Three Spoiler-Free Reasons to See The Last Jedi

Fresh from my first viewing of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, here are my relatively spoiler-free impressions of the film. (Read on if you’re okay knowing some generalities about the film, with the promise of no specific details.)

I must state categorically that I loved it, and I can’t wait to see it again. I had heard that the film would “shock” me – that it takes the Skywalker saga in an unexpected direction. I am not as shocked as I was prepared to be (perhaps sheer expectation prevented that), and the film did not satisfy every question I had hoped it would (perhaps the filmmaker’s strategy to keep me coming back, and if so, as young Anakin once said, “It’s working!”). But on the whole The Last Jedi is excellent, thrilling, moving and satisfying Star Wars. Read on for three reasons why you should see it: [Read more…]

Accio Festival! A Roundup of Academic Potter Events on the Horizon

Mark your calendar! For serious Harry Potter readers, uber-fans and academics, it’s time to get together. Save up those Galleons, sickles and knuts, grab a broomstick or gas up your old Ford Anglia. Here are five upcoming events of interest to the Potter conversation:

home_osuOhio State University’s Popular Culture and the Deep Past 2017: The World of Harry Potter. According to the Ohio State University’s website, the guiding principles of the annual “Popular Culture and the Deep Past” conference, hosted by the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, is “to celebrate the ongoing presence of historical cultures and traditions in present-day life; and second, to bring diverse communities together in and around Ohio State, including scholars, performers, artists, artisans, teachers, students, and families.” Sounds fun! Whereas in previous years the conference has focused on Tolkien’s works and even Game of Thrones, this year’s conference tackles Potter in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Philosopher’s Stone. The conference seeks to combine a full-fledged academic conference with a carnival celebration of culture, including food, games, activities and cosplay.

  • Where and when: Columbus, Ohio, campus of the Ohio State University, February 24-25, 2017
  • Website: https://cmrs.osu.edu/events/pcdp/2017-harry-potter
  • Submissions: “The submission deadline for abstracts and panel proposals is November 15, 2016. Submissions after that date will be happily received, but cannot be guaranteed full consideration. Abstracts may be submitted via email to cmrs_gaa@osu.edu.” (from the website)
  • Registration: There is no fee to attend but registration is requested; follow the link on the website above; deadline for registration: February 20, 2017.
  • Of special note: As OSU’s campus is no more than a long walk from my front door, I’ll be there with bells on! I am slated to present a paper on the Christian sacramental worldview present in the Potter series. If you go, please stop and introduce yourself.

Signum University/Mythgard Institute’s Mythmoot IV: Invoking Wonder. The Mythgard Mythmoot-theme-mythgardInstitute, housed at Signum U., has established itself in recent years as a hub for the study of imaginative fiction. It has created a space online where the best teachers in the field (think Tom Shippey, Corey Olsen, Amy H. Sturgis and Dimitra Fimi) are accessible to students of any ilk: those pursuing graduate degrees or simply deeper conversations about their favorite books, films and games. Plus, Mythgardians never fail to have a really good time while wrestling with the big questions. Their annual gathering, which organizers describe as combining “academic conference, literary creative meet-up, and fan convention” is extended this year, and there’s still time to both register to attend and to submit your idea for an academic paper, panel, workshop or creative presentation.

  • Where and when: Leesburg, VA; the National Conference Center; June 1-4, 2017
  • Website: http://mythgard.org/events/mythmoot-iv/
  • Submissions: Proposals are accepted through 28 February 2017.  Send proposals to
  • events@mythgard.org with a subject line of “Paper Proposal,” “Panel Proposal,” “Workshop Proposal,” or “Creative Presentation Proposal.” Include a brief bio and A/V requirements.
  • Registration: Pricing is per day, or for the whole conference. See the website for details, as well as a link to registration.
  • Of special note: Mythmoot IV “will feature special guests Dr. Verlyn Flieger (University of Maryland) and Dr. Michael Drout (Wheaton College). It will also include the traditional banquet on Saturday evening, with much food and merriment for all!” (from the website)

DePaul HP confDePaul University, Harry Potter and the Pop Culture Conference. This one day conference, hosted by the Media and Cinema Studies program at DePaul, boasts that it is for both Muggles and Wizards, which I certainly hope implies that Witches are welcome too (ahem). The event will take place on DePaul’s Loop Campus and features keynotes, panels, fan discussions and more.

  • Where and when: DePaul U., Loop Campus, Chicago, IL; May 6, 2017
  • Website: http://www.mcsdepaul.com/depaul-pop-culture-conference.html
  • Submissions: Rather than formal paper presentations, the conference will feature roundtable discussions with scholars and fans alike, themed around certain topics. Interested parties should send a 200-300 word abstract proposing a topic and a CV/resume to Paul Booth (pbooth@depaul.edu) by February 1st. Proposals should be aimed at a general audience.
  • Of special note: The keynote speaker of the event will be Alana Bennett of Buzzfeed, best known for her writings about race-bending Hermione Granger.

And save-the-date for… Plans are also shaping up for two more Potter fests, the dates for which you’ll want to save. One is new and one has become an old favorite.

  • Roanoke, VA Harry Potter Fest. Lana Whited of Ferrum College recently contact several of us about a new (with hopes to become annual) Harry Potter festival in Roanoke, VA on May 13, with a festive feast the night before. The goal is to have educational events mixed in with the festival events, for a full day of Potter learning and fun. I’ve marked my calendar for this one for sure; if you go, you’re likely to meet more than one Hogwarts Professor there.
  • Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter Conference and Festival. It’s never too early to mark your Chestnut-Hill-College3calendar for the annual HP Conference and Festival in Chestnut Hill, PA. This year’s conference is slated for Friday, October 21 at Chestnut Hill College, with the festival in the small, nearby town of Chestnut Hill the next day. Let’s hope both these events are as fabulously fun as they’ve been in years past. We might also hope it’s not 80 degrees Fahrenheit in October this year (which made for a sweltering time in CHC’s non-air-conditioned St. Joseph Hall), and that the town of Chestnut Hill has more than one port-o-potty, and other ways of accommodating a crowd which last year swelled to an estimated 45,000, wildly surpassing the town’s ostensible preparations. If you’ve been looking for evidence that Harry and his pals are more popular than ever, look no further.

Have you heard of an academic Harry Potter event and/or fan celebration you’d like HogPro readers to know about? Please mention it in the comments below. And don’t forget to get cracking on those submissions! Hope to see you soon…

You can follow Emily Strand on Facebook and Twitter (@ekcstrand).

Hobbit Movie Thoughts: The Magic of Imagery

Generally, when there is a new film based on a book that we study here, either I or Louise Freeman puts on the gloves and slogs into the fray to present thoughts on what was good, what was true to the book, and what was just plain awful. After five films, Peter Jackson’s forays into Middle Earth generally get the same reaction from readers like us, and much of it isn’t very positive. As I braved the theater with my two favorite adventuresome gents, we really did not expect a close-text interpretation. My running joke about the Hobbit movies has been that they are really cool action films that I enjoy, as they sort of remind me of this book I love. So instead of trotting out my trusty notebook, for the last Hobbit film installment, the Battle of the Five Armies, I wanted to do something different. As I watched the film, I began to wonder how future readers might be affected by the film interpretations. Rather than wringing my hands over how the film veers, often dramatically, from the text and tone of Tolkien’s work, I thought it might be more interesting and thoughtful to look at one of the reasons why the novel is so resonant, and why this story, even with radical alterations, is so engaging as a film: the power of imagery. [Read more…]

A Heroic Achievement: Tolkien’s Beowulf Coming in May

I love teaching British Literature I, for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is a big scary fella with a heck of a grip: Beowulf. The translation I enjoy using is the absolutely fabulous Seamus Heaney one, but there is a new version forthcoming, one that has a variety of readers drooling like Grendel contemplating a mead hall full of yummy Danish warriors. J.R.R. Tolkien’s much anticipated translation, bound along with some of his scholarly and fiction work related to the epic poem, is slated for release May 22. [Read more…]

New Essay Collection Examines Religious Experience in Tolkien’s Work

Light Beyond All Shadow: Religious Experience in Tolkien’s Work Fairleigh
Dickinson University Press, 2011)is a new collection, edited by Paul E. Kerry and Sandra Miesel, friend of this blog, and looks at the ways in which Tolkien depicts religious experience throughout his work. This exciting new book has work from contributors hailing from Romania, Poland, Germany, and the United Kingdom as well as the United States and promises to be quite interesting. For more details and the table of contents, follow me after the jump! [Read more…]