SCANDINAVIAN R5B, Section 1: A Ring of Retelling: The Romanticized Nordic Legend

MWF 8-9 , 183 Dwinelle. Instructor: TBA

Units: 4

This course satisfies the second half or the “B” portion of the Reading and Composition requirement.

The stories told through the Viking Age and Medieval Norse literature have directly influenced and inspired the lore in modern works like The Hobbit, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Marvel Comic’s Thor. One Scandinavian legend in particular has captured popular imagination across the world: the legend of The Saga of the Vǫlsungs. The saga – rife with curses, warring kingdoms, love triangles, and (of course) dragons – has been retold over and over. Authors, screenwriters, and composers simply can’t resist a good dragon-slaying.

Our reading list will sketch a genealogy of literature which cuts across national borders and historical eras. Retellings of The Saga of the Vǫlsungs are authored by familiar names, like JRR Tolkien and Richard Wagner. Some versions are by famous Scandinavian authors like Henrik Ibsen (sometimes called Norway’s Shakespeare) and Selma Lagerlöf (the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in literature). The retellings encountered in this course are hardly tired old tropes; they are moments of creativity for some of the Modern era’s most successful authors.

In this composition course, we will investigate the interplay between the content of writing and the stylistic/technical aspects. The course theme of “retelling” will help to highlight the contexts of historical writing and our own moment in history. We will attempt to move questions from “How is this different?” towards “Why is this different?” Along the way, the class will discover the rich cultural heritage of Scandinavia, and how a retelling of an old Viking legend can lead to the next Hollywood blockbuster or best-selling comic book.


Saga of the Volsungs translated by Jesse Byock 978-0140447385 (~70 pages / $10)

 Wagner’s Ring in 1848 by Edward R. Haymes 978-1571139320 (83 pages / $28)

 The Treasure (Herr Arnes Penningar) by Selma Lagerlöf 978-1434458254 (60 pages / $6)

Ibsen’s The Vikings at Helgeland 978-1420930849 (84 pages $10)

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien 978-0547928227 (273 pages / $10)

Other readings will be made available in a course reader or through bCourses.

$78 total from Amazon

40 pages per week = 630 pages as target total course reading –

Prerequisite:  Successful completion of the “A” portion of the Reading & Composition requirement or its equivalent.  Students may not enroll in nor attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.