After-Action Report on James Madison University’s Replacing Wands with Quills Conference

by Elizabeth on November 13, 2011

On November 10-12, James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, hosted a diverse collection of Harry Potter scholars, including our own headmaster John Granger as the keynote speaker, and faculty members Louise Freeman, John Patrick Pazdziora, and Elizabeth Baird Hardy. It was a lovely event that bodes well for future gatherings. Follow me after the jump for my thoughts on the event. I hope my magical brethren will also chime in with their thoughts, especially on sessions I missed, since, unlike Hermione, I can’t be in two places at once.

The event was the brainchild of Elisabeth Gumnior of JMU’s school of writing, rhetoric, and technical communication. Along with symposium assistant co-ordinator Dr. Jennifer Jacovitch, Dr. Gumnior put together a brilliant and fascinating program which kicked off November 10 with a welcoming reception then kicked into high gear Friday with four different sessions.

Each session included three concurrent sessions with different a thematic focus. For example, on Friday morning, I enjoyed a Pedagogy session with a virtual presentation on the morally and pedagogically bad and good characters by Scott J. O’Callaghan at Southern Vermont College, followed by a paper on lessons in pedagogy from Hogwarts by Melissa Johnson of VCU. On Friday I also had the opportunity to attend sessions and participate in discussions with our own John Patrick Pazdziora, broadcasting live from St. Andrews with an amazing analysis of the constructs of childhood presented in Tales of Beedle the Bard; with Sarah Fettke from the University of Kansas who spoke on the definitions of human, non-human, and beast used in the Hogwarts adventures and supplemental texts; with Tess Stockslager and her insights into the meaning behind Severus Snape’s clothing choices (which made me see, for the first time, his similarity to Hawthorne’s Reverend Dimmesdale). I would have liked to have been everywhere at once to also hear presentations from undergraduate scholars, professors, and friends of this blog. (If you’d like to see the full program, check the link here, but be warned, the nargles got into my biography and presentation description).

On Friday afternoon, I presented my thoughts on using C.S. Lewis’s Experiment in Criticism to evaluate the literary merits of Rowling’s work. Alas, the time slot meant I missed out on Louise Freeman’s use of Behavioral Sciences to diagnose the Potter cast of characters. But I did get to enjoy Grace Ghazzawi’s talk on the Gothic motifs of Harry’s adventures.

We did get to all come together on Friday evening, under a gorgeous full moon, for a lovely banquet. We even had four house tables, candles, and movie music to set the tone. Then John Granger shared with us a mysterious, coded, and heretofore unknown letter found in the C.S. Lewis repository of the Wade collection (or actually in the restroom) , sent to Lewis from an unidentified colleague with the initials “AD” who shared his thoughts on what makes good literature, including insights on his favorites of Lewis’s canon and from the great works. This remarkable missive shed great light on matters of organization and theme as well as on a certain Headmaster’s preference for Little Women. This delightful evening was followed up Saturday with a final set of sessions and a great wrap-up roundtable.

Overall, the event was fantastic, with some truly wonderful insights and delightful fellowship with other scholars. It was great to see folks I have only met here (Hello, Kary, Alison, and Sarah!) , and to meet others who will be joining us here, now (welcome!). Unlike primarily fan events, this symposium had a scholarly focus, but was as whimsical and wondrous as one might expect from a series of academic presentations on a truly whimsical and wondrous work. Dr. Gumnior, who was a marvelous hostess, is hopeful the event may recur, and I can eagerly second that motion. There is also a good possibility that conference proceedings will be forthcoming. In the meantime, take our word for it that the event was a great success, and enjoy these photographs by photo-witch Jennifer Sappington. Thank you to everyone at JMU who made this event a reality!

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