Reading Fiction

In this course, we will study what one critic has called “the literary prehistory of virtual reality”: fantasy narratives that invite readers to immerse themselves in enchanted alternative realms or magical worlds enmeshed within the realm of everyday life. Starting with L. Frank Baum’s Oz and J. M. Barrie’s Neverland, we will investigate how authors employ tools of fiction to craft such convincing alternative worlds. Were these fantasies an escapist solution to the problem of modern disenchantment, or can we tell some more complicated story about their emergence and function? As we move through the twentieth century, we will compare comic fantasies by writers like E. Nesbit with more somber ones by writers like C. S. Lewis, and conclude with J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.