Welcome to SPACE, our adult continuing education program which offers interactive monthly courses for personal enrichment! Learn more here.

Worldbuilding Portal

Are You Tolkien To Me?

Why are the works of J.R.R. Tolkien still so relevant to us in the 21st century? In this course, we will look at some of the central themes of his novels, including Family, Home, Good vs. Evil, and Loss, exploring how Tolkien is still speaking to us almost fifty years after his death.

There are no required texts for this course, however, you may find having a copy of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings very useful (any edition).
Precepted by Sara Brown.

Creative Writing: Long Project Preparation

Well-prepared writers enjoy more completion success! We will build worlds, plan character arcs, and try to define the bones of our stories during a month of glorious sub-creation! When you declare your intentions to the group, that act of bravery alone adds momentum to your writing efforts after the month is over. (This Module is great preparation before National Novel Writing Month)
Precepted by Sparrow Alden.

Creative Writing: Writing Computers

What does a computer scientist wish that writers knew? That we are building aliens right here on Earth? That perception is not what we think it is? Join us for four weeks of learning, writing, and feedback. In "How Does Hacking Actually Work?" we'll learn to write far more complex and realistic scenes than Hollywood. In "Computer Perception" we'll talk about detecting the simple presence of volts and the most subtle patterns of the cosmos. In "Computer Interfaces" we're going to cook up stories about the Alien, the Understander, and the Quality of Misunderstanding. Finally in "Atemporal Decision Theory" we're going to ask enough questions about Truth, sentience, and honor to fill adventure after adventure with artificial and artisanal intelligences. Each week we'll have a learning and discussion day plus a day to reflect on "This idea made me ask 'what if?' and reach for my keyboard."
Precepted by Sparrow Alden and Daroc Alden.

Discovering Terry Pratchett's Discworld: Which Witch is Which?

Terry Pratchett's witches - Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick - are more than just a marvelous spoof of those in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth'. In addition to their undoubted comedic value, they are also a voice for some of the major themes of the Discworld novels. Through readings of extracts from the relevant novels, as well as reference to some modern scholarship, we will examine the differences between witch magic and wizard magic; the role of witches in Discworld society; Pratchett's representations of gender; themes of power and authority, and the presentation of the minor witch characters. Access to the listed texts is desirable. Prior knowledge of at least the majority of the listed texts will be assumed.
Precepted by Sara Brown.

Geology of Fictional Worlds

This course introduces the student to the various aspects of geology and how they can relate to worldbuilding and mapmaking. This includes continents, plate tectonics, mountains, water, glaciers, planetary patterns, the distribution of rock types and natural resources, natural disasters and weather patterns. This background would allow students to better evaluate fictional maps as well as create them. Examples will be drawn from Middle-earth, Earth-sea, Westeros, Dungeons and Dragons, and suggestions from students.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

His Dark Materials in Context [3 Module Series] Series

Sir Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is widely regarded as a modern classic, has been described by The New Statesman as “the most ambitious work since The Lord of the Rings,” and has been adapted onto stage, radio, and screen. The series is also deep and complex, drawing from a rich array of literary, philosophical, and theological ideas.

In this three-module series we will read, successively, the three novels in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, juxtaposing each with selected materials that will allow us to read Pullman’s work both on its own and in conversation with other works. Students can join one, two, or all three modules. There are no prerequisites.

Module 1: His Dark Materials in Context 1: The Golden Compass / Northern Lights
Module 2: His Dark Materials in Context 2: The Subtle Knife
Module 3: His Dark Materials in Context 3: The Amber Spyglass
Precepted by Faith Acker and Gabriel Schenk.

The Compleat Game Master: Introduction to Game Mastery

Thanks to the success of streaming shows like Critical Role, D&D and other tabletop games are more popular than ever before. But according to surveys conducted by Wizards of the Coast, the average D&D campaign does not last more than six sessions, and players rarely advance farther than Levels 4-6. This series will address the short attention span of current TTRPG culture by equipping you with the tools you need to be a more "compleat" GM. In this first module, we will cover the true role of the GM (it might not be what you think!), the world-building assumptions implicit in various rulesets, how to design a setting which maximizes player agency, and how to write a gazetteer for your campaign setting. Participants will have the opportunity to produce their own 10-page setting gazetteer as part of this module.
Precepted by Richard Rohlin.

The History, People, and Culture of Tolkien's Númenor

With the publication of The Fall of Númenor (November 2022) we finally have much of Tolkien’s writing on this period in the history Middle-earth drawn together in one place. This offers a unique opportunity, at a moment when the island of Númenor has come to greater public awareness via Amazon’s show ‘The Rings of Power’, to fully examine this aspect of Tolkien’s secondary world. In this course, we will explore the history of Númenor, with particular focus on important events, significant people, the geography of the island, and the evolving culture of the Númenóreans.

Special Note: We are excited to announce that Brian Sibley, noted for his BBC Radio adaptations of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as for his many books on Tolkien, will be joining us in one of the sessions (Date tbc). He is going to talk to us about his work on the new book The Fall of Númenor, and will be available to answer any questions you might have.
Precepted by Sara Brown.

Tolkien And Alchemy

Transformation and the process of transformation, either physical or of the self, is a significant theme in Tolkien’s writing and appears throughout the Middle-earth legendarium. In this SPACE course, we will explore how the practice, philosophy and symbolism of alchemy resonate in the texts and provide another way to read the changes that are apparent throughout. Amongst other topics, we will look at the Music of the Ainur and Tolkien’s creation myth, the recurring symbolism of the alchemical colours: Black, White and Red, the metaphor of Gold, the nature of the One Ring, and Frodo as alchemical subject.
Precepted by Sara Brown.

Tolkien's Unfinished Tales

The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth is a collection of stories and essays by J.R.R. Tolkien that are filled with all the wonderful elements of story-telling that are to be found in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and yet, for some reason, they are less well-known and less studied. Some, like ‘Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife’, offer a compelling insight into the Second Age and the time of Númenor. Others, such as ‘The History of Galadriel and Celeborn’, ‘The Quest of Erebor’, or ‘The Hunt for the Ring’, shed further light on the events of the Third Age that are so familiar to readers of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. We will discuss some of these stories and place them in the context of the other Middle-earth works.

Access to a copy of The Unfinished Tales is essential. Prior knowledge of the stories within is desirable, but you could read them as we go along.
Precepted by Sara Brown.

Tolkien & Williams as Worldbuilders

J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams were friends, contemporaries, and fellow members of the Inklings. They both invented secondary worlds in which to set their stories, poems, and myths--and they both made maps! Indeed, each imagines that his other world is actually a pre-history to or alternative history for our own. We will take a brief look at JRRT's Legendarium and CW's Arthuriana, asking how they developed the geography, history, demographics, and cultures of their imagined worlds, how those related to the primary world, and what significance or symbolism each invited readers to infer from their invented lands.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.

Vampires, Werewolves and Wights – Oh My! Uncanny Creatures in Middle-earth

There are dragons in Tolkien’s works, of course, as well as Ents, Trolls, and Orcs, all enabling Tolkien to give shape and dimension to his world of Middle-earth. Less discussed amongst readers of the legendarium are the weird creatures that sit in the shadows – the ones designed to really make the back of your neck prickle. In this course, we will discuss these more troubling inhabitants of Middle-earth, with some close reading of the texts to guide our way.

Access to copies of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is essential. Prior knowledge of the texts is desirable, but you could read them as we go along.
Precepted by Sara Brown.

Worldbuilding for SFF Writers

While building an entire world may seem like a daunting or divine task, thankfully there are many great writers who have gone before and left behind their advice, instructions, and encouragement for creating a secondary universe of your own. In this course, we'll look at what some smart and skillful folks have said about subcreation, then apply their ideas to your constructed storyworlds. We'll talk about how to choose and develop the properties of your land, what unique objects it contains, what level of technology its inhabitants have reached, who those inhabitants are, what language(s) they speak, what the physical nature of the world is, how its logic works, and--most importantly--its atmosphere and the philosophical implications of each of your creative choices. You should leave this course ready to set stories in your secondary universe.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.
If you have any questions about the SPACE program, please reach out to [email protected].