Update: This course is no longer available. Instead see: The Tolkien Professor.
One of the most popular courses at UC San Diego is Professor Stephen Potts’ class on fantasy literature (iTunes link). In truth, the class should probably be entitled All Tolkien All the Time, which is just fine by me, because I’ve been a Tolkien fan since I was a teenager. Potts spends the first several weeks discussing Tolkien’s over-arching mythology as detailed in the posthumously published Silmarillion and other writings. Then Potts jumps into the Lord of the Rings, and spends the rest of the class talking about how Tolkien’s world view and mythology play out in his masterpiece.
Course tidbit: I had always been puzzled about Gandalf’s strange behavior when he reappears (in The Two Towers) after his apparent death fighting the Balrog. Gandalf doesn’t seem to recognize Merry and Pippin, his close companions from The Fellowship of the Ring. Potts suggests that Gandalf was not a mortal, but was like Sauron an angel-like creature called a Maia, who had been clothed in a mortal body. When Gandalf returns in a new mortal body, it takes him a while to recover the memories of his previous mortal life. Now, finally, this passage makes sense.