A City of Spell Books and Broomsticks: London in the Literature of the Fantastic

'Can we buy all this in London?’ Harry wondered aloud.

'If yeh know where to go,' said Hagrid.

From the Hogwarts Express on Platform 9¾ at King's Cross Station, to the Cybermen on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, to Spider-Man precariously perched on the parapet of Tower Bridge, London has inspired the fantastical imagination like no other city. This course explores London’s predominance in Anglophone fantasy literature and its multifaceted representations, refractions, mutations, and transformations. It examines the intersection between the fantasy genre and the city of London as both a concrete location and an imaginary space. 

This course provides a unique opportunity to study London-based fantasy and science fiction on the undergraduate level. Over six weeks, students will hone their critical faculties, sharpen their arguments, exercise independent thought and creative approaches, and develop their close reading skills and their ability to sustain comparative readings across literary works. They will analyze the dialectic between the fantasy genre and the city of London and explore the interrelationships between literature, location, history, and culture. The course will range across a diverse corpus of London-based fantasies from the nineteenth century to the present, primarily works of literature, including extracts and short stories from authors such as Edith Nesbit, C. S. Lewis, and Ben Aaronovitch, but also the first film in the Harry Potter series, and the first episode of the new Doctor Who series. 

From week to week, students will reflect upon the role of fantastical literature within its wider historical, cultural, social, and political contexts. We will engage with the questions at the heart of contemporary debates about fantasy literature: to what extent is fantastical fiction merely escapism from so-called ‘real life’? Why has the fantasy genre remained so enduringly popular? Why has London remained the foremost city of science fiction and fantasy, and how do London-based fantasies differ from those set in the countryside or in invented worlds? Why does Diggory dismiss London as ‘a beastly Hole’? Why does the TARDIS still look like it’s a 1950s police box?  Why does Hufflepuff always draw the short end of the stick? And is the ghost of a centuries dead huckster from Covent Garden a reliable witness in a murder investigation?

Course Schedule

Program Date: March 15 - April 24, 2021

Students will meet online on Saturdays from 11:30AM - 1PM (Eastern Standard Time) with additional asynchronous time requirements of 1hr+ per week.


Academic Director

Hadas Elber-Aviram

Hadas Elber-Aviram

Hadas Elber-Aviram is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Notre Dame's London Global Gateway. She was awarded a PhD from University College London, and specializes in nineteenth- and twentieth-century urban fiction, with a particular focus on (but not limited to) the urban fantastic. 

Elber-Aviram has published on topics ranging from Dickens's influence on Mervyn Peake and China Miéville, to H. G. Wells's fantastical London, to the representation of vampires in science fiction, to the affiliations between urban archeology and urban fantasy. Her first monograph, Fairy Tales of London: British Urban Fantasy, 1840 to the Present, was accepted for publication by Bloomsbury Academic, and is scheduled to be published on 12 November 2020.