Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Not

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Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Not

Postby DavidTate on Monday, 20 March 2017, 12:28 am

I recently listened to the course Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature's Most Fantastic Works, from The Great Courses (formerly The Teaching Company). Professor Eric Rabkin, University of Michigan.

Don't bother.

I can see why they're offering this course for $20 as a download, far below the usual price of lecture series from this company. The professor is one of those easy-to-parody academics who cannot conceive of the possibility that a cigar might really just be a cigar. Between his obsessive psychoanalysis of everything from folk tales to Neuromancer and his compulsive assumption that everyone stuffs their works with Christian (specifically Catholic) symbolism, my eyes were sore from incessant rolling by the end of the third lecture. Yes, I'm sure that John Carter's initials are an explicit evocation of Jesus Christ, and the three dead tripods at the end of The War of the Worlds are an explicit evocation of Calvary. Right. Sure.

Oh, and he also couldn't resist pontificating on the difference between fantasy and science fiction (and magical realism), then contradicting his own (incorrect) definition repeatedly. He doesn't seem to understand the important distinction between books and films, or the difference between fantasy and science fiction as literary genres versus as marketing categories. He emphasizes the importance of scientific plausibility in science fiction, then fawns over Star Wars and The Martian Chronicles and Neuromancer.

This course is neither an informative survey nor an insightful analysis nor a useful taxonomy of imaginative fiction. I suspect it is from the mid-late 1990s, but I'm not sure. I do not recommend it.
David Tate
Professor of Story Problems, emeritus
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