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Harry Potter goes to university

Thursday 17 May 2012

Graphic credit: Clive O'Neill, The Scotsman.

Graphic credit: Clive O'Neill, The Scotsman.

The man described as ‘the Dean of Harry Potter scholars’ will explain why the series is worthy of academic study at the first conference on the subject in the UK this week (17-18 May 2012).

John Granger, author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures, will be joined by sixty scholars from around the world to examine the JK Rowling books as literary texts in their own right at the event at the University of St Andrews.

In an intense series of almost 50 lectures over two days, experts on the series will discuss how they deal with death, the role of empathy and the influence of writers such as CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Other papers will deal with paganism, magic and the use of food and British National Identity.

The event, A Brand of Fictional Magic: Reading Harry Potter as Literature, aims to redress the lack of direct study of the body of work as a literary text.

The conference is organised by John Patrick Pazdziora from the University’s School of English, and Fr. Micah Snell from the University’s Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA).

Pazdziora explained, “We can't avoid the fact that Harry Potter is the main narrative experience of an entire generation - the children who quite literally grew up with Harry Potter. The Harry Potter novels are simply the most important and influential children's books of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries.

“For very many people, this is their first experience of literature, and of literary art. So they want to think about it, and analyse it, and talk about it. It's important because people care about it, and care very deeply.”

The wide-ranging event will cover the influence of other literary figures such as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Jane Austen, as well as more homespun Scottish folklore.

Pazdziora continued, “J.K. Rowling has put so much detail, so many literary and folkloric and cultural references, it's a tangle or a puzzle picking it all out. People find that they like the elements of Scottish folklore they see in the series, or Tarot and ritualism, or social justice concerns, and they go off and become enthralled and fascinated by that. The series opens up new worlds to its readers…and this is also partly why it's so imaginatively and culturally important.”

Although the ten-year long series of books is receiving increased academic attention, the St Andrews event is the UK’s first academic conference on the subject and the first in the world to discuss Harry Potter strictly as a literary text.

The keynote speakers include John Granger, widely hailed as the leading authority on the series, and described by TIME magazine as "The Dean of Harry Potter Scholars." He will be joined in St Andrews by fellow experts from countries including the USA, South Africa, Australia, India and the Philippines, as well as the UK.

Speaking ahead of the event, Granger commented, “The Hogwarts Saga is the most loved story in the history of publishing by quite a margin and, consequently, it is a natural and important subject of study for anyone interested in the literary arts.

“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.

“Hogwarts, we're told, is hidden somewhere in Scotland, the author lives here, too, and Ms Rowling's mother was half Scot. It's somehow appropriate and fitting that the first academic conference of any size be held at Scotland's oldest university, St Andrews. The enthusiastic response and the quality of the universities from around the world who will be represented at the conference make it a landmark event.”

An anthology based on the conference is planned for publication in 2013 with Unlocking Press.

Ends

Peter J Herron's art for the conference

Local artist Peter J Herron was commissioned to produce a piece of art for the conference in St Andrews.

Notes to Editors

John Pazdziora is available for interview on jpp6@st-andrews.ac.uk or telephone 07402139372

John Granger will be contactable in St Andrews from 7pm on Wednesday via John Pazdziora or the Press Office.

A full programme of the conference is available from the Press Office – contacts below.

JK Rowling was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Letters) by St Andrews in 2000.


Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews

Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Communications Manager on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email gec3@st-andrews.ac.uk

Ref:  Harry Potter 160512

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