Hogwarts Professor in Arizona!

Tucson Festival f Books CatepillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar and I met up in Tucson on Saturday at the Festival of Books on the University of Arizona campus — and meeting celebrities like this wasn’t even the high point of my travels. If you’re interested, read on below the jump. If not, I’m back at home in my Lehigh Valley bunker now and will be re-joining the Hunger Games conversation here tomorrow. Stay tuned!

I flew into Phoenix last Thursday and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College. Independent scholar Joel Hunter, one time faculty adviser to ASU’s Harry Potter Society, talked with me on a tour of campus and took me to dinner with said Society before my talk that night on ‘The Eyes of Deathly Hallows.’ Considering it was the night before Spring Break at America’s largest university, we had quite the crowd — and these folks have a command of canon detail that, frankly, really surprised me (how many readers know how many stair cases there are at Hogwarts off the top of their head?). They also were all over the Coleridgean ideas and anagogical artistry in Deathly Hallows, which was a treat for me to discuss with them.

The next day I taught a class at Glendale Preparatory Academy, one of Arizona’s Great Hearts charter schools, and I confess to being both surprised and delighted by my experience there. Headmaster David Williams has created a challenging, nurturing and wonderfully engaging school of moral and intellectual virtue north of Phoenix in just a few years. My evidence? The experience I had Friday morning at ‘GP’ leading a discussion of George Herbert’s poem, Vertue (1633), in a classroom of seventh graders; the conversation never flagged, the participation of the 20 boys and girls was doggone close to 100% — and everyone’s comments were always attentive and respectful of their classmates’ contributions.

This isn’t an elite private school but a free public school whose students were chosen by lottery from the pool of local children interested in the Great Hearts ‘Great Book’ program. These polite, wonderfully challenging, and curious 12 and 13 year olds had been part of Glendale Prep’s community for a year at the most — and yet they all dove into Herbert’s meditation on life and death and his wonderful conceits with real enthusiasm and no little insight. I’m confident I was much more impressed with them than they were with me. I sat back and directed conversational traffic for the most part — while marveling at their excitement and courtesy.

I drove to Tucson that night after a sushi lunch with the Glendale Prep architects and an afternoon meeting with the ASU Potter Society. Incredibly, to me at least, these die-hards met to discuss chapters 16-18 of Deathly Hallows though the campus was all but empty (and given the Godric’s Hollow and pre-Silver Doe material of those chapters, it was a full 90 minutes!). I arrived in Tucson and, after a wonderful conversation with my hostess for the festival, I was asleep in a minute when I finally turned in.

Saturday was a ‘wow.’ Lisa Bunker, goddess of Harry Potter fandom and to all Potter Pundits because of her AccioQuotes.org resource (and a person to whom I will always be personally and profoundly indebted because of certain sensational discoveries she posted there), gave me the royal tour of beautiful Tucson with none other than ‘Lexicon Steve’ Vander Ark, also in town for the Book Festival! The first eye-popper was at the Tucson Museum of Art where Ms. Bunker introduced us to El Nacimiento, a Nativity scene several decades in the making and something I won’t ever forget (I wish we had had the day or two of attention this one room display and three dimensional icon deserved).

Before heading over to the University for the Festival of Books and my Twilight talk, Steve and I were treated to a trip out of town to the ‘Rez,’ and a Roman Catholic mission church, the Mission San Xavier de Bac, founded there in the 17th Century and still active as a Native American parish run by Franciscans today.Mission San XavierSan Xavier Steve

The weather was clear, bright, and cool. The desert was in bloom and the book lovers were on hand to listen to and meet their favorite authors. I was flattered that so many people came to hear my thoughts on Mrs. Meyer’s Twilight — and that they found my arguments about these books (which they loved or despised, it seemed to me, with little middle ground) largely convincing. Ms. Bunker sent me these Twitter notes from the University of Arizona Arts group, Wild Cat Arts:

The folks in attendance bought copies of Spotlight (and a few picked up Deathly Hallows Lectures, too, hurrah) and we spoke in the Signing Tent for about an hour afterward while I did the Gilderoy number, talked Twilight, and enjoyed the roasted corn. Ms. Bunker then gathered a clan of librarians, Potter mavens, and good friends — several of whom qualified on all three counts — for a night of live mariachi music and delicious Mexican food at a delightful restaurant.

I drove back to Phoenix before dawn on Sunday for an early morning flight and I was fully expecting to sleep my way through fly-over country. As providence would have it, instead I wound up between a pilot on his way to Kuwait and a serious reader and history professor at a notable Washington, DC, university. We talked without a break from Arizona to Washington-Dulles — and to where the baggage claim and flights to Allentown paths split. What a treat to discuss life as a mercenary in the 21st century and the comparative merits of Gladstone and Disraeli as writers and literary wonders at 36,000 feet…

And even nicer to be at home! Just in time to get ready for April’s talks at the C. S. Lewis Conference in Oklahoma City, two venues in Missouri, and then Augustana College… But more on those dates and topics in the next few weeks.

A very warm thank you to Joel Hunter, independent scholar and brilliant conversationalist, and the Harry Potter Society at ASU, David Williams and Company at Glendale Prep (especially Mrs. Junker’s 7th Grade Literature class!), SVA, Lisa, the Bunk-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, and Gertrud in Tucson for their delightful hospitality, my friends from the talk at the Festival of Books, and my conversation companions from United Flight 952, Phoenix to Washington. It was a trip I hope to repeat for next year’s Festival, if not sooner!

(Photos all by L.Bunker)


  1. revgeorge says

    There’s a C.S. Lewis conference in OKC?! Why was I not told? Hmmm, twelve hours driving one way? Wife permission could be secured. It’s after Easter. But I’d still have to find someone to cover services for me on the 11th. Bummer.

  2. Lisa Bunker says

    Oh John, NEVER a goddess, more like a volunteer house-elf.

    I really enjoyed your visit too, it was just too short!

    We don’t have numbers yet, but we may have come close to tripling the turnout we had last year, and the digital download bus driver said he saw more people in Tucson than at the National Book Festival in D.C.

    But more than anything what I loved about the Festival was how open and unguarded people were. Was it because it was on campus? Because we instinctively trust other book people? I can’t remember when I’ve had as many great conversations with complete strangers. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. Those seventh graders sound amazing!

    I have a 7 year old son. Which Great Books do you recommend for him?

    I was considering Alice in Wonderland and Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe…

    Thank you, Dear Professor.


  4. John, sounds like a wonderful trip full of blessings! Thanks for sharing it with us!

    And I must confess, the picture of you and the Hungry Caterpillar made me laugh out loud. Delightful!

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

  5. Thank you for sharing your amazing trip with us… And, I love the caterpillar photo 🙂

  6. It was so lovely to meet you in person at the Book Festival! I’m the one who had two kids sleeping on me. It turned out one of them was in the process of getting sick. I hope we didn’t share the wealth.

    I was through the roof when I found out you were going to be there, and I would love to see you here again. The dates are already set for next year-I think it’s the same weekend in March!

  7. Brianna Rafidi says

    I actually attended Glendale Prep and was there the year that you were there…I would have been a freshman. I had read your book “Finding God in Harry Potter” (and thoroughly enjoyed it, I might add) in the years before my attendance at GP, but I did not realize that you were the author while you were at the school. How did you come to visit GP? Do you remember what grade you taught a lesson to? Do you still have your notes/remember the lesson? I have since graduated as the valedictorian of my class at GP and have been a spokesperson at Great Hearts schools’ open house events in Texas, where David Williams and a group of leaders have since gone to open up Great Hearts schools in the San Antonio area. I would love it if you could spur my memory regarding that class you taught that day…
    Also, I was lucky enough to have taken independent scholar Dr. Joel Hunter’s Human Event class at Barrett, the Honors College at ASU. It was too funny that this post included a trip of yours where you spent time with two of the greatest educators I have had thus far in my academic career!
    I hope that you are doing well, and that life is treating you kindly.
    Miss Brianna Rafidi

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