Past is the Present

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Past is the Present
Offered 2004
Campus(es) Duke East
Instructor(s) Dr. Sumie Song
TA(s) David DeWeese

Past is the Present: Evolution of Fantasy Literature, aka PiP, was only offered the summer of '04 at Duke East Term II. The subject matter closely resembles that of From Frodo to Jon Snow, as does the second half of the title. Taught by Dr. Song and TA'ed by David DeWeese, the students in this course were very close, to the point of being clannish, and continue to be so, with the exception of Tyler "the Naysayer" and Gareth.

Their many exploits include NetHack with their TA, D&D, a normally contraband activity, as part of evening session, loud renditions of hobbit drinking songs, and the thorough mocking of Terry Brooks. A running joke involved the instructor, Dr. Song, having connections to the Illuminati and CIA. The class mascot was a caterpillar named Ged.

Material Covered

PiP covered a wide range of fantasy literature. During the first week, A Wizard of Earthsea and Fellowship of the Ring were read, the movie of the latter being shown on Saturday.

Other books covered within the term included Sword of Shanara and Terry Pratchett's The Last Hero. Also, the class watched the movies The Seventh Seal, The Empire Strikes Back, and Spirited Away.

Finally, the class was supposed to also cover the work of Phillip Pullman and George R.R. Martin, but did not have enough time to do so. The class did start reading The Golden Compass but did not get to discuss it much.

Specific Class Events


On or about Monday of the second week, there was a massive debate that was fairly painful (in the sense that stabbing your own baby is painful) to those on the side they believed was wrong. This was whether the book or the movie of Fellowship of the Ring was better, not whether the film was a successful adaptation, but whether it actually surpassed the book in its quality. Needless to say that Dr. Song made sure all of the people who disliked the films had to argue for them.

It was long and arduous, but in the end teamwork prevailed and the entire exercise increased solidarity among the students. While the side for the book obviously won, it was a narrow margin and the movie side did an excellent job arguing a difficult viewpoint, shooting down such concepts as "the film has no sense of Middle-Earth being a historic world since it doesn't contain all of the poems."

After the entire ordeal, everyone went out for Ben & Jerry's.



It should be noted that even though the rulebook for TIP clearly prohibits the playing or possesion of fantasy games, PiP's TA David managed to make Dungeons and Dragons part of the class's curriculum. The class started working on their characters, maps, and campaigns during the 2nd week, and began playing the last week during mostly evening sessions.

The class was divided into 2 groups, known as the Pirates Group and the Dragons Group, due to the nature of each group's campaign. Furthermore, the students paired up to create their characters. A total of 9 characters were created, including one created by Dr. Song. The groups and pairings were as follows:

  • Dragons
    • Dr. Song
    • Esther and Emily
    • Angie and Laney
    • Andy and Ed
    • Sam and Eric
  • Pirates
    • Pamwise and GOD
    • Miranda and Richard
    • Other!Miranda and Karen
    • Naysayer and his Assistant

David played Dungeon Master for both groups, being a trail guide for the Dragons Group and the Helmsman for the Pirates Group.

It has been said that the Pirates Group got further in their campaign than the other group, but the Dragons Group was certainly the more eventful one. On one fo the last days of TIP, a guest which some knew to be the TA from next door joined the Dragons' game. He played a Lich, that is, an evil undead sorcerer, who tricked the players into stealing a gemstone soul for him.

The devistation caused by this attack was great, and thus started the PiPster/Lich hatred. To make matters worse, not much further into the game, Dr. Song revealed her alignment (lawful evil) and betrayed her students to a group of assassins, who in turn gave them to goblins.