Week 5: “Pearl,” “Princess Mee,” and Other Poems


  • How is the symbol of the pearl transformed throughout the poem?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between the Pearl-Maiden and the Dreamer?
  • How might we interpret this poem literally, allegorically, morally, and anagogically?
  • Is the dreamer consoled at the end of the poem? If not, why not? If so, how?
  • What imagery does Tolkien use from “Pearl” in “Princess Mee,” and why is it significant, especially in light of its source?

For more questions to help with close reading, see:
Medieval Pearl – Teaching


Week 4: “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and “Farmer Giles of Ham”


Read “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” translated by J.R.R. Tolkien. Answer one (or more) of the following questions about it in a post of at least one, full paragraph. Conclude your post with a question for reflection and discussion:

  • What codes govern Gawain’s life, and how do they come into conflict in this poem?
  • What games are played in this poem, and how do they test Gawain’s character?
  • When Gawain makes each of his confessions in the poem (there are three), what level of self-awareness of his choices does he show, especially in relation to the codes governing his actions? What does he confess, what level of responsibility does he take for his actions, and why (and how much) does it matter within the world of the poem?
  • How might we, as readers, interpret the conclusion of this poem, and what might be its relevance for a medieval audience and for us?

You should also read Tolkien’s “Farmer Giles of Ham.” What is the genre of this short story? How does it relate to “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”? Be prepared to compare these two works of literature in class next time!

Week 2: “Sellic Spell,” Beowulf, and “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”


Read Tolkien’s folk-tale “Sellic Spell,” his prose translation of Beowulf, and his literary critical essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.”

For literary analysis of “Sellic Spell” and the translation of Beowulf, consider: Setting? Characters? Point of view? Plot? Themes? Symbolism? Tone? Style?

Write a post, at least one paragraph in length, that includes at least one question at the conclusion for reflection. Comment on other posts, especially in reply to questions.

Week 1: “The Smith of Wootton Major”


Read the story aloud.

What visual moments from the “The Smith of Wootton Major” stand out in your imagination as a reader (or hearer) of this story?

What questions does the story raise in your mind?

Literary Analysis: Setting? Characters? Point of view? Plot? Themes? Symbolism? Tone? Style?

To gain further understanding about the meaning of the story, read the entry on “Smith of Wootton Major” in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia.




Dr. B


I am a writer, educator, and literary scholar as well as an Associate Researcher in the Department of English at UC Davis. My work on J.R.R. Tolkien has been published in This Rough Magic, The Journal of Tolkien Research, and The J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, and I am now writing a book about love and redemption in Tolkien’s mythology. In the field of medieval literary scholarship, I have written The Signifying Power of Pearl: Medieval Literary and Cultural Contexts for the Transformation of Genre (Routledge, forthcoming) and John Trevisa and the English Polychronicon (ACMRS, 2012), edited Illuminating Moses: A History of Reception from Exodus to the Renaissance (Brill, 2014), and co-edited Translating the Past: Essays on Medieval Literature in Honor of Marijane Osborn (ACMRS, 2012) and Approaches to Teaching the Middle English Pearl (MLA, forthcoming). I have served as a professor at Wheaton College and Colorado Christian University, teaching literature, creative writing, and rhetoric and composition, and as a midwife in the U.S., Uganda, and the Philippine Islands. I also write poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, and I enjoy making music and art. To learn more, please visit http://sanctuarypoet.net.

Welcome to class!