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University of Michigan

Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World

University of Michigan via Coursera

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Fantasy is a key term both in psychology and in the art and artifice of humanity. The things we make, including our stories, reflect, serve, and often shape our needs and desires. We see this everywhere from fairy tale to kiddie lit to myth; from "Cinderella" to Alice in Wonderland to Superman; from building a fort as a child to building ideal, planned cities as whole societies. Fantasy in ways both entertaining and practical serves our persistent needs and desires and illuminates the human mind. Fantasy expresses itself in many ways, from the comfort we feel in the godlike powers of a fairy godmother to the seductive unease we feel confronting Dracula. From a practical viewpoint, of all the fictional forms that fantasy takes, science fiction, from Frankenstein to Avatar, is the most important in our modern world because it is the only kind that explicitly recognizes the profound ways in which science and technology, those key products of the human mind, shape not only our world but our very hopes and fears. This course will explore Fantasy in general and Science Fiction in specific both as art and as insights into ourselves and our world.

Work Expectations

For further information about the coursework, please see the Work Expectations page.


This course comprises ten units. Each will include a significant reading, typically a novel or a selection of shorter works. I will offer video discussions of each of the readings and also of more general topics in art and psychology that those readings help illuminate. Each unit will include online quizzes and ask you to write a brief essay offering your own insights into the reading. In order, the units are:
  1. Grimm — Children's and Household Tales
  2. Carroll — Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
  3. Stoker — Dracula
  4. Shelley — Frankenstein
  5. Hawthorne & Poe — Stories and Poems
  6. Wells — The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, "The Country of the Blind," "The Star"
  7. Burroughs & Gilman — A Princess of Mars & Herland
  8. Bradbury — The Martian Chronicles
  9. LeGuin — The Left Hand of Darkness
  10. Doctorow — Little Brother

In Unit I, the specific stories are the ones in the Lucy Crane translation (1886) which was published by Dover and is available online through Project Gutenberg. In Unit V, the specific readings are: Hawthorne's "The Birthmark," "Rappaccini's Daughter," "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," and "The Artist of the Beautiful"; Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Black Cat," "The Oval Portrait," "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," "The Bells," "The Raven," "Annabel Lee." All the readings except Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness will be available online at no charge.

Taught by

Eric Rabkin


3.9 rating, based on 11 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World

  • Maria
    The readings are heavy but well chosen. The lectures are given by a professor with an old-fashioned view of literature and a ponderous lecturing style. The weekly essays are peer-graded, which doesn't always work. I have done graduate work in litera…
  • Profile image for Kirk Barbera
    Kirk Barbera
    I took this course back in 2015. It was an eye-opening course by Professor Rabkin. I noticed that one of the "reviewers" were upset that the lectures were "old fashioned." By old fashioned, I assume the reviewer means intelligible.

    I've taken many literature courses, most of them are meandering nonsense. This was an incredible course that will help to guide you through the genres of fantasy and science fiction.
  • Anonymous
    I'm glad I took the class. The reading list and the lectures were very interesting. I changed my opinion about Carroll's "Alice", and Nathaniel Hawthorne became my new favorite author. The only issue I had with this course is the peer-grading: the comments I received on my essays were unfriendly, unprofessional, and not even in English!
  • Anonymous
    Best online course I ever took. Though the readings become less and less interesting form me as the course advances the lessons extracted from them are invaluable. The insight on Grimm's brothers fairy tales, Frankenstein and Alice are mind-blowing and changed my mind about fantasy and tales from then on.
  • One
    Unfortunately, I has disappointed by this course, I enjoyed the first few lessons but later on I found the lecturer's ideas quite arbitrary. Peer reviews (as someone else has already mentioned) was patchy too. Not one of the best courses I'm afraid
  • Anonymous
    Excellent lectures (professor as an example of a story teller)

    The essay writing assignments were challenging but the peer grading was disappointing in that it very seldom added meaningful criticism.
  • Anonymous
    Fantastic class.

    Pr Rabkin gives you a chance to know literature and sharp your writing skills.
  • Dominique Dixon

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