Having fallen in love with Janet E. Gardner’s Reading and Writing about Literature: A Portable Guide, I decided to start putting together my syllabus using this text along with my other obsession, Marvelous Transformations: An Anthology of Fairy Tales and Contemporary Critical Perspectives. In doing so, I realized that my expectations regarding length of reading assignments differs when I’m dealing with short stories instead of novels.
I had little issue assigning readings for the novels in my femme fatale course; each class period was roughly 50 pages of reading, depending on chapter breaks. But I think 50 pages of novel is vastly different from 50 pages of short stories, especially when those 50 pages might include 6 or more separate stories. While I can certainly lead discussion on 50 pages of a novel in an 1.5 hour class period, I don’t think I can realistically be expected to discuss 6 different fairy tales in that same time period. Such a class would be a whirlwind for both myself and my students.
My solution: For this course on fairy tales, I’ve assigned significantly more “texts” but significantly fewer pages of reading. Especially in the beginning of the semester, I’ve been careful not to assign more than about 3 stories per class period. This does change as the semester passes, but my assumption is that by that time, class discussions will be less in-depth and more comparative, examining connections between tales more than analyzing individual tales in and of themselves. I am still concerned, as I would hate to assign texts that we do not discuss in class (I hated when this happened as a student), and I also don’t want my class to lack in academic vigor, but I think the risk is worth the expected payoff: An interesting and exciting class that introduces students not only to writing about fiction, but also to the vast history and varied genre of the fairy tale.