Anyway, regardless, I'm working on a Tolkien syllabus. There's a couple of good resources out there: a Waymeet for Tolkien Teachers website, as well as the recent book edited by Leslie Donovan, Approaches to Teaching Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.
There's any number of ways to do a course like this, but I decided on a single-author course that covers Tolkien's life and works. The major question is this: what works should one require in a 15-week course devoted to Tolkien? I came up with the following list:
- Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings: 50th Anniversary, One Vol. Edition, 2005. ISBN: 978-0618640157. (Any post-1994 edition acceptable.)
- Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. 1967. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2012. ISBN: 978-0547928227. (Any 3rd edition acceptable.)
- Tolkien, J.R.R. Tree and Leaf: Including “Mythopoeia.” Boston: HarperCollins, 2001. ISBN: 978-0007105045.
- Tolkien, J.R.R. Smith of Wootton Major / Farmer Giles of Ham. New York: Del Rey, 1986. ISBN: 978-0345336064.
- Carpenter, Humphrey. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. ISBN: 978-0618057023.
- Shippey, Tom. The Road to Middle-earth: Rev. and Exp. Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. ISBN: 978-0618257607
The Shippey book and the Carpenter biography seem like obvious choices to me, although I'd use them as supplements rather than spend on class time on them. Otherwise, my reason for the works by Tolkien are as follows:
LoTR and Hobbit are the obvious ones here. I'd skip The Silmarillion, not because it's not important, but mostly because it's not a very accessible text for undergraduates. Granted, Tolkien courses tend to attract Tolkien fans, but skipping S is my attempt at accommodating the newbies.
In terms of Tolkien's non-legendarium writings, "Leaf by Niggle," "Mythopoeia," "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son," and Smith of Wootton Major all offer major pathways to Tolkien's life and way of thinking. (Plus, they're all relatively short.) My favorite non-legendarium text is actually Farmer Giles of Ham, but that's a bit harder to fit into the framework of Tolkien's life. (It might, however, potentially be an attractive way, given the mutual Oxford-connections, to introduce students what the heck Tolkien was thinking when he created Tom Bombadil.)
I'd skip Tolkien's major essays, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" and "On Fairy-stories," partly due to time constraints. (Even so, I think OFS is a bit over-rated in terms of practical literary criticism.) I'd also skip providing much in the way of Tolkien's medieval sources. For one thing, I'm not a medievalist, and a teacher has to play to their strengths. For another, reading and discussing such texts as they deserve would take too much class time. Nonetheless, I'd probably supplement Tolkien's works with handouts of certain medieval works. Pairing "Homecoming" with The Battle of Maldon is an obvious choice, as is the Earendil poem and the sections of Beowulf that Tolkien lifted for Aragorn et al's approach to the king of Rohan.