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Several people have asked about the literature course I’ve titled Roots of Steampunk. (This will take a couple of posts)

 

I got the idea at the end of last year, when I very much needed the refreshment of something more inspirational than the road we’d been on. We had used Windows to the World for freshman/8th grade and I wanted to give the boys a dose of fun, but meaty books that they could apply some of their new skills to.

 

I found myself thinking about the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and thinking that there were so many little jokes and references in the movie that my boys probably missed, because they weren’t familiar with the original books.  I also remembered having read Dracula for the first time a few years back, when the Twilight movies were coming fast and furious. That book was such an antidote for the sparkly vampire gack and defense of evil as “maybe only sort of bad, from one way of looking at it†that I see in a lot of books and movies aimed at the young adult market.

 

Plus our family has a real fondness for the Steampunk vibe. My kids enjoy a lot of books in or around the edges of the modern Steampunk genre. I thought that it might provide a nice hook to get them to dive into the books upon which Steampunk is founded.  

 

So I started out with the books referenced in the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  [CAVEAT: The graphic novel is in no way suitable for kids. The first chapter includes the depiction of an attempted rape of one of the main characters. I have a pretty strong omnivorous reading appetite, but I sent that one back to the library unfinished. The movie is much tamer.] Then I added in some other books that I thought were important and could generally tie to the theme.

 

My working booklist looked something like this:

 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Picture of Dorian Gray

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Dracula

The Invisible Man

King Solomon’s Mines

Sherlock Holmes

Frankenstein

War of the Worlds

Island of Dr. Moreau

Sherlock Holmes

Pride and Prejudice

The Time Machine

Father Brown by Chesterton

Metamorphosis and The Trial by Kafka

Huckleberry Finn

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Something by Dickens

 

Most of these are from the Victorian era, an era when the ages of Exploration and Industrialization and Science were firmly bumping up against each other.  Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein are on the early end of the spectrum. 

I also had a hard time thinking of quality American books to fit into the theme.  Huckleberry Finn is mentioned in the movie, but I wanted to hold that off one more year, in case we did a one year American History study.  And because I think it’s a book that a lot of extra meaning has been loaded onto and I wanted to give it justice with a little more adult readers. My husband suggested A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as having a time travel and “what is modernity†theme.

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Most of these are from the Victorian era, an era when the ages of Exploration and Industrialization and Science were firmly bumping up against each other.  Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein are on the early end of the spectrum. 

 

I also had a hard time thinking of quality American books to fit into the theme.  Huckleberry Finn is mentioned in the movie, but I wanted to hold that off one more year, in case we did a one year American History study.  And because I think it’s a book that a lot of extra meaning has been loaded onto and I wanted to give it justice with a little more adult readers. My husband suggested A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as having a time travel and “what is modernity†theme.

 

What I ended up with was:

 

Selected stories from Sherlock Holmes (See below)

20,000 Leagues under the Sea (See below)

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Dracula

Great Expectations

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Frankenstein

Pride and Prejudice

The Count of Monte Cristo

Pygmalion

 

Most of the books have some sort of a science fiction vibe to them.  Frankenstein is often listed as one of the first science fiction novels. Jules Verne (or at least what people think of when they think of Jules Verne) is often mentioned as one of the earliest science fiction writers.

 

I included Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations because I wanted to, and because I thought it was important to have a sense of the everyday that the extraordinary tales were themselves deviating from.  And both of these stories do fit in with the theme of people trying to find their place in a changing world (in the midst of cultural change and industrialization).

 

There is a lot of great Sherlock Holmes, but we didn’t have time to read it all. I went through several lists of the “best†stories and came up with a listing for us to read.  I asked the boys to read the following, in the order listed:

 

A Study in Scarlet

The Speckled Band

Scandal in Bohemia

The Final Problem

The Adventure of the Empty House

The Hound of the Baskervilles

 

I also gave them the following recommendations if they wanted to read more (in no particular order):

 

The Red Headed League

Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb

Silver Blaze

Adventure of the Dying Detective

Blue Carbuncle

Adventure of the Dancing Men

Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual

Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans

Valley of Fear

 

In general I scheduled about four weeks for a novel and three weeks for a novella or series of short stories.  Right now we’re about half way through the year’s reading list.

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20,000 Leagues under the Sea was an interesting read, but one that is much more of an episodic travelogue than a standard novel with a plot.  I'd have a hard time identifying the protagonist and antagonist, in part because there is so little real conflict. Nemo isn't really questing for anything, nor is he running from something. He has simply set himself apart.  The narrator is hard to place as the protagonist, because he's not really sure if he wants to leave or stay.  We didn't write on this one. If we had to, I might have them explore the difference between this and a plot driven story and consider why Verne has such a hold on the imagination. (And is it in spite of people not having read the whole book or because they only know the shadow of the tale from movies and Disney rides?) 

 

If I were making the list again, I might substitute Around the World in 80 Days, because it has more of a direct plot to follow – will Phineas make it around the world or not?  But my kids had already read that once and I thought it would be good to be familiar with 20,000 Leagues. We got about 1/2 - 2/3 of the way through it, and I saw that was becoming a bit of a slog, so we moved on.

 

In addition to the readings, I assigned readings and exercises out of Essential Literary Terms: A Norton Guide with Exercises.  I wanted to build on the literary analysis background we’d developed last year.  I tried to keep the exercise work brief, so I kept coming back and spreading the lessons out over more time. I wanted to keep the focus on the books being read.  We haven’t kept up on these and this is something that we’ll be working on again this spring.

 

I also picked up a copy of How to Read Novels like a Professor.  This is a lot like How to Read Literature like a Professor, but with more of an emphasis on the structure of a novel, rather than on allusions.  My idea was to have them read a chapter per novel and use it as a jumping off point for their essay writing.

For each novel read, I ask them to fill out a Major Works Data Sheet (common in AP Literature classes) and write a short 2-3 page essay.  I’m thinking that I may have them write one long essay at the end of the year that tries to pull several of the books together.  Sometimes they were a little stumped for essay ideas, so I gave them a copy of a bunch of AP English Literature Open Essay question suggestions.  These are essay questions that are not based on one particular idea.

 

Sometimes, I feel like just thinking about a possible essay topic and struggling with how to find evidence for it has been a good exercise. For example, one son thought that Dracula could be considered sexist.  But when he tried to write on that, he struggled with what evidence to use. So we had a nice discussion about what in the story might be considered sexist and if there was another way of reading those same scenes and characters. Great conversation, even if a long essay on the topic doesn’t appear.

 

I didn't assign them again, but last year we listened to many lectures on Victorian Britain by Patrick Allitt for the Teaching Company. They are brilliant and I would very much recommend them. Allitt also did many of the lectures in the Teaching Company series History of the United States, 2nd edition.  A couple other series we have listened to include the Michael Drout lectures for Modern Scholars on Science Fiction and Fantasy.  These are also good, but had an incomplete overlap with what I was trying to do. So nice background, but not the basis of the course.  A series that I did not like was Teaching Company’s Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind by Prof Rabkin.  I really didn’t care for his lecture style or the lessons he was drawing from the literature. When I caught several textual errors in the lecture on Lewis (in addition to what I think was a fundamental misunderstanding of the text) I stopped listening.  All of these series were available at our local library, which made it easy to dip in and out of them as we needed.

 

I hope this helps people who were interested.

 

My book choices don’t have to be yours. Though I will say that my sons have very much enjoyed what we’ve read so far.  One was really blown away by Dracula and kept telling me how much he was enjoying it.  Actually, that same kid also really enjoyed Jekyll/Hyde.  Having slogged through Jane Eyre last year, in part just to prove to them that they could, it’s nice to see them chewing through long, old books and deciding they enjoy them.

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Sebastian, thanks so much for posting this.

 

We are just finishing the Industrial Revolution for our European studies and have been watching this BBC series on the Romantics. The material in the series reminded me of a TC lecture that I have: The Soul and the City: Art, Literature, and Urban Living.

 

Now I am playing with the idea of combining your works into this lecture series. I don't know if I can legally list what is covered in the TC lecture as far as the works are concerned, but I think between the two resources, we could breathe some life into AP Euro. It would be fun to watch The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen now as the semester is wrapping up. My daughter is the only one that has seen it and she had wanted to read the related books, so we could probably get some good discussions going. She worked on a Steampunk fashion show last year and had a blast.

 

Anyway, thank you again.

 

Also, have you seen this for Frankenstein?

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Anyway, thank you again.

 

Also, have you seen this for Frankenstein?

 

No, that looks interesting. 

 

My middle son read Frankenstein over the summer. He read and read and read. Then when he finally came up for air at the end, he looked at me with disdain and asked why Dr. Frankenstein didn't just get a rifle. 

 

He understood the point of the book, but just thought that the Doctor was a milquetoast and struggled to move past that to more analysis.

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The lists posted look wonderful.  But can someone explain to me exactly what steampunk is.  I have heard the word, though when I heard it, it was in relation to decor.  But I have no clue what it means exactly.

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The lists posted look wonderful.  But can someone explain to me exactly what steampunk is.  I have heard the word, though when I heard it, it was in relation to decor.  But I have no clue what it means exactly.

 

A few links that might help...

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk

 

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=steampunk

 

http://www.steampunk.com/what-is-steampunk/

 

We are very much looking forward to using most of the Roots of Steampunk lit study in another year (ds's ninth grade year). Now if I can just come up with something that good for eighth grade!

 

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My ds and I have been talking about doing a similar course for 9th grade.

 

Our working title is "A Victorian Idea (take/view) on Science-Fiction and Fantasy"

 

We'll be covering the years 1818-1918. Yes, I know that it just a little before the Victorian age began and just a little after it ended, but 1818 is the year Frankenstein was published. I thought Frankenstein would be a good place to start and we would be able to discuss how we can now replace/add body parts without having to employ body-snatchers.

 

This is all just in the beginning stages of planning, so I'll be following this thread with interest. And if you do not mind, I may borrow some of your ideas.

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Thank you for sharing this. I am hoping to craft a sci-fi course for my dc and was thinking about steampunk titles. Your list of resources gives me a great place to start when we cover that period of time.

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Sebastian--what a cool idea! My only caveat is to be careful if you're looking at NCAA eligibility. We ran into problems with The Literature of the Inklings, but found that they were happy with English IV: Literature of the Inklings. So silly, but there we were. 

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Sebastian--what a cool idea! My only caveat is to be careful if you're looking at NCAA eligibility. We ran into problems with The Literature of the Inklings, but found that they were happy with English IV: Literature of the Inklings. So silly, but there we were. 

 

Unless outrigger canoe becomes an NCAA sport, it looks like I'll never have to deal with that extra set of hoops.

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