Here Be Dragons

A Practical Field Guide to Wonder and Meaning in Life

Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities

“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

Next offering: Stay Tuned!
(This class is for adults; the class for ages 8-12 is here, and the class for ages 12-18 is here.)
Tuition $500/student. 10% family discount if 2 or more members of a family register for either “Here Be Dragons” course in any combination

Dragons have always fascinated the human imagination. Beings of awesome power and often fierce intelligence, they are the greatest opponents in literature. Yet these majestic creatures also stand for high fantasy, for a world in which anything is possible, a world in which we have not yet forgotten a powerful sense of wonder. They are therefore both the enemy par excellence and the sure sign of a world that is deep enough to be worth living in, combining terror and an almost religious dread with longing and an awe that verges on worship.

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 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.

The course will meet Saturdays from 9:00-11:00 am (US Central Time) for 10 weeks from June 12-August 14. Meetings will be conducted weekly over Zoom. Tuition is $500. A limited amount of financial aid is available (apply using the registration form).

Here is a map of our discussions:

Week One: A Symbol of the Power of Heaven: The Nature and Meaning of Dragons
Reading: Dragon Poems Packet
Week Two: Dragon Friend: The Wisdom of Kindness
Reading: Rebecca Rupp, The Dragon of Lonely Island
Week Three: Escaping the Mirror of Self: Learning to See the World Well
           Reading: Robin McKinley, The Hero and the Crown
Week Four: “You Must Let Me Undress You:” The Trials of Becoming Fully Human
            Reading: C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Week Five: 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 Six: Love, Illusions, and Holiness: The Battle for Virtue
            Reading: Edmund Spenser, The Fairie Queene, Book One
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
            Reading: Beowulf
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)

What Former Students Say:

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.

Reynolds, former student

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!

Andrew, former student

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.

Grace, former student
Photo courtesy Eric Guel

Junius Johnson, PhD (Yale) is a theologian, philosopher, and literary scholar who has been an educator for over 20 years. His classes have a reputation for combining the hilarious with the profound, for being equal parts fun and rigor.

He is also a lifetime lover of dragons and reader of fantastical literature. He has an impressive number of hours in the field hunting, observing, battling, and conversing with dragons. Perhaps it is this that has earned him the moniker Doctor Draconicus, or “Dragon Doctor.” But the truth may be even more shocking, for he is widely rumored to be, himself, a dragon. And while he refuses to confirm this, he won’t deny it either, which you have to admit is suspicious.

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