I remember many a night my senior year of high school, sitting at my kitchen table, engaged in a losing battle with a beast known to me as Calc 232. Encircled by crumpled notes, old tests, and battered packets, the sheer extent of my academic mess made it feel as though the clutter would rise up, take shape, and swallow me whole. My head would pound, my eyes would burn. Somehow I’d manage to press on anyway. Unfortunately, my efforts never quite came to fruition and I was left with grades seldom higher than C’s.
When asked what I wanted to do with my life after high school, a common response would be “nothing with math.” The material I was learning in school seemed worthless. When would I resort to derivatives or the washer method in a life outside of the walls of Upper Dublin High School? “Don’t worry,” a chorus of well-meaning adults and authority figures would be quick to say. “College is the time you can study what you want! College is the time you can pursue your own interests!” Usually, I’d roll my eyes and go back to my misery (which happened to be a TI-83 Silver Edition and a Calculus textbook), thinking such sentiments held hardly any merit.
As stubborn as I can be, I have to admit when I am wrong. Thus far, Arcadia has allowed me to write a paper on gender performativity in The Hunger Games, analyze documentaries on cults and serial killers, and rewatch the same scene in the Pride and Prejudice movie at least seven times in the name of “research” for a critical essay. For some, these may elicit reactions similar to whenever I am in the proximity of a mathematical theorem. But they all include subject matter that interests me and I had the autonomy here to select them. These feelings of freedom over my own education came to a peak when I stumbled over a flyer advertising a class taught by Frankie Mallis called Fantastical Literature and Visual Media, or as it has been dubbed, “Game of Thrones class.”
If not made evident by the 5-foot long Targaryen banner in my room, the fact that I was Daenerys for Halloween two years in a row, or the numerous papers on A Song of Ice and Fire that I have submitted for English classes, friends and family can vouch for me when I say that I’m a bit of a fan of the renowned fantasy series. Feeling that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite shows/books for an hour three days of the week, I signed up for the class.
Though we did watch some episodes of Game of Thrones, most of class time is dedicated to deconstructing religious symbols in the show, exploring theories, and applying narrative patterns and structures like Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to the world of Westeros. Frankie’s casual style of teaching and obvious passion for the subject matter really encourages class discussion, collaboration, and creativity–especially when speculating the “end game” for the series. I am already applying the things I am learning, from literary alchemy to character archetypes, to other stories I’ve known and loved. It is mind boggling to see how many pieces of fiction adhere to these themes/structures and it can really add another layer to your audience experience by looking at stories with a critical eye.
As much I appreciate the classics, the Beowulfs and Pride and Prejudices of my other classes, there is something exciting about getting to delve into the contemporary works of pop culture, especially if it happens to be something you already love. At any university, there will be requirements and restrictions to your class selection to some degree. But so far, I have had amazing opportunities to explore my established interests and discover new ones. If I bemoan going to class in the morning, it usually isn’t due to the subject matter, but rather that I’m too lazy to walk across campus. Hopefully such feelings will remain and I look forward to what future semesters have in store.