Guest Post:The Power of Words and Story on a Young Mind

Cathy Leogrande wrote:

John, I just wanted to let you know what a critical part of my son’s life you have been for the last few years. Here is a posting I wrote regarding my/our HPEF Legacy:

I have been an attendee & presenter at every HPEF event since The Witching Hour. Those days in Salem truly changed my life. I wanted to share a few details to show my appreciation for all that HPEF has done for my son & me.

I am an Associate Professor of Education at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. My son Joey is a Korean-American adoptee who is very bright, but struggled with literacy. He had a rocky road in school over the years. He had educators who saw his unique talents and others who stereotyped him. It was trying to help our son see past some of the problems and maintain his optimism. One of the only ways he survived and thrived was our annual trip to the HPEF conferences.

From the pajama party at Lumos, through the crazy evangelicals at Portus and memorial room at Prophecy, we have been with HPEF every step. He now attends Fordham University. Wherever he goes, he takes Harry, JKR, and the memories of HPEF conferences with him. His college essay (below) attests to the impact HPEF has had on him.

As for me, I developed & teach a graduate education course, EDG 731 (for Harry & JKR’s birthdays) entitled Harry Potter: MultidisciplinaryPerspectives. I have been fortunate to combine my personal and professional love of Rowling’s work into so many aspects of my life. This summer, I will be one of two U.S. professors presenting at Magic is Might, the first international academic Harry Potter conference in Limerick, Ireland.

I will never be able to repay the many HPEF volunteers & organizers for their gifts to Joey & me. What a journey it has been!


Cathy Leogrande, Associate Professor, Le Moyne College

The Power of Words

Joeseph Hyun Leogrande, 2010

In reflecting on the events of my life that have impacted me, I returned to the night of August 1, 2006. I found myself in Row G of Radio City Music Hall in New York City sitting by my mother, not at all tired, although we had flown from Las Vegas to Syracuse the day before, and my family had driven five hours to the city for “An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp,” a charity event with readings by three authors. The excitement rushing through me kept me awake and alert; I was standing and applauding a tiny blonde woman with amazing silver snake shoes as she prepared to read.

The Harry Potter series was my gateway drug into my intellectual puberty. I was so fascinated by the Harry Potter world that my mother began taking me to academic conferences focused on the books. Beginning with The Witching Hour in 2005, through Lumos, Prophecy, Portus, and Azkatrz in 2009, I have attended presentations about the Latin etymology of terms and spells, the mythical tales of the artifacts, and the idea of literary alchemy.

These books opened my eyes to the whole world, and to knowledge itself. They were the stimulus that kept my brain working over the summers. More importantly, they helped me adopt the philosophy useful in school and beyond, that there is always another way to do something, or to perceive an issue. With uncertainty and doubt, comes innovation and new ways to look at problems that may result in new, different, faster and easier solutions. And all this came from a little  “magic,” from a book that many people see as a series for children.

Along with fans and students from many countries, I attended lectures about Ms. Rowling’s ability to beautifully craft the saga, with every painstakingly small detail connected to something else. For example, John Granger, a “Potter Pundit” who has written several critical analyses of the books, reminded the audience that Harry’s (and his mother Lily’s) green eyes owe a literary debt to Dante’s Beatrice. From Jonathan Swift to Chaucer to Dickens and Austen, I learned that like all great books, Rowling’s stories fostered a connection across mind, body, and soul.

Although the series has been criticized by those who believe it corrupts children and teaches witchcraft, I was able to hear discussions by those who purported that, like the Bible, these books teach wonderful messages if one goes beyond the literal level to the allegorical. It is my generation’s shared text; all college freshmen are familiar with the stories, and that gives us a set of common beliefs and ideas that can serve as a springboard to new learning.

As I sat surrounded by avid fans and scholars of John Irving, Steven King, and J.K. Rowling, it gave me hope that this country will not be consumed by the mundane. With so much emphasis on physical aspects of life, and the material and sexual focus of the messages thrown at us by the media, it would be easy to become jaded or depressed. But I am not worried. I have been surrounded by 6000 people, all of whom paid good money, not for a sporting event or a concert, but to hear authors read their work. I have evidence that words on a page can change not only my life, but the world.


  1. Cathy Leogrande says

    This post does not articulate the debt we own John himself. John Granger is revered like a rock star at these gatherings. We remember the need to reschedule his talks to larger ballrooms to accommodate the crowds. Those of us who have been with him & HPEF since the beginning remember his first books for his bravery in academically embracing a popular series and demonstrating the concept that “new classics” is not an oxymoron. John broke ground and we are all the better for it.

  2. Cathy and Joeseph, thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts and hearts regarding Harry Potter and the insight into a whole new world within literary alchemy the HPEF conferences have given you both through the years.

    My first HPEF conference was Lumos, so I came a little later on the scene.

    John Granger has touched more lives through his books on Harry’s world than I think John would admit to and changed this evangelical teacher/Christian Apologist from an anti-Potter voice to a Potter supporter with his first two books way back when the Harry haters were having a time of it in the press.

    Now I’m presenting at my Fifth HPEF conference having attended and reported on six, with my talks on Harry’s world centering on the positive virtues of love, self-sacrifice, perseverance and courage that are needed to be shared in our culture, where our young people like Joeseph are searching for innovative stories and examples to follow as a guide to inspirational growth.

    Cathy, as for those crazy evangelicals you ran into at Portus, I walked over there one night during our HPEF con and had a chat with a couple of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) youth leaders. One of the young men had seen the “Hogwarts” insignia on my polo shirt and came up to me stating, “we have been praying for the Lord to send someone to bring the Bible to those witches over there at that Potter gathering”. I said, “Samuel, first there are people of all different backrounds and religions at that gathering next door, secondly, the Lord heard your prayers long before they were said,…… I am a Christian teacher and I have presenting the elements of Christian symbolism in the Harry Potter series at that conference next door all weekend”. He went running to the ballroom doorway looking for his elders telling his friends, “Hey, our prayers were answered for those Potter people over there”. I only wish John Granger would have been there to see that event!

    True Story! John

  3. I only went to Lumos but I have read most of the books by presenters who have spoken at many of the conferences. I think Joseph has it exactly right on what we should take away from the fantastic gatherings and the books and blogs.

    He spoke of Harry Potter being the shared text of his generation. But it goes beyond just one age group. And that is what makes all of it even more magical.

    Too bad the crazy evangelicals (glad I missed them, actually) reall missed the part that their prayers were answered before they thought of them. But David, I am so glad you approached them – after some discussions of my own with people of that mind-set, I tend to run the other way.

    Thank you, Cathy and Joseph. And thank you, John, for giving us all the place to share our experiences of Harry – and to continue to connect with one another.

  4. What an amazing story! It’s always astounding to hear the many ways JKR’s books (and scholarly and popular discussions of them) have positively changed lives.

  5. We remember the need to reschedule his talks to larger ballrooms to accommodate the crowds. Really thanks for the sharing.

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