Thompson Rivers University

Department of English and Modern Languages

ENGL 3140 – Studies in Fiction (3,0,0)

The Apocalypse in Literature and Film


Course: ENG 3140-01
Instructor: Ken Simpson
Semester: Winter, 2015
Phone: 371-5558
Office: AE 193

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9-9:50, 2:30-3:30; Wednesdays: 12-2; or by appointment


Imagining the end of the world has inspired some of the greatest works of the Western cultural tradition in mythology, literature and film. Recent years have proven no exception: in films, plays, novels, poems, songs, and political rhetoric we are reminded daily of the coming apocalypse and/or the birth of a new world order. In this course we will examine the historical roots, literary forms, and rhetorical/political uses of apocalyptic literature primarily through our study of archetypes from mythology and contemporary speculative fiction, but also in other media, including film and advertising. Issues to be discussed will likely include the following: the construction of time, the development and nature of apocalyptic literature as a genre, apocalypse and theory, the “fin-de-siecle” phenomenon, and the historical contexts within which apocalyptic literature thrives. By the end of the course, we will not only be able to appreciate the variety of apocalyptic narratives and develop our own theory of the kinds of apocalypticism, but we will also be aware of the many forms and uses of the apocalypse in our own time.



Students should have successfully completed a second year English course.


Required Texts

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2009.

The Bible [King James Version].

Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790). Ed. Geoffrey Keynes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Miller, Walter M. A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959). New York: Bantam, 1984.

Wells, H. G. The Time Machine (1895) and The War of the Worlds (1898). New York: Bantam, 1984.

A course pack that includes readings on monsters, apocalypse films, Norse and Mesopotamian mythology, and the origin of genres.


Students should (1) become aware of the forms of apocalyptic literature from a variety of periods (2) identify, analyze, and explain in writing the use of recurrent forms, characters and images in apocalyptic narratives (3) improve reading, writing, speaking, and thinking skills (4) develop skills in analyzing film narratives and camera work, writing blogs, and presenting ideas to small groups.



Lectures and discussions are the prevailing methods, but small group discussions and short student presentations on the apocalypse in contemporary popular media will also develop and extend key ideas and concepts.



Essay #1 (1,000 words, not including quotations) – 25%

Essay #2 (2,000 words, not including quotations) – 35%

Presentation – 20%

Blog Assignment – 20%


Academic Honesty

See the online calendar for the university’s policy about plagiarism (go to Student Academic Policies, Regulations, and Procedures//Index of Policies, Regulations, and Procedures//Academic Integrity [ED 5-0]). Avoiding plagiarism is each student’s responsibility.



See the online calendar for the university’s policy about attendance (go to Student Academic Policies, Regulations, and Procedures//Index of Policies, Regulations, and Procedures//Student Attendance [ED 3-1]). Students are expected to be on time, to be prepared, and to attend regularly. Failure to do so affects not only the student’s ability to learn, but also the class as a whole.



Assignments should be handed in at the beginning of the class designated as the due date, unless an extension has been approved in advance (after 20 minutes from the start of class, the assignment is late). Extensions are almost certain, but only when a request is made before the due date. When an advance extension cannot be obtained, as in cases of serious and sudden illness or injury, a note could be required, but please notify the instructor as soon as it is possible. A note might be required. Late assignments will be penalized 5% for each business day the assignment is late. If a paper is handed in past the extension date the paper will receive a mark of 0.

Tentative Outline


One-Three:  The End of the World in Mythology: the Judeo-Christian, Mesopotamian, and Norse Traditions

Four-Five: Apocalypse and the Romantics: Blake and Byron

Six: Science, Science Fiction, and the Apocalypse: The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds

Seven-Eight: The Nuclear Age: A Canticle for Leibowitz

Nine:  Satire and Popular Freudianism: Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb                                                                                   

Ten-Eleven: Eco-Apocalypse: The Year of the Flood

Twelve-Thirteen: Apocalypse Film and Contemporary Theory: numerous alien invasion, natural disaster, and ecological apocalypse films; numerous nuclear disaster movies from the 50s and 60s; Videodrome, Crash, Armageddon, The Postman, Strange Days, The Fifth Element, The Terminator (1-5), Waterworld, Until the End of the World, Century, Delicatessen, Blindness, The Road, Mad Max (1-4), 9, Dr. Strangelove, I Am Legend, The Quiet Earth, A Boy and His Dog, The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, The Book of Eli, Children of Men, 28 Days Later, Twelve Monkeys, Wall-E, 2012, Extraordinary Visitor, Last Night, Logan’s Run, Donnie Darko, Six-String Samurai, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Zombieland, etc., etc.


Apocalypse and Theory (a very short selection)

Baudrillard, J. “The Year 2000 Has Already Happened,” in Body Invaders, ed. A. and M. Kroker. New York, 1987.

—. The Illusion of the End. Trans. C Turner. San Francisco: Stanford University Press, 1994

Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of Disaster. Trans. Ann Smock. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Boyer, Paul. By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Brians, Paul. Nuclear Holocausts: Atomic War in Fiction, 1895-1984. Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 1987.

Bull, Malcolm, ed. Apocalypse Theory and the Ends of the World. London: Blackwell, 1995.

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Cohn, Norman. Cosmos, Chaos, and the World to Come: The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith. New Haven: Yale UP, 1993.

_ _ _ . The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages. London: Maurice Temple Smith, 1970.

Dellamora, Richard. Postmodern Apocalypse: Theory and Cultural Practice at the End. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.

Derrida, Jacques. No Apocalypse, Not Now (Full Speed Ahead, Seven Missiles, Seven Missives),” Diacritics 14 (Summer 1984): 20-31.

_ _ _. “Of An Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy,” Oxford Literary Review 6, no. 2 (1984): 3-37.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957. See esp. pp. 139-46.

Hart, Kylo-Patrick R. and Annette Holba, eds. Media and the Apocalypse. New York: Peter Lang, 2009.

Kermode, Frank. The Sense of an Ending. New York: Oxford, 1968.

Kingwell, Mark. Dreams of Millennium. Toronto: Viking Penguin, 1996.

O’Leary, Stephen D. Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric. New York: Oxford, 1994.

Scarry, Elaine, ed. Les Fins de Siecle: English Poetry in 1590, 1690, 1790, 1890,1990. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1995.

Scheick, William. “Nuclear Criticism: An Introduction.” Papers on Language and Literature 26.1 (1990): 3-12.

Schwartz, Hillel. Century’s End: A Cultural History of the Fin de Siecle from the 990’s through the 1990’s. New York: Doubleday, 1990.

Schwenger, Peter. Letter Bomb: Nuclear Holocaust and the Exploding Word. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Seed, David, ed. Imagining Apocalypse: Studies in Cultural Crisis. London: Palgrave/MacMillan, 1999.

Sontag, Susan. “The Imagination of Disaster.” Against Interpretation (1961). New York: Picador, 2001. 209-25.

Wagar, Warren. Terminal Visions: The Literature of the Last Things. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1982.

Whitehead, Anne. Trauma Fiction. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2004