What Harry Potter can teach us
From sorting students into houses for the house cup competition to studying the Harry Potter video games and theme park, English lecturer Megan MacAlystre intends to explore every avenue of criticism while teaching Women and Wizards: JK Rowling in Context this fall.
“I’m very excited to be able to teach this, and I hope that we can do some really meaningful work and have a good time doing it,” said MacAlystre.
While the course has a general focus on how J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, functions within a tradition of women writers, MacAlystre also plans to analyze everything Harry Potter related, from the films to fan fiction. In addition to reading all 4,200 pages of the Harry Potter series, students will also read excerpts of works from other authors, such as Madeleine L’Engle and P.L. Travers, in order to put the series in context with other works written by female authors and with feminist literary criticism.
“It’s a broad scope of a class to really figure out what this is telling us as a cultural moment about women’s authorship, ownership and cultural ideologies,” explained MacAlystre.
MacAlystre, who studied Harry Potter as a part of her doctoral work, finds the Harry Potter phenomenon worthy of academic scrutiny because of its immense cultural response, comparing J.K. Rowling’s popularity to that of Dickens and Shakespeare in their own times.
“These [Harry Potter novels] have become such a part of our cultural identity and our cultural memory that the issue of merit is pretty clear,” said MacAlystre. “Anything that gets this amount of popularity deserves to be investigated.”
MacAlystre is hopeful, however, that because the Harry Potter series is not as historically distant as Shakespeare and Dickens that students will more easily engage in critical analysis.
“If I can get a student just to be excited about coming to class during the day, that is a success. But if I can get a student to stop and go, ‘Hey, wait a second, I’m not entirely sure why we do this, why we think this way or maybe that’s something we should question,’ that’s my goal here,” said MacAlystre.
MacAlystre plans to continue offering unique courses in the future, considering the role of food in children’s literature, the politics of space and architecture in children’s literature and film adaptation of children’s literature as potential courses.
“I’m fundamentally very passionate about children’s literature, about what this can do and the very expansive nature of the field and the possibilities there,” said MacAlystre. “And I’m fundamentally pretty passionate about Harry Potter, and letting the students see that can be really productive because they can find that sort of passion and carry it on.”
-Ashley Hedrick, Class of 2016