A Practical Field Guide to Wonder and Meaning in Life
"How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
This course, quite simply, is set in your childhood, and in your imagination: in your dreams, but also in your nightmares. It is set in that part of your adult mind that must reconcile with this childhood and integrate it if you are to be who you are meant to be. It is set in that part of your heart that most longs for beauty and meaning, in the depth of your soul from which you refuse to yield, through whose power you have learned and are learning to stand firm.
And so we will examine several literary portrayals of dragons, from sources as disparate as Norse mythology and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Some of the texts may be old friends, familiar from a lifetime of reading and re-reading; others may be new to you, offering a window onto a world you have yet to visit. Whatever the case, through a combination of allegorical interpretation and close reading, these texts will become guides and companions as we reflect upon the most urgent of human concerns: beauty and the sublime, glory, immortality, friendship, and wonder.
So let me ask you: what can Tolkien’s Lake-town tell you about the meaning of human life? What can the old dragon that Eustace stumbles across in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader reveal about the nature of pride and greed? What can we learn from Robin McKinley’s young female protagonist about the difficulty in seeing past ourselves in trying to see the world? The answers are profound, specific, and often life changing.
Here is a map of our discussions:
Week One: Dragon Friend: The Wisdom of Kindness
Reading: Rebecca Rupp, The Dragon of Lonely Island
Week Two: Escaping the Mirror of Self: Learning to See the World Well
Reading: Robin McKinley, The Hero and the Crown
Week Three: “You Must Let Me Undress You:” The Trials of Becoming Fully Human
Reading: C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Week Four: Making a Living in the Desolation of Smaug: Laying Hold of the Past and Future to Ground the Present
Reading: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Week Five: The Book of Books: When the Reader Becomes the Read
Reading: Michael Ende, The Neverending Story, part I
Week Six: Do What You Wish: Making and Destroying the World
Reading: Michael Ende, The Neverending Story, part II
Week Seven: Fame, Ruin, and the Death of the Gods: Ambition and Tragedy
Reading: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun
Week Eight: “Feud-calloused Hand:” Revenge, Unforgiveness, and the Death of Joy
Week Nine: Nightmares and Madness: The Interplay of Inner and Outer Demons
Reading: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Hurin
Week Ten: “I Saw the Dragons Aloft on the Wind at Sunset:” Incorporating the Draconic into the Human
Reading: Ursula K. LeGuin, Tehanu, “Going to the Falcon’s Nest” (pp. 487-493) [pdf]; Tales from Earthsea, “Dragonfly” (pp. 278-375)
‘Here Be Dragons’ is an adventure into the broad range of human experience as we explore dragons unknown—and perhaps unknowable. Junius Johnson's seminars discover wonder and pathos revealed in dragon stories down through the ages. Guided by Junius’ deep knowledge of literature our class discussions became treasured insights into dragon mysteries and humanity. ‘Here Be Dragons’ has inspired my own writing and introduced me to new friends to share the adventure with along the way.
Participating in a course led by Dr. Junius Johnson is a wonderful journey of exploration, seeking hidden gems in unexpected places. It is an opportunity to learn to look deeper than the surface, both in reading and in the mundane of life. A delightful feast for the mind that lasts far beyond the actual banquet.
Dr. Johnson’s knowledge of theology, philosophy, and literature, combined with his engaging style of communication, make him an excellent intellectual guide. If you see fantasy as somewhat pointless or as something reserved for children, Dr. Johnson will correct your thinking. His class on dragons will both enrich and hone your imaginative and analytical thinking. Personally, this class deepened my appreciation for fantasy as a vehicle of truth and better equipped me with the perspective and hope that enable a person to face and bear hardship well.
Dr. Johnson’s Dragons class is full of monsters, heroes, fame, destruction, triumph, and glory. It was incredibly fun and thought provoking. I highly recommend it to everyone!
Dr. Johnson is a fun, engaging, and personable teacher! This is a class designed to look at great writing and to explore the good, true, and beautiful.