Should Harry Potter be studied? Or just enjoyed?

 

I read an article, about an English Literature Convention which was taking place at St Andrews University, Scotland.

It was not just any old literary convention, who would discuss the works of Chaucer, or Dickens, but this is the worlds first Literary convention for Harry Potter.

 

60 academics from around the world are attending……

Billed as the world’s first conference to discuss Harry Potter strictly as a literary text, almost 50 lectures are lined up, with academics taking on issues including paganism, magic and the influence on Rowling of CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and Shakespeare. Seminar titles range from “Moral development through Harry Potter in a post-9/11 world” to “Harry Potter and Lockean civil disobedience”.

 

Looking at the above lecture titles, I can’t help but think that it is going to be a pretty dull affair. I have always been firmly in the camp that believes that a book should be enjoyed, not studied.

Do I care if Stieg Larsson’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander is a fight for equality in women, or do I just enjoy that she is cool, and can kick the ass of the big guys?

Truth is, I like that she kicks ass. As much as I think of myself as a writer, I am not the type of person who studies a text. I read it for entertainment. Yes it may provoke thought, but I want the escapism, rather than the moral.

 

The Argument For

John Pazdziora is the organiser. He is a PhD student at St Andrews. He defended the convention by saying:

“These are the most important, seminal texts for an entire generation of readers,” he said. “In 100, 200 years’ time, when scholars want to understand the early 21st century, when they want to understand the ethos and culture of the generation that’s just breaking into adulthood, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be looking at the Harry Potter novels.”

Now, he could be making a valid point. If we must have people to study texts, to inform us mere mortals what we should like, rather than what we do like, then why should they not study contemporary texts?

Will Harry Potter in 200 years be considered the way Alice in Wonderland is now?

I do think we are very quick to shrug off the impact of a certain genre’s, item’s or fad’s.

When we think back to the 1960’s, we see the hippies as revolutionaries, free thinkers, and people that changed the world. But back then, most “normal” people, say them as scrounging, lazy trouble makers.

History has a way of writing itself, so that what we think today, is perhaps not what we think in the future.

What we see as non-important today, will be noted as a turning point in 50 years.

 

The Argument Against

The argument against comes from John Mullan, English professor, who said:

“I’m not against Harry Potter, my children loved it, [but] Harry Potter is for children, not for grownups,” he said. “It’s all the fault of cultural studies: anything that is consumed with any appearance of appetite by people becomes an object of academic study.”

His first point, that Harry Potter is not worth of study because it is a children’s text, is not valid.

Just because a book is for children, does not exclude it from study. Have people not studied Alice in Wonderland?

I could understand his comment if it was a story book with three words per page like “Dog is Dirty”, “Dog is Thirsty”, but these are 7 volumes, totalling 4100 pages, so there would be enough to get your teeth into.

I have always been a proponent of adults not reading Harry Potter. They are children’s books and just because there is more words than “Dog is Dirty” it doesn’t mean they should be treated any differently.

It is written in a more simplified language than other books, so it can be read by children. The ideal reading age is probably about 12. If you are 35, and you have a mental reading age of 12 then read Harry Potter.

But if you are 35 with the reading age of an adult. Read a grown up book.

His second point, in my opinion (again) is, in this case, also wrong. He is right to lambast cultural studies, which study anything that is remotely popular. But why did we study Dickens? Was he not popular? or Shakespeare? He was popular in his day.

Popularity as a topic, deserves study, to at least work out why it was popular and if it should have been popular.

 

My Opinion

I am not an advocate of literary academics. I think they are snobs. We should stone(or “Book”) them with copies of Dan Brown, Jordan’s latest autobiography and Fifty Shades of Grey.

I should not have to be told that Dickens is good, or that Shakespeare was a pioneer in his time.

I should be allowed to discover classics by myself.

I remember when I was younger, flicking through the TV channels, I would come across a book review programme, where they would be dissecting a current book. They would talk about the characters, how they morphed throughout the book, what the author meant when he wrote a scene and I used to get annoyed. I could never understand why they had to dissect so much.

I remember being in school reading a book and being asked by the teacher “Why did he write the paragraph with so many words beginning with S?” I didn’t know the answer and my answer was always “Because he did?”

I don’t study texts. I don’t question, why. When I read a text I am doing one thing….

Enjoying the Story.

Its as simple as that. None of your fancy, “Examining the Lexicon”, “Studying the paragraph structure”, just reading a book, to be entertained.

The writer in me is looking at the words, to figure out what makes it good, so that I can emulate that in my own writings, but primarily, I am just reading.

I doubt on the back of my recommendations that we are going to get rid of English Academics, so we are stuck with them.

So …. Should they study Harry Potter?

Yes, we cannot study Dickens, and leave out Harry Potter. Is it ok to study Dan Brown, but say Harry Potter is designed for kids, so who cares?

As long as people present papers on books such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” we have to present them on Harry Potter.

It might not be a classis children’s text yet, but neither was Alice in Wonderland in 1865, it was just a new book……

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Should Harry Potter be studied? Or just enjoyed?

  1. misscatk

    I would LOVE to go to that convention, just to hear serious people talking in serious voices and with big words about Harry Potter. Big fan of the books, probably wouldn’t teach them in my classes though.

  2. Fantastic blog. And as a HUGE Harry Potter fan, as well as somebody who hopes to study English Literature next year in college, I am going to have many opinions, so I apologise in advance if this goes on for a while!

    I’ve been reading Harry Potter since I was about seven or eight. I fell madly in love with the books to the extent that I would dream about the day I would get my letter of acceptance to Hogwarts. I was… obsessed. And I still am. I’m 18 years old, and I’m obsessed with what many people call children’s books. But I disagree from the start with them being labelled children’s books: why is it that as an 18 year old I can still enjoy those novels so much if they’re children’s books?

    If anything, I encourage this convention in Scotland. It’s about time that scholars accepted the fact. These novels will be, and are, the most influential published work in many, many years. And the point of studying English Literature is to study influential texts, not just texts by authors that died over a hundred years ago. I believe the sole reason so many people don’t see Harry Potter as something to be studied is down to its popularity.

    A lot of people hate popular things, particularly snobs. I’ve always noticed this. If you ask a film student/graduate if they’ve seen The Hangover, there’s a large possibility that they’ll vomit and tell you that they would never watch such trash. It’s the same thing with many of these English graduates. They don’t like the idea of them being an ordinary person who reads ordinary books. It’s like they get self-fulfillment from reading obscure books that nobody else reads. I know that in University College Dublin, Harry Potter is studied as a part of Coming of Age Literature. I advocate this. Anyone who tries to exclude Harry Potter from their studies and calls themselves an expert in English Literature is, quite simply, a twit. Thanks for reading if you got to the end of this essay of a comment! 🙂

    • I always read to the end 🙂

      I (obviously) agree with your points about why it should be studied.

      As for reading it and enjoying it as an 18 year old: There is an argument to be made that we can all enjoy childish things (I enjoy Tom & Jerry), but that said I would not consider Tom & Jerry as my favourite Television.

      Adults who read YA fiction all the time are lowering themselves to an adult who watches cartoons all day. They are selling themselves short.

      • Interesting, and while I agree with you to a certain extent, I also disagree slightly. I think that an adult who reads YA fiction all the time certainly is lowering their standards, but there’s nothing wrong with it from time to time. I personally like to alternate between all different kinds of books. I re-read Harry Potter a few months ago, and straight afterwards read Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. As you said, we all enjoy childish things from time to time, but I don’t consider the last few Harry Potter books to be particularly childish. I’d say that they could be a bit of a cross over between young adult and adult.

      • I think when we go back to the childish things, it is harking back to childhood.

        So if you read Harry Potter as a child, then I would expect you to read them, even if the series finished when you reached adulthood.

        However I wouldn’t normally expect an adult to start the Harry Potter series, I was an adult when they came out, and skipped them.

  3. I’m thrilled to hear an actual literature professor say what I’ve been saying for years – that the Harry Potter series is one of the most important series of books that have come out for years. Although I said it was just because kids actually wanted to read the books.

    All of the ‘classic’ works of literature that are studied on a regular basis were the popular fiction of their time, and because of that they’re still studied to this day. There are quite a few books that have popular in the past few years that were very poorly written, I’m not one of the people who includes Harry Potter in that group. Is the prose in the Harry Potter series going to stand up to some of the best books ever written, no, but at the same time it is a children’s series.

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