Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter Conference

It’s time to get ready for the 6th Annual Harry Potter Conference and Festival at Chestnut Hill College. This is a big one folks, and I can’t wait to make my first visit! Join me there by registering today.

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It’s been a full year since I’ve presented original scholarship at a Harry Potter conference. So far I’ve carved out three distinct paths through the Hogwarts saga: formalist literary analysis; technological critique; and existentialism. It’s time to review this work and decide whether to extend one of these paths, or blaze a new trail.

Three Paths

My most-read (or at least downloaded) project has been “Folktale Structure as the Key to the Success of the Harry Potter Series,” an analysis of the Hogwarts texts using Vladimir Propp’s morphological theory. I’ve presented versions of this material in three different settings. I’m pleased with it, but I want to take the conclusions in that essay and apply them to new literature. I’m thinking some of the legendarium of Tolkien will be my next Propp-y project. I hinted at this in a presentation for the Mythopoeic Society at Mythcon 47: “Mythical Grammar according to J. R. R. Tolkien and Vladimir Propp: A Gesture Toward Conciliation Between Mythopoeia and Formalism.” (Note to self: get this formatted for upload!)

The connection between modern technology and magic in Harry Potter has always fascinated me – it was my first Harry Potter conference presentation and publication (thanks, Travis!). I revisited it at last year’s Leviosa! conference, which was a blast. What a great audience and conversation.

And I’ve had some continuing thoughts about building out my existentialist approach to Potter, since I haven’t seen much in the literature in that direction since I presented at “The Power to Imagine Better: The Philosophy of Harry Potter” conference at Marymount Manhattan College in 2011. That one will take a bit more time to bake.

A New Path?

So I’m thinking of forging a new path for this conference. I’ve been listening to some podcasts on Mugglecast and Pottercast, and reading some posts on Fantastic Beasts (I love the Hogwarts Professor’s roundup posts!), and that’s spurred some exciting ideas for me. As always, I welcome readers’ ideas! If you were to spend an hour of your life listening and participating in an academic presentation on Harry Potter (or cognate studies), what topics would interest you most?

Leviosa – It’s On!

The big Harry Potter news this summer is that the Leviosa conference has begun! Hogwarts Prep is pleased to have Prof JBH in attendance and representing the school. Here’s a link and short blurb for his presentation on Saturday, July 9:

Magic, Technology, and Power: The Wizarding World’s Problem with Justice

Magic in the wizarding world of Harry Potter and technology in our ordinary Muggle world are two sides of the same coin. Both magic and technology enhance our natural powers. Their uses also shape our natural and social worlds. We will examine and seek to understand the socio-political effects of magic in Harry Potter – in particular, the wizarding world’s profound and systemic injustices.

Check out the full schedule to see all of the amazing programming the organizers have put together!

Dr. Hunter’s talk picks up from an earlier theme–magic and technology–and examines the social and political implications on the Wizarding World (and allegorically, on ours). He’ll be building on the presentation and essay published in Harry Potter for Nerds with new insights and analysis. Hope to see you there!Harry Potter for Nerds book cover

Prof JBH interviewed on Dumbbells & Dragons

Prof JBH, aka, Dr Joel Hunter, was interviewed by Mr Kenneth Rotter of the fantasy podcast Dumbbells & Dragons this month.

dumbbells-dragons-podcastThe topics they discuss on the show include:

  • how Prof JBH got interested in reading the Hogwarts saga
  • the books vs the movies
  • The Lord of the Rings and the importance of Sam Gamgee
  • homebrewing, choral singing, and Coachella
  • the superpower he would like to have
  • working out
  • his favorite character in Harry Potter (can you guess?)
  • the portrayal of Snape by Alan Rickman
  • the upcoming Leviosa conference
  • Ravenclaw Reader
  • parting advice for D&D listeners

Enjoy, and do support D&D by subscribing on iTunes and giving them a review! Roll a D6, gang.

Mythcon 47: Mythopoeia, Tolkien, and Propp

Our faculty have a busy summer: Prof JBH will be attending Mythcon 47 this summer to read a new paper on mythopoeia through the lens of Tolkien and Propp. The conference title and theme is “Faces of Mythology: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern.” As part of his Muggle disguise, Prof JBH has managed to infiltrate the Mythopoeic Society, the organizer for the Mythcon conference.

mythopoeia-at-the-mythopoeic-society

Here’s the title and a short blurb for his upcoming presentation:

Mythical Grammar according to J. R. R. Tolkien and Vladimir Propp: A Gesture Toward Conciliation Between Mythopoeia and Formalism

This paper sketches a framework for understanding how the radically different literary perspectives of Tolkien and the Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp can be constructively compared, and the value of doing so. I will briefly explain Propp’s approach in the Morphology of the Folktale and how it can be used to explain the aesthetic satisfaction many readers experience and report when a tale conforms to a particular structure. Propp consciously disregarded questions of literary meaning, thus guilty by Tolkien’s lights of “using the stories not as they were meant to be used, but as a quarry from which to dig evidence” (1947, 47). Tolkien has no truck with empirical and reductive methods like Propp’s. Propp is an analyst of form and syntax, Tolkien of content and meaning. Propp is an anatomist, Tolkien a psychologist (or poet). And yet their analyses of fairy tales converge on two noteworthy points. The first is the effect of a well-written tale on the reader. In previous research published on Propp, I have investigated his elliptical claim that his 31-function schema “is a measuring unit for individual tales” (1968, 64). It has been observed that the well-formed tale according to Propp’s scheme constitutes a cultural script marked by keen aesthetic satisfaction. The second point of convergence is on the question of origins, with both Tolkien and Propp, in their respective vocabularies, indicating the necessity of an Ur-story, a Protean form from which stories of an infinite variety of “amazing multi-formity, picturesqueness, and color” (1968, 21) have emerged under the sub-creative auspices of the “elvish craft.” Propp’s explanation is by design naturalized while Tolkien’s is metaphysical. Yet both reveal something essential to “incantation in Faërie,” a mythical grammar by which the storyteller may, if successful, wield an enchanter’s power.

Prof Hunter is drawing from the Manuscript B version of “On Fairy-Stories” published in Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1947/1966, out of print). He is particularly enthusiastic about this paper because it will be his first attempt to build on his already-published Proppian analysis of the Harry Potter saga, which appears in The Ravenclaw Reader. It is also the fruit borne from a discussion with the Hogwarts Professor at a pub in St Andrews, Scotland four years ago. Pubs in Scotland are, parenthetically, where most good ideas originate. st-andrews-university-hotbed-of-mythopoeia

When the conference program is finalized, we’ll provide a link.

Students may use their holiday Hogsmeade pass to attend. If you don’t have a pass signed by your parent or guardian, please register online at the Mythcon 47 website. If you’ve already used your pass to attend the Leviosa! conference, then alternative routes out of school grounds are known to exist, but you can be assured that Mr Filch and Mrs Norris will be guarding them vigilantly.

Leviosa!

Prof JBH will be attending the Leviosa conference this summer! Here’s the link and short blurb for his upcoming presentation:

Magic, Technology, and Power: The Wizarding World’s Problem with Justice

Magic in the wizarding world of Harry Potter and technology in our ordinary Muggle world are two sides of the same coin. Both magic and technology enhance our natural powers. Their uses also shape our natural and social worlds. We will examine and seek to understand the socio-political effects of magic in Harry Potter – in particular, the wizarding world’s profound and systemic injustices.

You can back out of the link to see the whole wonderful conference schedule. Loads of programming to suit every Pottermania interest!

Students may use their holiday Hogsmeade pass to attend. If you don’t have a pass signed by your parent or guardian, please register online with Leviosa.

Dr. Hunter’s talk picks up from an earlier theme, magic and technology, and examines the social and political implications on the Wizarding World (and allegorically, on ours). He’ll be building on the presentation and essay published in Harry Potter for Nerds with new insights and analysis. Hope to see you there!Harry Potter for Nerds book cover

Commencement 2016

The halls of have been quiet around Hogwarts Prep for some months. Some news is forthcoming, but today we want to direct you to a post written by Prof JBH on the The Mirror of Erised by Grandpreoccasion of this year’s commencement. The close reader of Harry Potter will recognize the Mirror of which he speaks. It is even more powerful than the Mirror of Erised, though it is nonmagical and thus harder to use. The full text of the post is reproduced below…


To all of my students and colleagues, past and present, at Truckee Meadows CC, Barrett Honors College at ASU, the University of Kentucky, and elsewhere now flung far around the globe…

graduation-commencement

It is another season where many of us teachers look fondly back at our students’ achievements and forward to the fruits of their education blossoming in due course. It is also a season of platitudes and well-intentioned lies woven by commencement speakers paid to give you one last blast of praise before you leave the paternalistic confines of your schooling. I can tell you, my dear students, that every one of us faculty have sat through a two-hour-plus commencement ceremony and thought to ourselves, “Wow. I could give a much better talk and I’d do it for free.” Okay, not that part about for free, but definitely the better speech part. I have decided this year to not wait for an invitation to address you. I am writing it down here, and if Fate or luck brings it to your attention, then I hope you will find some nugget or two herein worth remembering.

If you’ve been in one of my philosophy courses or Honors seminars, you’ve heard me prattle on about “the human predicament.” (I prefer ‘predicament’ to the noncommittal ‘condition’ or ‘situation’, which seem to me embarrassed euphemisms for the Real Thing.) If you are blissfully unaware of the human predicament’s existential grip on you, then what follows may sound like the ravings of an extraterrestrial. Nevertheless, I have about a half century of life behind me and have felt its ever-tightening and omnipresent hold on me and on all those whom I love and know. So if you are a student, I can think of no better way to encourage you on your way beyond these first few years of your adulthood to those that follow than to describe this predicament as I have experienced it and give you what paltry advice I possess to help you navigate it. Because what I would never say in class I say now: the human predicament is very real, and at times very painful, but with some perspective such as that offered by the great wisdom traditions, it isn’t to be taken too seriously.

My philosopher friend Bill Vallicella wrote a short post in 2009 on his blog that perfectly captures my own difficult experience coming to terms with this. It is the heart of this post—I quote it below in full. It is my favorite thing that he has written and I hope you will find it, as I have, as honest, enlightening, and encouraging as it is difficult.

It is a great Mirror. mirror-lakeIt can show you your own heart, that seat of will and desire, as well as the hearts of others. This Mirror will show you the truth about yourself. It is therefore no easy matter to stand before it and take in its revelations without the cover of our well-worn robes of self-delusion and bad faith. It will confirm the presence of real wounds you have suffered, those scars you carry, even from youngest childhood, while those fabrications of our own design dissolve. It will also reveal to you, like Nietzsche’s greatest weight, in “your loneliest loneliness,” that which we take extraordinary pains almost every hour of every day to conceal about ourselves from ourselves and others. Bill’s text is quoted in blue; my edits and commentary are in black:

 

I’ve been loved, hated, honored, loathed, respected, scorned, justly penalized, unjustly maligned, praised for what I should not have been praised for, lionized, demonized, put on a pedestal, dragged through the mud, understood, misunderstood, ill-understood, well-understood, ignored, admired, envied, tolerated, and found intolerable. And the same most likely goes for you.

 

Can you control what others say and think about you? Nope, not one bit. Reputation is a fickle and cruel master. And the gossip train is always on time (gossip is the currency of the small-souled, bitter, and envious—for your own sake renounce it and all of its ways). Far better than managing your reputation (what a depressing phrase!) is the life’s work of developing your character. John Wooden, the great basketball coach, said it so well: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” And if you really are, on balance, a decent character, this, like truth, will out in the end. But how do you know if you really possess good character? You can know by the quality of your friends—what does the Mirror reveal about them? The true friend, like my dearest friend Jack, knows your character. He will celebrate with you your joys and praise your victories—but not overmuch!—but will not forsake you when you do wrong because he knows doing wrong is not in character for you. The true friend always accepts you but doesn’t always approve—and because he’s a friend he will tell you when he doesn’t approve. You can endure and overcome any abuses to your reputation with such friends by your side. Dare to be transparent and vulnerable to them.

 

I’ve been the object of Schadenfreude, of glacial indifference, of jealousy. I’ve been the object of every emotional attitude by someone or other, at some time or other, for some reason or other, or for no reason at all. I’ve been loved and then hated by the same person, and the other way around. I’ve been liked by people who do not now love me, and loved by people who do not now like me. I attract and I repel, sometimes different people, sometimes the same people at different times. I have been different people to different people and different people to myself. And the same most likely goes for you.

 

That first sentence is ordinary professional life in a nutshell! The rewards of most of the work available to professionals of all kinds in these days, in tandem with the penalties, are delivered by aggressive forces of dehumanization. We easily become its agents and inevitably suffer as its patients. Your well-being will oscillate, sometimes wildly, under the force of these vicissitudes if your own sense of worth and importance is attached to the judgment and approval of those around you.

Institutions exist in part to evaluate individuals because people love to evaluate each other. It is up to you how much stock you will place in their measures, both favorable and unfavorable. I have been the recipient of many gifts, honors, and kindnesses, the genuine outweighing the treacherous many, many times over. These validate the good and true things I know about my work as a teacher and scholar. And even as they fill me with gratitude, I release them and their hold on my ego, just as I brush away arrows of spite and malice intended to poison me. If you were a student of mine, I probably had you read a Stoic–Seneca, Cicero, or Epictetus–and probably Boethius. Their works can be of consolation to you as your years accumulate and you endure the progress of Rota Fortunae. It’s good soil and the harvest will sustain you.

What is there of value to glean from these musings? I have added some of my own thoughts in the commentary above, some of which coincides with the points distilled by Bill in his post:

 

The human heart is fickle, and there is no call to care too much about what anyone thinks of you, whether good or bad — even yourself.

 

Easy to believe, hard to practice. Which reminds me of a related point that my friend George taught me a few years ago. Moral rules, guidelines, and policies have no power to change your behavior.

Just above, I told you “Don’t be a gossip!” What good is that command if you haven’t the power to prevent yourself from gossiping? The answer to that question is the real purpose of such rules: to judge and condemn. That is their real power. And we humans love to exercise that power. And to turn the screw another perverse notch, we can condemn you for lacking the power to obey the rule.

But why isn’t knowledge of the rule enough? Why can’t you “just do it” (or don’t do it)? Often, the rule, or the fear of failing to do it, or the fear of breaking it, is enough. But sometimes behavior originates from our wounds. And wounded people wound others. Wounds—those of the heart as well as the body—have to be tended to and healed. Can you heal yourself? Maybe. But most of us need assistance outside of ourselves. The great wisdom traditions speak to this need for transformation. A good counselor or therapist can be a lifesaver. Don’t spurn these aids. That pretty much includes all of us.

wreckage-fuselageHave you broken a moral or institutional rule and been subsequently judged or condemned for doing so? Then you have learned the point of such rules the hard way. Now comes the test: you have the option to own it or evade it. I recommend owning it, and let others think what they will of you. It may chasten you when you are tempted to stand as judge over a fellow rulebreaker. Such are the tests of character that actually count: remorse and empathy. All of your deeds, good and bad, are part of your story, for better and for worse.

 

Human reality is an ever-shifting play of perspectives and evaluations and, insofar forth, bare of ultimate reality and so not to be taken with utmost seriousness. All of the great wisdom traditions teach the need of detachment or non-attachment. You are grasping at straws and chasing after shadows if you seek your worth or ultimate reality in the broken mirrors of others’ subjectivity. My mirror and your mirror are broken, too.

 

In the clear Mirror of Bill’s wisdom, a wisdom that springs from the likes of the Stoics, Boethius, and the teachers, ascetics, and monastics of the great religions of the world, the deformities and blemishes of our own hearts are laid bare. You may thunder “I!” as loud and as long as you please. Duly consider all that your hands have done and the toil you have spent in doing it. Is it worth anything? Of course! Is it where your worth is to be found? You might as well chase after the wind. Fix your gaze above the vanities, schemes, and petty vengeances in which your ego would embroil you, and with which others would brutalize you.

 

If you have been done wrong, think of the times you have done others wrong. If on occasion you have not gotten what you deserve, recall the times when you got more than you deserved — and perhaps at the expense of the more deserving. If you judge that you have been unfairly treated, bear in mind that it is just someone’s judgment that you have been unfairly treated, and that the mere fact that this someone is you is not all that significant.

 

“I have been done wrong!” I have shouted, mostly to myself. And it was true. But that first sentence of Bill’s does not let me play the victim. Self-righteous indignation is not an option on the table. Will you be treated unfairly tomorrow? Almost certainly. And who judges this treatment unfair? You? That’s just another human judgment, yes? So don’t make too much of this shadow play of fairness while we tarry in the Cave.

You are not alone in the barbed net of the human predicament. Share in each others’ trials and joys as fellow sojourners through the heights and depths of this too transient life. You will know your true friends and you will be known by them. I am grateful always to those who have seen me in the Mirror and not turned away: Jack and Jack, Jack, Jeff, and Chris, and my family. My fondest wish for all of you is not that you will live a morally spotless life, or that you will know only pleasure and happiness and never pain, or that you will achieve an unbroken string of worldly success unblemished by failure. No, none of these patronizing fictions will do for this event. I give you instead this Mirror and trust that you will dust it off from time to time, heed its lessons, and persevere in the hard work of building your character and your life.

 

In Memoriam: Alan Rickman

Rickman Snape

The faculty, staff and students here at Hogwarts Preparatory Academy extend their deepest sympathies to the Rickman family and friends, as well as friends around the world of the Hogwarts saga, on this sad day of his passing through the Veil. With the exception of Richard Harris, perhaps no other actor in the Harry Potter movie franchise better inhabited the role of a character in the book. Your vocal talent was incapable of the whiny, high-pitched tone that I always heard when reading Severus Snape, but your gifts and skill as a physical actor, showing us the internal struggles of our beloved Potions Master, and expressing the appropriate emotional range of this flawed hero, took over the character with a fidelity that is rarely achieved in movie adaptations of written works. Rest in peace. Always.

Fantastic Beasts – Teaser Trailer Released!

As our faculty busily complete their grading here at Hogwarts Prep, we wished to alert everyone as they pack their trunks and make their way back home for the holidays that the corporate studio owning the rights to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Amazon; Pottermore has the ebook) has released the first teaser trailer for their motion picture adaptation. Not much of a tease, really–“Just a smidge”–but visually rich. The cinematography in FBWFT’s New York City of 1920 reminds us a bit of (ca) 1905 Paris in Hugo. Enjoy!

St Andrews Conference Talk: Folktale Structure in Harry Potter

(Cross-posted at Joel Hunter PhD)

Unlocking Press, the publisher of Ravenclaw Reader, has posted the audio and slides of my presentation on the folktale structure in the Harry Potter series at the international conference on Harry Potter at the University of St Andrews in May 2012. I’m looking forward to participating in the upcoming webinar!

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It starts slow as some house elves were helping me get the projector set up in the meeting room.

One point that I underplayed in this presentation was how well the entire series, taken as a single tale, conformed to Propp’s fairy tale structure. It is this fact together with the different responses to the particular books in the series that supports my hypothesis in answer to the question “Why do we love Harry Potter?”

Also, I attached three additional slides at the end that were part of an updated presentation of the research that I gave at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association meeting in February 2013. The content of these slides is a direct result of the discussions I had at St Andrews with colleagues and attendees of the conference. It’s a great example of how a good conference challenges and sharpens one’s scholarship.

New Book: The Ravenclaw Reader

We here at Hogwarts Prep are pleased to announce the publication this week of Dr. Joel B. Hunter‘s essay, “Folktale Structure, Aesthetic Satisfaction, and the Success of Harry Potter” in the newly minted Ravenclaw Reader!  The Hog Prep faculty and administration are delighted to share in this milestone in Prof JBH‘s academic career, and he would like to give you more details about this fantastic new book…Ravenclaw-Reader-400px

Booklaunch page for the Ravenclaw Reader

Amazon page

This is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind anthology of Harry Potter punditry. It has emerged from the first academic conference in the UK dedicated to the scholarly investigation and analysis of the Harry Potter series. This conference was held at the University of St Andrews in May 2012 (official draft program for all of the talks and events). Scholars from all over the world, including yours truly in full Muggle regalia, spoke, listened, argued, laughed, and enjoyed the company of fellow lovers of literature, artistry, wisdom, and all things Potter. Old friends gathered and many new friends were made over the course of three days in the hallowed halls, towers, classrooms, and historical setting of the university and the quaint seaside town of St Andrews.

st-andrews-university-harry-potter-conference

Let me tell you a little bit about the book. One of the unique features of Ravenclaw Reader is its dynamic dialogue structure. This was a conscious decision of the editors and publisher to capture, as far as possible, the stimulating give-and-take of the formal talks, the Q&A sessions, and the informal discussions that erupted all over St Andrews on that crisp weekend. I had one such memorable tête-à-tête with the Hogwarts Professor himself, “the Dean” John Granger, over a pint or four at what became my favorite haunt on this visit, the Central. You can hear his version of that meeting in the promotional video for the RR.

The dynamic dialogue around my paper and research in the Ravenclaw Reader was written by Prof Gabrielle Ceraldi. “Venturing into the Murky Marshes” is Prof Ceraldi’s response essay to my “Folktake Structure” contribution. I haven’t yet seen Prof Ceraldi’s response, so you’ll have to check out it for yourself! When my copy of RR arrives–which should be any day if the owls are healthy–I look forward to reading her critique and continuing the discussion within the pages of this blog and elsewhere.

So that’s an example of the “dynamic dialogue” structure of RR: main contribution, which is a revised, often expanded, version of the contributor’s conference paper, and a close reading and critique by another Potter scholar. Cool, huh?

I wrote a response piece for the RR as well. “Hidden in Plain Sight” is my response to Dr Jessica Tiffin‘s contribution, “Learning, Understanding, Experience: Harry Potter and Pedagogy.” Just to give you a sense of the international reach of this conference, I well remember a walking tour group outing arranged by conference co-organizer Micah Snell. Our merry troupe included Fr Snell, myself and Drs Tiffin, James Thomas, and Maria Del Pilar Alderete-Diez, all presenters at the conference enjoying the cool, moist, air that bright Sunday morning on the Scotland coast. We had converged on St Andrews from South Africa, California, Arizona, and Ireland to share our academic interests in the Potterverse with attendees and the unique academic community of Potter scholars. Can’t wait for the next one!

Arch-Dean Granger, honorary faculty here at Hogwarts Prep, has put together a compelling deal for Potter fans and curious readers, which gives you unique access to some of the interactive experience, dialogue, and good times, as if you had been there yourself. Buy the book and forward the purchase confirmation email to him (john@hogwartsprofessor.com), and you’ll get back an invitation to join the Ravenclaw Reader membership site, which includes some cool freebies, as well as the opportunity to participate in webinars, presentations, interviews, and who knows what else. For all the details check out the Booklaunch link above. Nondisclaimer Disclaimer: Neither I nor Hogwarts Preparatory Academy receive any financial reward or incentive if you buy the book or take up the Hogwarts Professor on this exclusive deal. I’m promoting it to you gratis, as a friend to all of the editors and publisher of the Ravenclaw Reader.

For even more news about the launch of this fantastic addition to Harry Potter Studies, check out the Mugglenet Academia podcast with the editors of the Ravenclaw Reader as well as Dr Joshua Richards, who gave the fascinating paper on Snape as Harry’s father-substitute, which you can watch on the Booklaunch video.

So apparate, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore, or order your very own copy of the Ravenclaw Reader online, and join in this direction in the conversation on our favorite wizard saga. And rest assured, though we are eager for you to own your own copy, we here at Hogwarts Prep have a strict policy against using the Imperius curse 😉

We will be including the Ravenclaw Reader in our Hog Prep curriculum in the coming weeks and months. I leave you with the official publisher’s blurb:

In Ravenclaw Reader, an international gathering of scholars debate the literary merits and demerits of the Harry Potter series. Each chapter is conversation, with the main argument followed by a reply from another critic. Representing a wide range of critical and cultural voices, the discussion includes questions about the portrayal of education in the book, the role of Snape, the landscape around Hogwarts, the structure of the series, the Wizarding World as dystopia, the problem of the Dursleys, and the canonization of Neville Longbottom. Perceptive, incisive, and thought-provoking, this in-depth conversation will engage fans, students, and academics alike.Ravenclaw Reader sets a new standard for Harry Potter criticism.