The Epic Quest from Homeric Fantasy to 21st-Century Speculative Fiction

How do our life journeys resemble "epic quests" in literature? We will voyage through fantasy literature, or “speculative fiction” (which includes fantasy, magic realism, sci-fi, and utopian/dystopian fiction). We’ll follow the “epic quest” from Homer and biblical narrative, through Beowulf and Irish sea-voyage tales, Arthurian legend and Shakespeare, to the fantasy literature icons C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. In the new millennium, we’ll also celebrate contemporary speculative fiction: decolonizing authors such as Celia Correas de Zapata from Latin America, Métis author Cherie Dimaline from Canada, and Afrofuturistic author Nalo Hopkinson.

A $50 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Schedule clarification: This is a four-week online course. It runs from Monday, January 11 to Friday, February 5. Each week, all week, you can study that week’s material, post and respond to messages, and engage in course activities. You will participate in live videoconferencing sessions each Friday from 10–11:30 a.m. PT. 

Learning objectives

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Trace the mythic and literary roots and evolution of the notion of "epic quest".
  • Give examples of and describe key fantasy authors and protagonists.
  • Identify the mythic, literary, and social significance of "fantasy" and "speculative literature" genres.
  • Consider how commercial and other influences have affected the fantasy genre.
  • Reflect on how the notion of "epic quest" relates to the context of a life journey.

Learning methods

Your online learning will include the following methods:

  • Academic and non-academic articles, book excerpts and videos
  • Participation in written discussions with other students
  • Sharing of memories and/or creative responses to the course material
  • Participation in videoconference seminars

For Liberal Arts for 55+ Certificate students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: The fantasy quest: an introduction  

The fantasy quest is “a journey as perilous for soul as for body—with a fixed purpose, a goal beyond itself” (Fleiger, 2017). We navigate through early the sea voyages in Homer’s Odyssey, biblical narratives, Beowulf and the Irish tales of Máel Dúin and St. Brendan.

Week 2: From Arthurian legend to Shakespeare

We learn about the fantasy genre’s inspirational legacy of medieval literature: heroes, heroines and magical characters on quests within the legends of King Arthur and the Round Table. Travelling onward to Shakespeare’s final play—The Tempest (1610)—we look at an enchanted shipwrecked crew on a remote island.

Week 3: World War icons Lewis and Tolkien

Fantasy literature icons C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) have biographical links starting with their collegial friendship at Oxford and continuing through two world wars, as well as common influences from myth, Christianity and allegory, and the loves of their lives. We compare Lewis's and Tolkien’s fantastical characters, settings and storylines and their intergenerational impact from the 20th century into the second millennium.

Week 4: Contemporary speculative fiction

We will reflect on the “epic quest” within fantasy literature across two millennia, pointing towards contemporary speculative fiction as an innovative voice for liberation, decolonization and alternate futures. We will read pieces by decolonizing authors such as Celia Correas de Zapata from Latin America, Canadian Métis author Cherie Dimaline, and Afrofuturistic author Nalo Hopkinson.

Books, materials and resources

You will access reading material using SFU's online course management system, Canvas.

Technical requirements

This course is delivered using SFU's online learning system, Canvas. You can check if your browser is compatible with Canvas here.  

To get the most out of this online course, you should be comfortable doing the following:

  • Using everyday software such as browsers, email and social media
  • Navigating a website by clicking on links and finding pages in a menu
  • Downloading and opening PDF documents
  • Posting, replying and uploading images to a discussion board
  • Participating in videoconferencing sessions

You will be participating in videoconferencing using Zoom Meetings. For this, your computer needs to have a camera, microphone and speakers or headphones. Your computer software should be up to date with the latest available operating system and browser versions.

Accessing your course

  • A few days before the course starts, we will email you more information about the course and how you'll access it. You will also receive an email inviting you to access the Canvas learning platform (click on the link in the invitation to join the course). Once you’ve accessed Canvas, you can begin exploring the platform on your own. The full course will be accessible on its start date.
  • We’ll also host a virtual drop-in time on Zoom Meetings a few days before the course starts. This will give you a chance to check that you can access Zoom Meetings, and that your computer’s camera and microphone and speakers are working properly.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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