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ENGL 204 A: Popular Fiction and Media

Meeting Time: 
MW 11:30am - 1:20pm
SAV 166

Syllabus Description:

ENGL 204 A: Popular Fiction and Media: Harry Potter, Paragon or Paradox?

MW 12:00-1:20 PM (Pacific Time)

Dr. Brad Gerhardt

Office Hours: Tuesdays 10 AM - 12 PM via Zoom



Introduces students to the study of popular culture, possibly including print or visual media, understood as sites of critical reflection. Particular attention to dynamics of production and reception, aesthetics and technique, and cultural politics.

As the best-selling fiction series to date, topping sales of 350 million copies, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter holds a unique and transgressive place in popular culture; is its wild success merely a result of brilliant marketing, strategic cross-genre plotting, and a lucky historical moment, or does its persistence as a cultural touchstone and its renewed interest for new generations of readers suggest a revaluation of key terms of “popular fiction”? These are questions we will explore as we examine the primary texts of both the fiction and film series alongside concepts and readings from popular fiction studies and keywords from cultural studies. As a W and VLPA credit class, students will be expected to develop the skills of close reading, comparative analysis, and cultural commentary in the assignments throughout the quarter.



-at least TWO of the first 6 Harry Potter series books (student’s choice which two, but one should be from books 1-3, the other from books 4-6 – any edition is fine). The first six are:

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone [Philosopher’s Stone in British edition]
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 7th book, is required for ALL students (any edition)

-Theory readings, available on Canvas under the “Files” tab

-Keywords for American Cultural Studies, available as an ebook through the library, through JSTOR:

-Films will be accessible ONLINE; you will need to log in to access via the link I will provide for each when I open the module.



  1. Students understand the investments, contexts, and effects of the kind of close/critical reading skills or approaches under study/use.
  2. Students develop more sophisticated discussion and presentation skills in the interest of being better able to construct and defend their own arguments or interpretations.
  3. Students improve their writing skills generally, and with regard to writing about literature.



Group Presentations

            For ONE of the books and ONE of the films in the Harry Potter series, you will work together with a group of 7-8 of your peers to create a 20-25 minute presentation (this will be the first part of our class Zoom meeting for that day – expect to collaborate on a PowerPoint) to introduce and discuss main topics of the text/film. I will ask you to state your preferences and assign groups after the first day of class. Your group will be responsible for briefly introducing the text, identifying main points of interest (topics, points of tension, intriguing patterns of language, characterization, etc.), and discussing them with specific evidence from the text/film. Each person in the group will have a specific ‘role’ to fulfill – more details will be provided after you’ve signed up for your book and film.


Metacognitive Reflection

            Twice in the quarter (after week 6, and during finals week), you will be asked to write a self-assessment of your learning and participation in the course; each should be about 400 words, and should not discuss semantics and numbers, but actually reflect on how and what you are learning.



            Because of the online format, I reserve the right to institute reading quizzes as part of my assessment of your preparedness and participation in discussions. I would rather not; I find them utterly dull to write and to grade. But if it becomes clear that students are not actually reading/watching and discussing for our Zoom meetings, I will not hesitate to use them. So read and discuss!



            For the assignments, you will do one of each of the first four assignments, in whichever order you choose, during the weeks we spend on the first six books and films. You can do them in any order, but each must be turned in during a SEPARATE week (i.e. with 2 presentations, and 4 papers in 6 weeks, you will be doing one a week – never doubling up or covering the same material). I have a checklist on Canvas that lays this out for you and would encourage you to print it out and refer to it.


1 PAGE (single spaced) – Essay Summary (Précis)

            For ONE of the theoretical essays we are reading over the first section course of the quarter, you will be asked to write a 1-page summary, also called a précis, of its main points and how it constructs that argument. The idea of a précis is not to simply rehash the argument point by point, but to give a cogent and concise account of what its aims and method are.


2 PAGES (double-spaced) – Essay ‘Application’

            For ONE of the theoretical essays we are reading over the first section course of the quarter, you will be asked to ‘apply’ the essay to a popular fiction text of your choice (NOT Harry Potter). You will select one or more main points from the essay and discuss how they do or do not apply to your outside text, agreeing with, modifying, or critiquing the claims of that theoretical essay as you go.


3 PAGES (double-spaced) – Cultural Studies Film Analysis

For ONE of the first six films, you will be asked to think carefully about the “keyword” for that film, and to analyze specific scenes in the film for how they interact with or critique that aspect of society. This will require a specific claim and set of evidence, not vague generalizations.


4 PAGES (double-spaced) - Close Reading

For ONE of the first six books, you will perform an intensive close-reading of a single passage from the text. It should be one that has implications beyond merely plot or characterization, and which will allow you to examine and comment on how the text is constructed in the particular instance you have selected, as well as patterns/tensions that run throughout the novel that are addressed or thematized in your passage.


5 PAGES (double-spaced) – Comparative Analysis

            As we finish the septology and discuss Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in depth, I will ask you to generate your own comparative project, with the novel and another ‘text’ of your choice. The possibilities are wide – you might compare it to a scholar’s account of it, or of popular fiction generally, from one of our theory texts; you might compare it to its film adaptation or other Potterverse paratexts (like Cursed Child or the ‘textbooks’); you might look at potential sources for specific elements or issues it includes; you might look at an intertext outside of what we have addressed in class but which intrigues you. For all comparative analyses, however, you must identify both a fundamental issue on which the texts both comment, and you must examine specific evidence from both, side by side.


6+ PAGES (double-spaced) – Final Project

            Your final project is a self-directed one, and I advise you to play to your strengths as you generate ideas and propose them. Some students may choose the more traditional research paper route, and look at literary scholarship on popular fiction generally, or Harry Potter specifically, and construct an argument dealing with a specific aspect or concept. Others may choose to analyze other ‘texts’ from the Potterverse, including cultural artifacts introduced in the “Fan-day Friday” activities. Others may get more creative still and choose to stage their own adaptation (accompanied by an analysis) of some aspect of the series. All projects are required to engage with concepts from the course and to analyze and discuss specific evidence from one or more of the course texts.



            For each new Module in Canvas, I will have an activity which will have you interacting with aspects of the Potterverse, outside of the texts/films, mostly online, or referenced online. These are intended to be done ON FRIDAY, so the discussion which will introduce the activity will open at 12:01 AM and close at 11:59 PM on that Friday. There are two ways to demonstrate that you ‘did’ the activity.

  1. Meet and discuss (preferred) – this is via Zoom. For the first week, I will set up 4 different Zoom meetings, for noon on Friday, and you can meet with whoever else is ‘there’ and discuss your reactions and thoughts. I’ll have a record of who ‘attended.’—after this first Friday, I’ll ask you to set up your OWN Zoom sessions and send me the Cloud recording.
  2. Post a paragraph to the discussion – this is for the introverts out there, or those whose schedules won’t allow them to meet. It should be thoughtful and analytical.



Attendance and Participation:

            This is my first time hosting an all-online course; very likely it is your first time taking one as well. We will be learning together in these extraordinary circumstances. I am trying to duplicate, as much as possible, the experience of an in-class discussion, through using Zoom and Canvas (Zoom is now available as an app THROUGH Canvas; I will schedule meetings there). Some notes on Zoom etiquette:

  1. These meeting are MANDATORY; you will be required to register for each meeting, and I INSIST that you display your video throughout. Any black screens or still profile pictures count as absences.
  2. On that note, find somewhere relatively PRIVATE to do our 80-minute meetings. If Harry Potter could live for 10 years in a cupboard under the stairs, you can take 80 minutes in one if necessary.
  3. MUTE your microphone until you are ready to jump in and answer a question. When you want to respond, UNMUTE and also please IDENTIFY YOURSELF, i.e. “Brad speaking…”
  4. PARTICIPATE! I know the virtual world is a strange place when you’ve never met anyone else in the group, potentially. But we’re all in this boat, and I don’t want the vocal minority to take over discussion. So chime in, introverts! If speaking up is a serious issue, you can always opine in writing via CHAT.
  5. I will be RECORDING all Zoom meetings, so you/I can access them later, and Zoom should be adding closed captioning to those recordings.

            Now to the rest of my comments for an ‘ordinary’ in-class discussion. As an English course, being prepared for each day’s discussion and participating in it is simply a given. This does not mean that I expect you to ‘master’ the daily readings; I view reading as a process of negotiation with texts, and I do not have much patience for the kind of pretentious and alienating jargon or simpering social hierarchies I too often encountered in graduate literature courses. I believe that all of us learn best when we speak from our own experiences, respond as embodied, particular readers, and acknowledge and discuss cultural norms that are ingrained in or critiqued by texts, rather than assuming there is a ready consensus on them.


Zero Tolerance Policy

            Literature, by its nature, should invite a wide range of reactions, opinions, and interpretations; I hope to encourage this by providing an intellectually challenging but respectful environment; I ask you to do the same. There will be no tolerance for words, speech, behavior, actions, or clothing/possessions that insult, diminish, demean, or belittle any individual or group of persons based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, ability, economic class, national origin, language, or age. Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of discourse DO NOT protect racism or other acts of harassment and hate. Violations of this Zero Tolerance Policy may result in removal from the classroom and actions governed by the student code of conduct will be taken.


Late Work:

            For the first six weeks, any paper turned in after its deadline (class time on the assigned day) will be automatically “Incomplete.” I will accept them up to 2 days (48 hours) late, and then I will not accept them AT ALL. For the last two assignments, I will accept them late with a penalty of one grade level for each day (24 hour period) after the due date (for a paper that would receive a 4.0 had it been on time on Monday, any time after class up through Tuesday, it will receive a 3.0, Wednesday a 2.0, etc.). I will not accept any assessments (group presentations, metacognitive reflections, quizzes) late.



            Plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated in any way in my class; your work should be entirely your own, and cite any outside sources you have used (though none of the assignments require you to do this). Definitions of what constitutes plagiarism and the consequences at the UW can be found at:



Writing Centers

            The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) and the CLUE Writing Center are both excellent resources for help on writing. I believe they will be moving to online tutorials this quarter – I do not know precisely at this point how this will work. Check their websites for updates.


Religious Accommodations

            Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.


Access and Accommodations:

Your experience in this course is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course. If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), you are welcome to contact DRS at 206-543-8924 or or DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.

Moving to an online format makes many of these accommodations chaotic and difficult, especially as access to resources is extremely limited for all of us. Please communicate with me about your experiences and I will try to find solutions or adjustments as necessary.



I am instituting a “grading contract” policy this quarter. This means that you will decide, at the outset, what grade you want to receive for the course (within my given parameters). You MUST abide by the conditions of the contract to receive the grade, so there will NOT be individual grades or point values assigned to the separate components of the contract. After the first six weeks, I will have you do a self-evaluation of where you stand with your contract and allow you to ‘renegotiate’ if necessary.



NOTE: Readings/viewings should be completed PRIOR to class. We will meet from 12-1:20 PM MW.

ALSO: Modules will open Friday of the prior week at noon. Readings should be available in the           “Files” tab on the Wednesday the week before, if you want to get a headstart.


MODULE 0: Course Introduction

30 March – Course Introduction

1 April - Introduction to Popular Fiction studies; Ken Gelder, “Popular Fiction: the Opposite of   Literature?”; Christine Berberich “Twentieth-Century Popular: History, Theory, and Context” 


MODULE 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

6 April - Book [1997]; POPULAR FICTION CONCEPT: World-Building. Readings: Suman Gupta “Ch. 13 Three Worlds; Ch. 20 The Beginning”; Marie-Laure Ryan, “Texts, Worlds, Stories: Narrative        Worlds as Cognitive and Ontological Concept”


8 April - Film [2001]; CULTURAL STUDIES KEYWORD: “Community”


MODULE 2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 

13 April - Book [1998]; POPULAR FICTION CONCEPT: Genre: Children’s (?) Fiction; Jacqueline       Rose, “Peter Pan and the Commercialization of the Child”; Lena Steveker, “Alternative Worlds:            Popular Fiction (Not Only) for Children”


15 April - Film [2002]; CULTURAL STUDIES KEYWORD: “Racialization”


MODULE 3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

20 April - Book [1999]; POPULAR FICTION CONCEPT: Ideology: Stuart Hall, “Notes on        Deconstructing ‘The Popular”; Tony Bennett, excerpts from “Marxism and Popular Fiction”


22 April - Film [2004]; CULTURAL STUDIES KEYWORD: “Subject”


MODULE 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 

27 April - Book [2000]; POPULAR FICTION CONCEPT: Production: Fred Botting “Bestselling           Fiction: Machinery, Economy, Excess”, Susan Gunelius, excerpts from Harry Potter: The Story     of a Global Business Phenomenon


29 April - Film [2005]; CULTURAL STUDIES KEYWORD: “Diversity”


MODULE 5: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 

4 May - Book [2003]; POPULAR FICTION CONCEPT: Adaptation and Response; Nicola Humble        “The Reader of Popular Fiction”; Julie Sanders, excerpts from Adaptation and Appropriation


6 May - Film [2007]; CULTURAL STUDIES KEYWORD: “Government”


MODULE 6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 

11 May - Book [2005]; POPULAR FICTION CONCEPT: Reading as Theory; Michel de Certeau,          “Reading as Poaching”; Henry Jenkins, “How Texts Become Real”


13 May - Film [2009]; CULTURAL STUDIES KEYWORD: “Gender”


17 May (Sunday) – Metacognitive Reflection 1 on learning due on Canvas by midnight


MODULE 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

18 May - First half of book, through Ch. 21 [2007]; POPULAR FICTION CONCEPT: Scott       McCracken, “Transgression and Utopianism”


20 May - Finish book; POPULAR FICTION CONCEPT: Problematizing the ‘Divide’: Michael Butter,   “Caught between Cultural and Literary Studies: Popular Fiction’s Double Otherness”


25 May - NO SCHOOL; Memorial Day


27 May - Films, Part 1 [2010] AND Part 2 [2011]; CULTURAL STUDIES KEYWORDS: “Public”        AND “Normal”

Comparative Analysis paper due in Canvas by midnight


MODULE 8: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

1 June - Film [2016]; CULTURAL STUDIES KEYWORD: “Nation”

            Proposal of final project due


3 June - The Crimes of Grindelwald [2018]; CULTURAL STUDIES KEYWORD: “Ethnicity”


9 June (Tuesday) – Final Project due on Canvas by midnight

10 June – 2:30 PMpost a 2-5 minute presentation of your final project, watch 2 other students’             presentations, then wrap-up Zoom meeting at 3:00 PM.


12 June (Friday) – Metacognitive Reflection 2 on learning due on Canvas by midnight

Catalog Description: 
Introduces students to the study of popular culture, possibly including print or visual media, understood as sites of critical reflection. Particular attention to dynamics of production and reception, aesthetics and technique, and cultural politics. Topics may foreground genres (science fiction; romance) or forms (comics; graffiti). Offered: S.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 24, 2020 - 10:50pm