Two pieces of news today from the ‘Harry Potter in the Ivory Tower’ front: both Villanova and Northwestern University are offering classes on our favorite boy wizard — and neither is a literature course, per se. Villanova’s class, described in some detail in the article ‘Department debuts Harry Potter course: International relations class topics explained via J.K. Rowling books,’ is essentially about politics, and the Northwestern class (see Harry Potter required reading for new class) is an introduction to Medieval Studies. I wrote Daniel Nexon at Georgetown, the editor of Harry Potter and International Relations (2006), to ask id they were using his boo in the Villanova class; he responded that he didn’t know — but that there were two other classes on this subject being offered at other schools.
I’m not surprised. Harry Potter and Twilight as shared texts are natural vehicles for professors to use as “delivery systems” or “points of entry” for otherwise dreadfully dull and only-for-subject-majors classes. Note the end of the Villanova.com article in which it is reported that the class is already full for next fall and the professor will offer it in future semesters if “interest remains high.” Given the number of Hogwarts gimmicks in the course design, I’m sure it will!
In several ways, the Northwestern course is more disturbing. It isn’t just an innocent exploitation by a neglected subject matter expert wanting to raise interest in her area of expertise. If the article about the class is an honest reflection of the course’s content — and I confess to thinking that very much an open question — it seems to have avoided at least two of the most important Medieval History points.
Yes, Havelock the Dane is a neat Potter-link and the Arthurian echoes in Potter are fascinating. But, in a Freshman seminar and one introducing ‘Harry Potter’s Medieval Origins’ there are two big points I hope they’d think much more important than those connections.
(1) The story scaffolding for the Rowling series is literary alchemy, which is a match, of course, for the otherwise rather bizarre thesis that “medieval literature that may have inspired” the Hogwarts Saga.
(2) Rowling has said the “key” to her books is the conversation between Dumbledore and Harry at King’s Cross in Deathly Hallows. In it, Dumbledore’s answer to Harry’s final question about whether this is real or just in my head, which Rowling said she waited seventeen years to write, is a terse but friendly summary of Coleridge’s anti-nominalism, which, again, is implicitly Medieval.
Your thoughts? Please feel free to share links to other Potter courses that have breached the walls of academia…