Heroes and Legends
The Most Influential Characters of Literature Series

Heroes and Legends - The Most Influential Characters of Literature Series
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24 episodes in this series

Episode 1 Frodo Baggins--A Reluctant Hero
What makes certain characters successful? Begin your study with a look at Frodo Baggins, the hobbit-hero from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In considering what makes him a hero--and…
Episode 2 Odysseus--The Trickster Hero
Go back to the beginning of world literature to explore what made Homer's traveling hero such a powerful figure. Odysseus's story set the model for countless road narratives, but his…
Episode 3 Aeneas--The Straight Arrow
Turn now to the Roman straight arrow. Aeneas's story takes him from the Trojan War to the courtship of Queen Dido and on to the founding of Rome. In writing…
Episode 4 Guinevere--A Heroine with Many Faces
Trace Guinevere's adulterous affair with Lancelot and consider what effects it had on cultural values and Western history. As a powerful woman in the heart of King Arthur's court, Guinevere…
Episode 5 The Wife of Bath--An Independent Woman
Chaucer worked harder on the Wife of Bath than on any other character in The Canterbury Tales, leaving us not one but four separate perspectives on one of literature's most…
Episode 6 Cressida--A Love Betrayed
Cressida is an archetypal femme fatale, embroiled in a love triangle between her true love, Troilus, and the bad boy, Diomedes. Through the lens of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the Scottish…
Episode 7 Beowulf--A Hero with Hidden Depths
Beowulf is not an easy poem to understand, but Beowulf is not an easy character to understand. Here, analyze how this classic male hero--a big, strong, monster killer--may have a…
Episode 8 Thor--A Very Human God
Thor may seem like another classic male hero--the god of thunder in Norse mythology and a superhero today--yet the Icelandic poems and stories from the 13th century undercut the image…
Episode 9 Robin Hood--The Outlaw Hero
Who was Robin Hood? He's an anomaly in this course because his story cannot be traced to a single work or figure. Perhaps because of these gaps in the story,…
Episode 10 Don Quixote--The First of the Wannabes
Turn next to Don Quixote, a wannabe knight-errant whose infamous exploits mark a pivotal moment in the history of literature. Explore his fantastic adventures and meet Sancho Panza, who is…
Episode 11 Robinson Crusoe--A Lone Survivor
Robinson Crusoe might be the most flawed hero in the course--a colonizer and a slave-owning capitalist. Why, then, is he such an enduring character? Is it the desert-island story? Or…
Episode 12 Elizabeth Bennet--A Proper Pride
Meet the charming heroine from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The story of her complicated relationship with Mr. Darcy is a realistic Cinderella story and has lent itself to numerous…
Episode 13 Natty Bumppo and Woodrow Call--Frontier Heroes
Shift your attention to two very American heroes: Natty Bumppo from James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans and Woodrow Call from Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove series. These frontier heroes…
Episode 14 Uncle Tom--The Hero as Martyr
The name "Uncle Tom" has complex associations today, but Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel had a truly powerful impact when it was published in 1852. Explore the historical circumstances of slavery…
Episode 15 Huckleberry Finn--Free Spirit of America
Join Huck Finn on his American odyssey down the Mississippi River. Although the story at first seems to be the fun adventure of a free-spirited hero, you'll explore the moral…
Episode 16 Sherlock Holmes--The First Great Detective
We are familiar with Sherlock Holmes's methodology--using clues, facts, evidence, and reason to solve the case. Here, go inside the world of the 19th century and see what circumstances paved…
Episode 17 Dracula--The Allure of the Monster
The 19th century produced a radically different kind of hero: the spooky and fantastical Dracula. After observing the structural complexity of this novel, you'll examine the hidden fears and repressed…
Episode 18 Mowgli--The Wolf Child
A boy in the woods, raised by wolves and living by the law of the jungle: This story is familiar to us, thanks to Rudyard Kipling's classic stories and the…
Episode 19 Celie--A Woman Who Wins Through
We've seen that heroes don't always have to be gods or queens or the social elite. Dirt poor in Georgia in the 1930s, Celie--the heroine from Alice Walker's The Color…
Episode 20 Winston Smith--The Hero We Never Want to Be
Winston Smith, the central figure in George Orwell's nightmare scenario, 1984, is fearful, undernourished, and oppressed by the state--not exactly the image we conjure up when we think of the…
Episode 21 James Bond--A Dangerous Protector
Thanks to novels, movies, and an array of charismatic actors, nearly everyone in the developed world knows about James Bond and how he drinks his martini--"shaken, not stirred." But who…
Episode 22 Fairy-Tale Heroines--New-Style Princesses
Cinderella. Snow White. Rapunzel. These fairy-tale heroines are imbued in our cultural consciousness. What lessons are they meant to teach? And do these lessons align with our current cultural values?…
Episode 23 Lisbeth Salander--Avenging Female Fury
Lisbeth Salander, the heroine from the popular Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, seems to be an original character well suited to our times--hip, ingenious, computer savvy. But as you'll…
Episode 24 Harry Potter--Whistle-Blower Hero
Finish your course with one of the most unexpected hits of our time--and a smash hit at that. What can the surprising success of Harry Potter teach us about successful…

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Roman Heroes and Traitors
Discover why Aeneas, the ancestor of all Romans, and Tarpeia, who betrayed Rome for personal gain, are two sides of the same coin. As you explore their stories, you'll see how they offer inspirational (and cautionary) testaments to Rome's values--and reflect character types we see in almost every civilization's myths.
How to Read and Understand Shakespeare Course
Shakespeare's plays are masterworks, but they can be hard to understand for a modern English speaker. Gain direct insight into Shakespeare's writing in this course which explains how to enter Shakespeare's world, how to grasp what's happening in his plays, and how to enjoy each play on both the page…
Beowulf--A Hero with Hidden Depths
Episode 7 of Heroes and Legends
Beowulf is not an easy poem to understand, but Beowulf is not an easy character to understand. Here, analyze how this classic male hero--a big, strong, monster killer--may have a hidden vulnerability. Then, look at what insights Beowulf's story offers about life and death, the limits of self-reliance, and the…
Robin Hood--The Outlaw Hero
Episode 9 of Heroes and Legends
Who was Robin Hood? He's an anomaly in this course because his story cannot be traced to a single work or figure. Perhaps because of these gaps in the story, he seems to be a bundle of contradictions. Delve into the politics, religion, and society of Robin Hood's origins to…
Herakles and the Greek Hero
Investigate the mythological roots and legacies of the powerful--but flawed--Greek hero, Herakles. Explore common threads that run through some of his twelve labors, including the slaying of the Hydra and the cleaning of the Augean stables. Also, ponder Herakles's role in ancient Greek society as both mortal and god.
The Golden Fleece and the Hero’s Return
An altogether different--and darker--mythological adventure story is Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. In pondering the best-known versions of both Jason's story and his wife, Medea's, you'll begin to see Jason as a failed hero and Medea as more than just the woman who murdered her own children.
Guinevere--A Heroine with Many Faces
Episode 4 of Heroes and Legends
Trace Guinevere's adulterous affair with Lancelot and consider what effects it had on cultural values and Western history. As a powerful woman in the heart of King Arthur's court, Guinevere is an intriguing heroine--passionate, strong-willed, and complex in a way that still captures our imagination today.
The Wife of Bath--An Independent Woman
Episode 5 of Heroes and Legends
Chaucer worked harder on the Wife of Bath than on any other character in The Canterbury Tales, leaving us not one but four separate perspectives on one of literature's most memorable female characters. Discover what Chaucer reveals about her, the time she lives in, and the surprising complexity of her…
Cressida--A Love Betrayed
Episode 6 of Heroes and Legends
Cressida is an archetypal femme fatale, embroiled in a love triangle between her true love, Troilus, and the bad boy, Diomedes. Through the lens of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the Scottish poet Robert Henryson, discover what makes Cressida tick--why does she send Troilus a "Dear John" letter? What doesn't she understand…
Thor--A Very Human God
Episode 8 of Heroes and Legends
Thor may seem like another classic male hero--the god of thunder in Norse mythology and a superhero today--yet the Icelandic poems and stories from the 13th century undercut the image of Thor as a straightforward hero. These amusing tales will give you a new window into a character you thought…
Don Quixote--The First of the Wannabes
Episode 10 of Heroes and Legends
Turn next to Don Quixote, a wannabe knight-errant whose infamous exploits mark a pivotal moment in the history of literature. Explore his fantastic adventures and meet Sancho Panza, who is perhaps literature's first antihero. See why this novel is so innovative and how it has influenced writers in the centuries…
Frodo Baggins--A Reluctant Hero
Episode 1 of Heroes and Legends
What makes certain characters successful? Begin your study with a look at Frodo Baggins, the hobbit-hero from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In considering what makes him a hero--and how he runs counter to our notions of the traditional hero--you'll see how changing cultural values connect to heroism.