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  • Elizabeth R. Milner
    I thought this might be of interest. -Liz A Transgendered Wizard Caught in Post-Ironic Yada Yada By Chris Mooney Sunday, June 29, 2003; Page B04 BERKELEY,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2003
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      I thought this might be of interest.

      A Transgendered Wizard Caught in Post-Ironic Yada Yada

      By Chris Mooney
      Sunday, June 29, 2003; Page B04

      BERKELEY, Calif.

      When I was invited to give a paper at an event called "Nimbus-2003: A
      Harry Potter Symposium," I wasn't sure whether to be flattered or to
      take it as a hint that I ought to stop writing so much about fantasy.
      Set for next month in Orlando, Fla., the Potter Symposium will
      convene hundreds of fans and more than a few scholars to discuss the
      ever-growing literary phenomenon of the boy wizard. More than 50
      papers will be presented by college professors, graduate students, a
      Jewish cantor and a former Supreme Court clerk. There will be
      workshops, panel discussions, a Quidditch match (how it will be
      played I cannot imagine) and even a "wizarding nightclub." Some
      attendees apparently plan to show up dressed as characters from the
      novels; these enthusiasts can look forward to the "Cloaks and
      Cauldrons" panel, where "the main how and why of wizarding fashion
      will be discussed."

      I will not be attending Nimbus; not only do I not have a costume, I
      have moved to California and event organizers were unable (or
      unwilling) to provide a Portkey. Nevertheless, I decided to browse
      through some of the offerings in the nascent field of Harry Potter
      scholarship. To start with the most provocative:

      Throwing Down the Gauntlet When it comes to Harry Potter scholarship,
      Kansas State University assistant professor of English Philip Nel,
      author of 2001's "J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's
      Guide," is one of the icons of the field. Nel even teaches his own
      course in the subject at Kansas State called "Harry Potter's
      Library." At Nimbus-2003, he will be presenting a paper titled "What
      Makes a Professor Behave Like Snape?: Literature, Marketing and the
      Critical Backlash Against Harry Potter." The article will serve as a
      rejoinder to critics such as Yale University's Harold Bloom, who have
      claimed that the Harry Potter novels lack literary merit, as well as
      others who see the series as little more than mass marketing run
      amok. "I would argue that in fact, there is a literary work that
      exists there, beyond all the marketing," says Nel.

      Getting a Little Abstruse In a paper titled "Platform 9¾ and Sundry
      Barriers: Ontological Displacements in the Harry Potter Series,"
      Sudha Shastri of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay will
      describe "the various means and tools that Rowling deploys to distort
      ontological stability" -- i.e., letting characters walk through walls
      and photographs or travel through time and into people's thoughts.
      According to an abstract, the paper will also raise questions about
      whether "such boundary-crossings . . . contribute to the definition
      of magic in the Harry Potter books." It's hard to know what else to
      say about this one. Apparently you need to hear the whole paper.

      What Would Harry Do? Another vein of Potter analysis involves
      Christian writers such as Connie Neal, author of "The Gospel
      According to Harry Potter," who seeks to convince her fellow
      believers that the Potter novels aren't Satanic after all. Neal's
      presentation will explain how she read Rowling's novels and "found
      the Christian gospel" in them. She will also discuss "how to handle
      people who insist Harry is 'of the devil' in a friendly way." One
      strategy, adopted by Nimbus-2003, seems to be not inviting them to
      your conference: No panels will feature theological attacks on the
      Satanic elements in the Potter series.

      Stop Being So Funny Florida Southern College English professor Mary
      Pharr will present a paper titled "Within the Pantheon: Harry Potter
      and the Epic Question." Harry, writes Pharr in a preliminary draft of
      her presentation, "whose expanding heroism is becoming both essential
      to his society and intricate in its design, may be moving toward an
      epic destiny." Pharr admits that the level of humor in the Potter
      books may detract from their epic "seriousness," but adds that "book
      by book . . . the humor is thinning out as the schoolboy moves toward
      his adult destiny." Luckily for Pharr's thesis, by the end of the
      latest Potter book, "The Order of the Phoenix," the cut-up Weasley
      twins leave Hogwarts to start their own joke shop, suggesting that
      future novels' humor content may indeed be reduced.

      Free the House Elves! In "Sexuality, Protest, Elves and White
      Womanhood: Hermione and S.P.E.W.," University of Wisconsin at
      Milwaukee PhD candidate Laurie Barth Walczak will discuss Hermione
      Granger's attempt to liberate the "slaves of the magical world" by
      forming the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.),
      and how she is distracted in her efforts once she begins to be
      courted by Quidditch star Viktor Krum in the novel "Harry Potter and
      the Goblet of Fire." "Hermione's relationships to the elves change as
      she commences her passage into white womanhood; her protest is
      forgotten when she becomes preoccupied with her new friend," Walczak
      observes. House elf liberation turns out to be a hot topic in Harry
      Potter studies; other papers on the subject include "But That's the
      Title on the Manifesto!: Labor and Class Concerns in Harry Potter."

      The offerings at the symposium are nothing if not varied. Emily
      Katherine Anderson of Susquehanna University ponders whether Harry is
      a "radical transgendered hero, one that is not entirely male or
      female" while Hermione "possesses more of the qualities of a male
      archetypal hero." Cantor Amy Miller wonders, "What's a nice Jewish
      boy like Harry Potter doing in a place like this?" Diana Patterson of
      Mount Royal College discusses technology and magic, while Susan Hall,
      an Oxford University graduate and partner at a British law firm,
      criticizes the wizard justice system. "The existence of a system of
      bastard client/patronage networks in the Wizard World (loosely
      corresponding to the model from the later Roman Republic) is in
      itself inimical to the development of a legal system based on the
      principles of equality before the law," she writes.

      Some have suggested that scholarly writings about Harry Potter are
      simply ways for adults to justify their addiction to kids' books. But
      even if you accept that premise, it's hard not to be impressed by the
      sheer volume of intellectual production going on right now because of
      Harry. Though Harry Potter scholars are outsiders within academia and
      open to ridicule, one gets the sense that J.K. Rowling might approve
      of their activities for precisely this reason. After all, the motley
      blend of fandom and scholarship on display in Nimbus-2003 has a clear
      parallel in Rowling's own novels, which celebrate hybrids and
      outcasts: Hagrid the half-giant, Lupin the werewolf, Hermione the
      Muggle-born. If there's a clear moral to Rowling's books, it's that
      through toleration of a little weirdness, we can learn something.
      That certainly applies to those who combine identities usually
      thought of as pure and distinct, like the identities of fan and
      critic -- people working as scholars by day and as wizards by night.

      Author's e-mail: moonecc@...

      Chris Mooney frequently writes about the intersection of science and
      popular culture.

      © 2003 The Washington Post Company


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