In Search of Cupid and Psyche:
Myth and Legend in Children's Literature
Instructor: Michael Joseph
Course number: 17:611:589:88 
Rutgers University SCILS
Professional Development Studies
"In Search of Cupid and Psyche: Myth and Legend in Children's Literature" uses Apuleius's celebrated story of love and sacrifice as the jumping off point for examining the function of myth in creating and enhancing meaning in children's and young adult literature. Emphasis will be on the identification and analysis of books that rely upon, or incorporate elements of the "Cupid and Psyche" story in order to achieve what Mark Shorer has called "the dramatic representation of our deepest instinctual life." (William Blake: The Politics of Vision. New York: Holt, 1940). Students will be given an opportunity to draw upon a broad range of materials available on the World Wide Web, as well as experiment with other modes of technologically mediated communication, including Multiple User Object Oriented (MOO) programming.
This course will develop an AWARENESS of the following categories of knowledge:
- Mythic elements and substructures:
- Students will compare and contrast the variety of approaches authors and illustrators of different cultures have used to create children's literature from myth and legends;
- Students will develop competence in recognizing a set of mythic elements (such as mythic characters, plots, symbols and settings) common to Western literature, and analyze how they serve in specific contexts to indicate the exemplary;
- Students will learn to identify mythic elements within literary texts in which the mythic has been expressed covertly, or "camouflaged," such as in realistic books in (so-called) "ordinary life."
- Relationship of exemplary models to the production of meaning in literature for children and young adults;
- Rhetorical nature of text and illustration;
- Students will explore contemporary myths and frame coherent and original insights into how contemporary myths operate in specific literary works;
- Students will engage the mythic impulse of illustration, or mythic mode of illustration, using the work of contemporary and historical illustrators to frame coherent and original insights into the relationship of myth and the function of illustration;
- Students will become aware of the dominant modes of illustrating mythic texts, and develop competence in identifying the resources by which illustrators mythologize characters and settings, both in overly mythic and non-mythic texts.
- Meaningful relationships (similarities and differences) among different genres and classes of literatures;
- Students will develop facility for tracing specific mythic figures (i.e., the crone figure, questing heroine, invisible husband) over a broad range of literary texts, and for contrasting the treatment of specific mythic figures within different cultures or by different authors or artists;
- Students will develop a functional understanding of the concept of 'mythic time' and its purpose and effect within both historical and contemporary literary work;
It will also develop the following skills:
- How to evaluate and express personal, complex, and dynamic, responses to literary texts;
- How to approach and use evaluative and bibliographical material relating to myth in the analysis of children's literature;
- How to define criteria for selecting and classifying books for children and young adults based upon or synthesizing myth and legend.
The children's literature we will be reading will include both overt materializations of the myth--retellings and adaptations of the Cupid and Psyche story-- and covert materializations of the myth, such as appear in fairy tale and folktale, picture books, chapter books, young adult reading, Puritan children's literature, and in novels from the so-called "Golden Age of Children's Literature." Students may introduce discussion of Children's literature outside this scope providing it relates to the mythological superstructures under consideration.
Students are expected to read the basic texts of the course, familiarize themselves with one or several theoretical approaches to myth and participate regularly and knowledgeably in discussion. Naturally, all assignments must be turned in on time.
Full and unabashed participation in course discussions that demonstrate willingness to express original points of view and a sincere attempt to understand primary and secondary readings
Journals are generally considered useful for preserving fleeting thoughts which may not at first appear significant, but which later turn out to have been very significant indeed. Students will be encouraged to keep journals, which may be facilitated through use of Lotus Learning Space, noting:
- titles of primary sources, i.e., books, stories, poems (incl. authors, publishers, place of publication and date published);
- mythic elements discerned (refer to Mythic Elements pages or to critical sources;
- likeness to other books, stories, poems--be specific and concise;
- titles of secondary sources, i.e. collections or analyses of myth, and personal reactions: IT IS OKAY TO REJECT A PIECE OF CRITICAL ANALYSIS BECAUSE YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND IT (and, sometimes admitting you don't understand something begins the real process of understanding).
- PAPER/BIBLIOGRAPHY: There are several possibilities:
The paper should be no longer than 10-15 pages.
- Select a mythic element presented in the text of "Cupid and Psyche" and trace its development within several children's books. Compare the effectiveness--the rhetorical force--of the element in each book you have selected, and discuss how the author or story-teller has modified (simplified, complicated, translated) the element to better fit his or her designs, the nature of the audience addressed, or the culture in which the story was presented.
- Locate multiple versions of a particular folktale TYPE (e.g., "The Kind and Unkind Sisters") or fairytale, and discuss how each version employs the specific mythical element, or group of elements, to achieve specific effects, or how the persuasive intensity of the story is heightened or diminished by specific authorial innovations. Indicate what you feel is the author's understanding of the myth he or she has utilized--whether, like Apuleius's somewhat ironic regard for Venus, the author is sophisticated, self-conscious and detached, or rather less conspicuous and more straightforward.
- Choose a young adult novel in which you find an interesting tension between the author's attempt at making the story realistic and giving it a stature and relevance beyond the fleeting moment. Discuss the author's reliance upon mythic elements and his/her attempt to reconcile them with everyday experience.
- Select a mythic element and arrange an annotated bibliography of books for children or young adults that incorporate this element in some form. You should preface the bibliography by referencing the mythic element you are using and include at least three critical sources in which the element is directly discussed. Annotations should be brief and specific.
There may well be other useful ideas for papers or for bibliographies that will emerge from our discussions. Students are free to improvise but must consult with me in advance.
CREATING A LOCATION IN "MOVE" or "MOO" SPACE
MOVEs--Multi-User Virtual Environments--or, as they are alternatively called, MOOS--Multiple- user Object Oriented--enable discussions in real time among multiple users. However, unlike chat rooms, which they superficially resemble, MOVEs also allow users to create textual objects which can become part of the virtual environment; these can be seen, read, and manipulated by others; in this respect, MOVEs stimulate interactive, collaborative, projects that can possess considerable expressive power and sophistication.
Students will meet in groups in a room at one of two educational MOVEs (or MOOs) yet to be determined (either Walden3, or Diversity University, Inc.). The room will be designed specifically for the course, "In Search of Cupid and Psyche." After learning a few basic MOO commands (see D.U.'s Basic MOO Commands), students will collaboratively build textual models that creatively explore essential and meaningful mythic relationships among diverse texts in the literature for children and young adults.
Course Instructor: Michael Joseph
(If you lose your password, or have trouble connecting, write to me at
Various images (not from children's books) of Cupid and Psyche
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