that is directly modern to say about the ramifications of warfare for future generations, the position of the artist, the impact of industrialization on the natural world, and the dangers of cultural isolation.

JH: In the classroom, how do you approach issues of race and gender in Tolkien’s work?

LD: Discussions of race, class, and gender in Tolkien’s works have become increasingly important to address openly and directly in the classroom. There is no doubt that as a middle-class English male, Tolkien was a product of his time and culture. He was no protofeminist or activist for ethnic rights and cultures. Yet, in my classes on him, we examine the texts closely for what they tell us about his struggles in thinking about issues of race and class. We discuss the racial antipathy and then reconciliation of the dwarves and elves through the friendship forged by Gimli and Legolas. We remark that Tolkien’s Easterners and “cruel Haradrim” incorporate physical features uncomfortably similar to Asian or Middle Eastern peoples in our own world, but we also hear Tolkien speaking through Sam’s musing about whether the internal thoughts and yearnings of the dead Easterner he encounters are actually so different from his own. As Dimitra Fimi proposes in her essay in our Approaches volume, whenever possible, I introduce the complexity of perspectives on race in Tolkien’s works by highlighting the changes in his thinking about such issues over the course of his life as well as by noting historical contexts related to ideas about race and culture that informed his views.

My students almost always believe that Tolkien has little interest in female characters, until I give them exercises in which they realize that Éowyn is presented as one of the text’s greatest heroes and Galadriel’s power and authority to command surpasses that of her husband, Celeborn. In addition, I use a strategy I learned from Shelley Rees’s essay in our Approaches volume that asks students to identify masculine and feminine traits in the texts and to decide which are valued more highly. My students inevitably come to the conclusion that in The Lord of the Rings feminine behaviors or traits such as cooperation and complementarity are valued much more than such masculine attributes as physical prowess and solitary action. And they begin to realize that characters such as Aragorn, Frodo, and Gimli reflect such traits as obviously as any of Tolkien’s female characters.

JH: The Lord of the Rings only hints at the vast mythology of The Silmarillion: the feelings basic to religion—awe, need, love, sacrifice, devotion—are found in it without our ever being fixed in a religious system. How do you connect The Lord of the Rings with the larger myth-world for students?

LD: Currently, I am teaching an honors course titled “Mythmaking and Tolkien.” In it, I foreground the mythopoeic context so crucial to Tolkien’s world building. In previous Tolkien courses, I always touched on a few of the mythological components of the larger legendarium but rarely had enough time to delve into such materials. I assigned my students a few selected portions of The Silmarillion, and we would discuss the roles that abstract concepts such as chance and pity, fate and love, played in the schema of Middle-earth’s evolution and development from a mythic prehistory to a historical period of discrete, well-defined events, people, and places. But in this new honors course, we investigate the components of Tolkien’s mythmaking by focusing first on The Silmarillion and then ending the semester with The Lord of the Rings. To highlight the emotional (even perhaps reverential?) potency of the mythopoeia that was so key to his vision of Middle-earth and how it both mirrors and forecasts our own world, my students are not only reading Tolkien’s literary texts but also studying his paintings and drawings. We compare Tolkien’s mythmaking with other world mythologies. We have also discussed more briefly music associated with Tolkien’s world and the linguistic backgrounds for some of his languages. By exploring this multitude of materials that Tolkien incorporates into his mythopoeia, my intention is that by the end of our course students will have a stronger grasp of the interconnectedness of his mythic vision, which is projected both within its own fictional boundaries and beyond them through his world’s relation to our own world’s history.

JH: This has been fascinating. Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I look forward to the reaction to the book and to seeing your journal on MLA Commons, Waymeet for Tolkien Teachers, develop.

Leslie A. Donovan is a professor in the Honors College of the University of New Mexico. In addition to many articles on medieval literature, Tolkien, and pedagogy, she has published Perilous and Fair: Women and the Works of J. R. R. Tolkien, edited with Janet Brennan Croft (Mythopoeic Press, 2015) and Women Saints’ Lives in Old English Prose (Boydell and Brewer, 1999). She is currently working on The Old English Lives of Eugenia and Eufrosina: A Critical Edition of Two Female Transvestite Saints in Their Anglo-Saxon Contexts.

Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s
The Lord of the Rings and Other Works


This work fills a major need. It will give graduate students and experienced professors alike the confidence to teach Tolkien and the ability to construct a meaningful and challenging course.

— Janet Brennan Croft, University of Oklahoma

A philologist and medieval scholar, J. R. R. Tolkien never intended to write immensely popular literature that would challenge traditional ideas about the nature of great literature and that was worthy of study in colleges across the world. He set out only to write a good story, the kind of story he and his friends would enjoy reading. In The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien created an entire world informed by his vast knowledge of mythology, languages, and medieval literature. In the 1960s, his books unexpectedly gained cult status with a new generation of young, countercultural readers. Today, the readership for Tolkien’s absorbing secondary world—filled with monsters, magic, adventure, sacrifice, and heroism—continues to grow.

Part 1 of this volume, “Materials,” introduces instructors to the rich array of resources available for teaching Tolkien, including editions and criticism of his fiction and scholarship, historical material on his life and times, audiovisual materials, and film adaptations of his fiction. The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” help instructors introduce students to critical debates around Tolkien’s work, its sources, its influence, and its connection to ecology, religion, and science. Contributors draw on interdisciplinary approaches to outline strategies for teaching Tolkien in a wide variety of classroom contexts.

Volume editor

Leslie A. Donovan


Cami D. Agan, Jane Chance, Christopher Cobb, Christopher Crane, Deidre Dawson, Michael D. C. Drout, Melissa Ridley Elmes, Nancy Enright, Justin Edward Everett, Liam Felsen, Dimitra Fimi, Verlyn Flieger, Judy Ann Ford, Craig Franson, James Gould, Ted Hazelgrove, Julia Simms Holderness, Keith W. Jensen, Yvette Kisor, Kristine Larsen, Thomas L. Martin, James McNelis, Philip Irving Mitchell, Shelley Rees, Robin Anne Reid, Sharin Schroeder, Anna Smol, Robin Chapman Stacey, Leslie Stratyner, Michael Tomko, James R. Vitullo, Brian Walter

Pages: xiv & 284 pp.
Published: 2015
ISBN: 9781603292061 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781603292054 (cloth)

This volume is available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book formats. Visit the MLA bookstore for more information.

Teaching the Latin American Boom


The attention to the framing of the Boom makes this volume more than just a study of the Boom; it stretches to cover a great deal of territory, literarily speaking, of twentieth- and twenty-first-century literature. This is a very important addition to the series.

—Gwen Kirkpatrick, Georgetown University

In the decade from the early 1960s to the early 1970s, Latin American authors found themselves writing for a new audience in both Latin America and Spain and in an ideologically charged climate as the Cold War found another focus in the Cuban Revolution. The writers who emerged in this energized cultural moment—among others, Julio Cortázar (Argentina), Guillermo Cabrera Infante (Cuba), José Donoso (Chile), Carlos Fuentes (Mexico), Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia), Manuel Puig (Argentina), and Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)—experimented with narrative forms that sometimes bore a vexed relation to the changing political situations of Latin America.

This volume provides a wide range of options for teaching the complexities of the Boom, explores the influence of Boom works and authors, presents different frameworks for thinking about the Boom, proposes ways to approach it in the classroom, and provides resources for selecting materials for courses.

Volume editors
Lucille Kerr
Alejandro Herrero-Olaizola

Bruno Bosteels, César Braga-Pinto, Debra Castillo, Sara Castro-Klarén, Román de la Campa, Laura Demaría, Roberto Ignacio Díaz, David William Foster, Naomi Lindstrom, María Eugenia Mudrovcic, María Cristina Pons, Dierdra Reber, María Helena Rueda, Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, Marcy Schwartz, Judith A. Weiss, Gareth Williams

Pages: viii & 300 pp.
Published: 2015
ISBN: 9781603291927 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781603291910 (cloth)

This volume is available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book formats. Visit the MLA bookstore for more information.


Approaches to Teaching Cervantes’s Don Quixote, second edition

Cervantes2ndEdThe new edition reflects an updating of the critical scholarship on Don Quixote and introduces new ideas based on advances in media and on the interests of the twenty-first-century student. The breadth of imaginative approaches is truly valuable.

—William H. Clamurro, Emporia State University

This second edition of Approaches to Teaching Cervantes’s Don Quixote highlights dramatic changes in pedagogy and scholarship in the last thirty years: today, critics and teachers acknowledge that subject position, cultural identity, and political motivations afford multiple perspectives on the novel, and they examine both literary and sociohistorical contextualization with fresh eyes.

Part 1, “Materials,” contains information about editions of Don Quixote, a history and review of the English translations, and a survey of critical studies and Internet resources. In part 2, “Approaches,” essays cover such topics as the Moors of Spain in Cervantes’s time; using film and fine art to teach his novel; and how to incorporate psychoanalytic theory, satire, science and technology, gender, role-playing, and other topics and techniques in a range of twenty-first-century classroom settings.

Volume editors
James A. Parr
Lisa Vollendorf

David A. Boruchoff, Bruce R. Burningham, Joan F. Cammarata, David Castillo, William Childers, Frederick A. de Armas, Sidney Donnell, Salvador J. Fajardo, Edward H. Friedman, Barbara Fuchs, Carmen García de la Rasilla, Gregory Kaplan, Howard Mancing, Patricia W. Manning, Christian Michener, Rogelio Miñana, Barbara Mujica, Susan Paun de García, Cory Reed, Barbara Simerka, Matthew D. Stroud, Jonathan Thacker, Luis Verano, Christopher Weimer, William Worden

Pages: x & 262 pp.
Published: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60329-188-0 (paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-60329-187-3 (hardcover)

This volume is available in paperback and hardcover formats. Visit the MLA bookstore for more information.