“From Middle Earth to the Garden of Eden” An Inklings Class (by Distance)

THE HOBBIT: UNEXPECTED JOURNEYI am excited to announce that I have a class on culture and ideas beginning tonight called, “From Middle Earth to the Garden of Eden: Thoughts on Faith and Culture from C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.” Most of you don’t live in Charlottetown, but we are offering the class by distance through Google Hangout (or, if class is in the middle of the night where you are, though video transfer). You can take it for credit, but there is also a special $50 audit price (the senior’s rate). Email me at bdickieson [at] mccpei [dot] com if you are interested. It begins tonight! Here is the description:

Among the most influential Christians of the 20th century—and still influential into the 21st—include a group of English academics who gathered to discuss one another’s writing. Out of this little group, called The Inklings, came one of Britain’s bestselling mystery writers, Dorothy L. Sayers, and two of the world’s greatest fantasy writers, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. In the great era of change surrounding WWII, these writers were able to engage their culture with a Christian message in a time when culture was not receptive to biblical truth.

We live in such a time now, and no less a time of great change.

Some have followed Tolkien and Lewis in their project of engaging culture, including fiction writers like Frederick Buechner and Madeleine L’Engle, thinkers like Alister McGrath and Matthew Dickerson, pastors like John Piper and Tim Keller, popular Christian writers like Phillip Yancey and Rob Bell, and scientists like Francis S. Collins and Jim Wallace.

This course is an experiment in engaging culture with the message of Christ, following in the path of Lewis, Tolkien, and other artists and thinkers. This experiment is not just about explaining biblical truth—translating the gospel for our culture. This class argues that the Inklings and other effective witnesses to culture not only translate truth into today’s language and images, but go into culture and draw out truth, using moments in culture to reach the lost. The Apostle Paul does this in Acts 17, using the gods of his listeners on Mars Hill to connect them back to the God of gods, the Source of their lives. This class attempts to draw out some moments in culture where God is already speaking. This is a theology of culture and cultural theology, a Narnian Pilgrimmage to seek and find, a mythmaker’s journey into great ideas, a Hobbit’s Theology of There and Back Again.

I have spent some time working on a bibliography for this class. It isn’t a full “Christianity and Literature” or “Theology and Literature” reading list, but I thought readers might be interested in it.

Required Novels 

  1. C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950).
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937).
  3. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1962).

Other Recommended Novels/Series

  1. Frederick Buechner, Lion Country (Book 1 of The Book of Bebb, 1971).
  2. Paulo Coelho, The Devil and Miss Prym (2006).
  3. Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (1988).
  4. Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852).
  5. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “The Grand Inquisitor” (1880).
  6. Madeleine L’Engle, The Time Quintet.
  7. C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (1938).
  8. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942).
  9. C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia.
  10. George MacDonald, Lilith (1895).
  11. George MacDonald, Phantastes (1858).
  12. Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man Is Hard To Find, and Other Stories (1955).
  13. Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia (1977).
  14. Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev (1972).
  15. Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials.
  16. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004).
  17. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter.
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
  19. Charles Williams, The Place of the Lion (1931).

Required Readings (Available Digitally or On Reserve)

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Tales.”
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, “Mythopoiea, a poem.”
  3. Selection from Ursula Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, Rev. Ed. (1992).
  4. Selection from Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (Pantheon Books, 1999).
  5. Selections from A Pilgrim in Narnia, blog.
  6. Harry Blamires, “Thinking Christianly and Thinking Secularly,`ch. 2 in The Christian Mind.
  7. John C. McDowell, “A New Myth: The Truthfulness of Star Wars,” ch. 1 in The Gospel According to Star Wars (Westminster John Knox, 2007).
  8. John Granger, “Magic, Fantasy, and the Christian Worldview,” ch. 1 in Looking for God in Harry Potter (Saltriver, 2004).
  9. Selection from Gergory Bassham & Eric Bronson, eds., The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All (Open Court, 2003).
  10. Mark I. Pinskey, “Conclusion: Cloaking the Sacred in the Profane,” ch. 13 in The Gospel According to the Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World’s Most Animated Family (Westminster John Knox, 2001).
  11. Selection from Rob Bell, Drops Like Stars (2009).
  12. Selection from G.K. Chesterton, On Lying in Bed and Other Essays.
  13. Matthew Dickerson, “Affirming the Creative and the Heroic,” ch. 5 in The Mind and the Machine: What it Means to be Human and Why it Matters (BrazosPress, 2011).

Recommended Resources

  • Jerram Barrs, Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts (Crossway, 2013).
  • Gergory Bassham & Eric Bronson, eds., The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All (Open Court, 2003).
  • Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Zondervan, 2005).
  • Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind (1980).
  • The Bruderhof, ed., The Gospel in Dostoyevsky (Plough Publishing, 1988).
  • Michael Ward, The Narnia Code: C.S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens (Tyndale, 2010)—this is the popular version of the academic work Michael Ward, Planet Narnia (OUP, 2010).
  • Ralph C. Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth (Westminster John Knox, 2003).
  • Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949).
  • Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien: A Biography (1977)
  • Gary L. Colledge, God and Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author (Brazos, 2012).
  • Matthew Dickerson, The Mind and the Machine: What it Means to be Human and Why it Matters (BrazosPress, 2011).
  • T.S. Eliot, Christianity & Culture (1939, 1948).
  • Donna Freitas and Jason King, Killing the Imposter God: Philip Pullman’s Spiritual Imagination in His Dark Materials (Wiley, 2007).
  • John Granger, Looking for God in Harry Potter (Saltriver, 2004).
  • James A. Herrick, Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Myths (IVP, 2008).
  • William Irwin et al, eds., The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! Of Homer (Open Court, 2001). In this series there are also books on Seinfeld and The Matrix.
  • C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds (1966)
  • C.S. Lewis, Christianity & Culture (1940).
  • John C. McDowell, “The Gospel According to Star Wars (Westminster John Knox, 2007).
  • Bagriel McKee, The Gospel According to Sceince Fiction: From the Twilight Zone to the Final Frontier (Westminster John Knox, 2007).
  • Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (1989).
  • Roger E. Olson, Finding God in the Shack: Seeking Truth in a Story of Evil and Redemption (IVP, 2009).
  • Mark I. Pinskey, The Gospel According to the Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World’s Most Animated Family (Westminster John Knox, 2001).
  • Mark I. Pinskey, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust (Westminster John Knox, 2004).
  • Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker (1941).
  • William David Spencer and Aida Besançon Spencer, God through the Looking Glass: Glimpses from the Arts (Baker Books, 1998).


About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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17 Responses to “From Middle Earth to the Garden of Eden” An Inklings Class (by Distance)

  1. robstroud says:

    Looks fascinating. Alas, I am presently buried under the reading requirements of my D.Min. program… I know the course will be very beneficial for all who participate.


  2. Alas, the sea, the sea! But I have binge ordered some of the above titles from my library – great resource.


  3. Wishing you every success in this programme. I’m delighted that you include JK Rowling among your recommended reading. The Harry Potter series, the Narnia series and The Lord of the Rings have all had a big effect on my children as they have grown up.


  4. Marie Anne says:

    Sounds like an awesome class! I was very jealous of the students who graduated a few years after me; my favorite teachers taught classes such as Wizardry: From Merlin to Harry Potter and a senior seminar on Lord of the Rings. Hope you have a blast!


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  10. keebslac1234 says:

    I recognize many titles that were required reading for my B.A., the Narnia series, selective portions of Tolkien’s fabulous Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, selective portions of Dickens (I have to add Melville’s Bartelby the Scrivener [Typee and Omoo, and the massive tale of the Great White Whale, as well]), the must-read “Grand Inquisitor,” the Lewis science fiction trilogy, Screwtape (of course), several MacDonald short stories (a later purchase enchanted me but my children not so much), A Good Man is Hard to Find (I’m eternally grateful to have been assigned O’Connor’s stuff.) and My Name is Asher Lev. Many thanks for adding to my voluminous must-read list. I won’t live long enough to get to its end, though I’m certainly going to try.


  11. keebslac1234 says:

    I have a B.A. in English with an emphasis in writing from Northwestern College in Orange City. The Meliville reading was independent, guided of course by my profs, Drs. Paul Borgman, Roy Anker, Verna Lindskoog and a writing instructor to whom I will be eternally grateful (Barb Turnwall), after many revisions of many papers. I had courses in which Prof. Borgman banged home the Christ figure in much of our readings (not to mention the bible as literature), a Problem of Evil course with Prof Anker (Wiesel’s Night and Lewis, of course), although those details are fuzzier decades after commencement (I finally graduated in 1979). I think it was Prof. Lindskoog who had us read Flannery O’Bonnor’s writing.
    I’ve got to admit, the work for my degree was far more rigorous than most students now would tolerate. But it set me on a course I don’t regret, lifelong learning. I’m afraid liberal arts undergraduate work has paled in the liberal arts world.
    To be fair, the degree did little to advance a particular career, since I didn’t venture much beyond, except for a course or two. I’ve kept up the independent study stuff, but, alas, without the stamp of approval of academia.


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