Harry Potter Conference: A Review
Last week was the first Conference engaging with the Harry Potter series at a high academic level. We know, hard to believe huh?! Well, yours truly from The Two Cities, John Anthony Dunne and Nathaniel Warne, were among the lucky few selected to give papers at this landmark event. The topics covered at the conference were wonderfully diverse. There were fascinating papers on: Food and British national identity in the series, Hermoine in the HP series with the Hermoine from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, the function of forest landscapes in literature in comparison to the Forbidden Forrest, and Severus Snape as a model of Paternal Atonement, among many others!
Some highlights of the conference were:
Dr. Christina Hitchcock (University of Sioux Falls) gave a fascinating presentation on the suffering of Severus Snape. Dr. Hitchcock drew a connection between the love and suffering of Snape that began with Lilly Potter that eventually extended out to an entire community, and Snape’s willingness to sacrifice his own friendships and happiness for others, utilizing the idea of the “responsible man” found in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s After Ten Years.
Anne Frances N. Sangil (De La Salle University, Manila) looked at receptions of Harry Potter as Ideal/other in Pilipino culture and linguistical/cultural problems with the translating of the books and films into various local dialects.
Dr. James Thomas (Pepperdine University) blew his audience away as he showed all the potential literary allusions to previous great books, plays and poems of history found in the series.
Dr. Joel Hunter (Arizona State University) utilized Vladimir Propp’s functions of the Dramatis Personae from Morphology of the Folktale to determine why certain books within the series are widely considered the best (Prisoner of Azkaban, Deathly Hallows) and the worst (Chamber of Secrets, Order of the Phoenix). His hypothesis was that the individual tales which cohered most with Propp’s 32 criteria would be more aesthetically satisfactory than the others. Intriguingly, Prisoner and Hallows had the least amount of strikes against them, and Chamber and Phoenix had the most. The presentation was even more fascinating because Dr. Hunter portrayed each narrative symbolically in order for us to visualize the coherence with Propp’s criteria.
Not all the papers we in high praise of the series.
One paper by Dr. Jessica Tiffin (University of Cape Town) convincingly argued that Hogwarts is a bad school: drawing upon the quality of teachers hired by Dumbledore, the test score focused nature of the school, etc… Hogwarts is not a successful learning environment: most of the education occurs outside the classroom. Since most of the scholars in the room were formal educators, the popularity of the series and the resonation of millions of fans — in light of the wide-spread popularity of the books — functions as an indictment against formal education. There were also accusations that Rowling is un/intentionally anti-Semitic in her portrayal of the Goblins (Tsung-Han Tsai, St Andrews University), and classicist based on unresolved issues in the series concerning the enslavement of House-elves (Dr. Anne Kustritz, University Amsterdam).
To put it simply, the level of academic engagement with the Harry Potter Series at this conference was nothing short of inspiring and breath taking. Scholars and future scholars from the fields of philosophy, education, literature, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and theology — to name a few — showed amazing and thoughtful interaction with the series.