Chestnut Hill Wins House Cup for Ravenclaw, as Always.

Chestnut Hill College had its 6th annual Harry Potter Conference last weekend. This was the fourth time I have attended and and my third time as a session moderator. Doubtlessly, the conference has established itself as the major venue of serious Potter scholarship. Attendance is a must for any student seeking a N.E.W.T. in Hogwarts Studies.

I arrived late to the high school student section on Thursday night, thanks to horrendous traffic in the area, so I only heard a paper and a half, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I did hear. I wish I could have heard the full paper on Harry Potter and animals. since it seemed to fit well with my work on depictions of nature in the series. And the final paper, on how the depiction of Ginny Weasley changed from book to film, won second place honors.

More on the main section after the jump.

I started the day Friday with Christina Phillips-Mattson’s talk on spellwork and nonsense literature, which impressed me enough to buy her book and get it signed. The book, Children’s Literature Grows Up: Harry Potter and the Children’s Literature Revolution seems, at first glance to cover some of the same territory as Beatrice Groves’s Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, which I also recently purchased at Headmaster Granger’s recommendation. I look forward to reading them side-by-side for comparison. Next came a talk by Dawn Hayes on a program using Harry to help teach literacy skills in children with reading challenges: a program all the more remarkable for happening in an area where there was one a movement challenging Harry Potter in the school libraries. After this, I popped over to a another room to hear Jeff Ambrose’s talk “You
Have to Mean It” on emotions and Harry Potter, which was memorable for including analysis of one of my favorite scenes, where Harry crucios Carrow for spitting in Professor McGonagall’s face. Then, of course, came Headmaster Granger’s talk on Nabokov’s influence on the Potter world, which obviously could have taken up ten times as much time as the 20 minutes he was allowed, and that has convinced me I need to read Lolita.

My second morning session was the one I chaired, Science and Education. In addition to my own talk, (more on that later), there were presentations from a pair of University of Alabama at Birmingham Business professors on a Harry-themed leadership class that they teach, David Martin speaking on Britishisms that American readers miss in the books (which included what has become his trademark, tossing authentic sherbet lemons to audience members who answer questions correctly) and a talk by Joel Hunter on research that has been done on the Harry Potter series and the potential for future. Joel was at a bit of a disadvantage because some nargles had apparently infested his thumb drive and transfigured the powerpoint font into something unreadable, but he recovered admirably. I was particularly intrigued by the graphs that showed the number of scholarly Potter publications by time (relative to books and movies) and discipline. I don’t know whether to be disappointed that my own field. psychology, is so poorly represented (second lowest bar, next to medicine) or delighted there is so much room to explore.

The keynote was by Dr. Cecilia Konchar Farr, of St. Catherine’s University. She spoke about the passion of Harry Potter fans, particularly the female ones, and how both social media and the three-year gap between the 4th and 5th books influenced their fandom and the ownership they felt for the series. She pointed out many examples of love for Harry Potter and its author, but also occasions where fans have not shied away from calling Ms. Rowling out for perceived shortcomings, such as in her depiction of Asian and Native American cultures.

For the afternoon, I stayed put in the Psychology and Philosophy section.  The first paper there was a wonderful example of interdisciplinary collaboration between moderator and Potter Pundit Katie McDaniel and psychologist Mark Sibicky on terror management theory (a psychological model that considers the effects of pondering one’s own death) as applied to the Tale of the Three Brothers.  This was a fascinating look at both experimental research and the text. I was both bemused and proud to see the topic of my own student’s paper (the Three Brothers as representations of Voldemort, Snape and Harry) at the very first Harry Potter conference I ever went to back in 2011 described as a “new fan theory.”

Next was clinical psychologist Yasmin Miranda speaking about Harry Potter as bibliotherapy for depression. Having written extensively about Harry Potter and mental illness myself, I was surprised at what new insights I gleaned from this, particularly the use of Draco Malfoy as an example of depression in Half-Blood Prince. Another thing that surprised me was that she did not recommend the “happy memory” approach of the Patronus charm.  I asked Ms. Miranda to read my own paper and let me know what she thinks of my view of the Patronus charm as cognitive behavioral therapy.

The last two papers were more philosophical.  David Gras (dressed as a marvelous Newt Scamander!) spoke about the significance of the Phoenix and connected it to Frank the Thunderbird of Fantastic Beasts, sharing insights he had gleaned from direct exposure to Native America culture. Finally, philosopher Nicole Jowsey applied the concepts of parrhesia (fearless speech) and altheia (disclosed truth) to Harry’s mission in Deathly Hallows.

The conference closed with a new event: a round-table discussion with the organizers.  This sparked lively conversation, a surprising amount of which centered on the Fantastic Beasts movie series. It was a great way to end the conference; I would be surprised if this event is not repeated, or even expanded, in future years.

As for my own talk, on Potter-inspired names in biology and psychology, I freely admit I put together more of a collection of trivia than an in-depth text analysis this year, but it was still fun. Fittingly, there were seven:  five animals (a dinosaur, a crab, two wasps and a spider) and two psychological conditions. You can read 5/7th’s of what I had to say in my previous Hogwartsprofessor post. I added two other beasts to the talk that were named in 2017, both of which had even better stories behind them. First, the crab Harryplex severus was named Harry after the researcher who found the shell traces of it in the early 2000’s, but “severus” because the live ones, discovered only recently after a long and arduous search, managed to keep themselves hidden from scientists for roughly the same time that Snape kept the secret about his true allegiance. Second,  a recently described wasp, Luscius malfoyi, got its name because the discoverer wanted to improve the reputation of native New Zealand wasps, and considers Papa Malfoy a character with “a bad reputation who is ultimately redeemed.” The audience groaned a bit at this, which led to discussion as to whether Lucius was the best choice for a redeemed character. The consensus was that he wasn’t, an opinion shared by Malfoy actor Jason Isaacs, who tweeted that naming an anal parasite for the character might be more appropriate. Unfortunately, genus names like Narcissus (a flower) and Regulus (birds) were already taken. Supposedly there are some 3000 species of harmless wasps in New Zealand, many yet uncharacterized; maybe the researchers will wise up and name the next ones Percius weasleius or Kreacherus houselfius.

Overall, an outstanding conference that disappointed only in the number of great talks I had to miss.  Looking forward to Conference #7 next year—  they’ll have to be a special celebration for that one, right? As a final note, I would like to encourage any presenter who has a full-fledged paper from their presentation to consider submitting to the journal Study and Scrutiny: Research on Young Adult Literature, whose due date for the next issue is November 15th.


  1. Emily Strand says

    Louise, that was a great – I feel like I went to 50% more talks than I actually did! Thanks for the roundup, especially of your own talk which I missed, regrettably.

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