Now, what kind of books should go on such a thing? Well, I'll exclude the 19th-century people (Dunsany, Morris), although I'd probably include them in a more comprehensive survey-level course. I'd have to have a smattering of sword and sorcery texts, given its influence, plus a sampling of the relevant Inklings. After that, I'd have to go with the various responses to Tolkien's influence. Overall, though, I want to avoid the massive tomes that generally mark post-Tolkien fantasy -- there's only so much you can cover in 15 weeks, and I can't justify spending 3 weeks having them read Game of Thrones or The Wheel of Time.
Here's what I came up with:
- Howard, Robert E. The Essential Conan. Ed. Karl Edward Wagner. 1998.
- Anderson, Poul. The Broken Sword. 1954.
- Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. 1950.
- Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. 1937.
- Beagle, Peter S. The Last Unicorn. 1968.
- Le Guin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea. 1968. [Book 1 of The Earthsea Cycle]
- Lackey, Mercedes. Magic’s Pawn. 1989. [Book 1 of The Last Herald-Mage]
- Cook, Glen. The Black Company. 1984. [Book 1 of The Black Company series]
- Pratchett, Terry. Jingo. 1997. [A Discworld novel]
- Jemisin, N. K. The Fifth Season. 2015. [Book 1 of The Broken Earth Series]
Howard's essential not only for the S&S factor but because he lets me introduce the role of Weird Tales into the genre. Anderson's also follows up the S&S angle and, in addition, is a short work that cements the influence of northern heroic cultures on the genre.
Lewis and Tolkien are givens, and I picked their shortest representative works.
After that, though, you have to deal with how writers choose to respond to Tolkien. Beagle's work was a revelation of post-Tolkien fantasy, and Le Guin (besides being awesome) helps show the impact Tolkien had on children's fantasy.
After that, my choices get a bit idiosyncratic. Lackey and Cook may not be considered "typical" or canonical fantasy authors, but they give the lie to the belief that 1980s fantasy was just Tolkien-clones. Lackey's book is about a non-straight male, so that let's us cover a Queer angle. (I also considered the feminism of Marion Zimmer Bradley, but I just never warmed to her books myself.) Cook might be an even odder choice, but he wrote gritty fantasy before Stephen Erikson and George R. R. Martin made it a thing. Plus, Cook's a lot more original than may be commonly recognized.
Pratchet, of course, is a must, and he's one of the few successful people to do comic fantasy. Jemisin's book is arguably not even fantasy (unlike her earlier One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which I didn't care for), but she's destined to become a canonical writer and was the only non-white fantasy author I could think of. Her book also is the only one on the list with a female protagonist, which is surprisingly rare. (The Golden Compass, perhaps? But then I wished to avoid too much children's fantasy.)
Anyway, this seems like a fun list. I kinda want to take this course myself.
**Wait, did I say "complaining"? I meant that I, uh, was noting the truth of Max Weber's claims about bureaucracy and rational systems that actually create irrationality. See, it's not whining if a major German theorist can be invoked.