International Scholars Gather in Scotland to Discuss Harry Potter

Posted on May 19, 2012

St. Andrews University in Scotland hosted "A Brand of Fictional Magic: Reading Harry Potter as Literature," the first international conference on Harry Potter. The two day event drew 60 international scholars. Many were presenting doctoral papers on the literary relevance of J.K. Rowling's series.

Academics delivered lectures on everything from the use of the Socratic method by Dumbledore to educate Harry, racial politics of goblins, the use of paganism in the books, an examination of the importance of food as it denotes British identity, and how the series is an allegory for World War II.

Several scholars picked up on the World War II themes. Bielefeld University's Melanie Babenhauserheide is writing a doctoral thesis called "Ideology and Education in Rowling's Harry Potter Novels." She says the children's victory over evil in the final book is a clear allusion to the triumph over Nazism. Voldemort is Hitler, because "he hates all deviants."

The conference was organized by two St. Andrews professors: John Patrick Pazdziora of the School of English and Father Micah Snell from the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts. Professor Pazdziora had this to say about the need for such a conference: "We can't avoid the fact that Harry Potter is the main narrative experience of an entire generation - the children who literally grew up with Harry Potter. The Harry Potter novels are simply the most important and influential children's books of the late-20th and early 21st Centuries."

The professor takes great umbrage at those who say the books have little literary merit: "I take exception to the unexamined and misinformed assumption that the books are 'light on literary merit'. Ms Rowling's works are comic, certainly, but it's a great mistake to think they're simple or haphazard story-telling. The seven books are each and taken together a remarkably intricate ring composition for one thing, with every chapter having a parallel analogy with another in the same book."

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