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Harry Potter In College

Molly Griffin | Friday, August 26, 2005

College is a time for growing up, transitioning into adulthood and looking toward the future. But there are a few vestiges from the past that most college students aren’t quite willing to give up. Most current college students began reading Harry Potter during junior high or high school and have continued not only to follow the series, but in some cases become more involved with the stories since entering Notre Dame. While it is interesting that college students themselves are still reading the books, what is most surprising is how readily universities are embracing the books and incorporating them into courses. Colleges have begun to create not only literature courses based around Harry Potter, but have also started to spread out into other disciplines like science and philosophy. This has solidified the massive cultural impact that the series about a young wizard has had on world culture. Considering the massive success of Harry Potter, it isn’t entirely surprising that college students still enjoy it. Since the books are aimed at younger audiences, they can be a nice break from the heavy workload of most overburdened college students. “I like the fantasy [elements] and the storylines,” senior Mosey Nuccio said. “It’s a nice break from the textual stuff I read at school.” The universal appeal of Harry Potter has less to do with magic and more to do with something more elemental in the books. “I think that people read Harry Potter because it’s a great story, not because they like reading books about casting spells and flying broomsticks,” freshman Emerson Spartz, creator of the popular Harry Potter Web site MuggleNet.com, said. “It’s the story, not the theme.” Most people, particularly young adults and college students, can identify with the experiences and changes with which Harry has to deal. The addition of witchcraft and wizardry might make it more interesting and exciting, but even non-magical people can identify with Harry’s struggles. “Most kids and adults have at some point dreamed about being someone like Harry Potter, a special person whose wonderful and important qualities have gone unrecognized for far too long, but who has finally gained the recognition he deserves,” Heidi Lee, a teacher in the Notre Dame English department, said. As Harry Potter continues to be a huge influence and point of interest for college-age students, universities are beginning to tap into this interest and offer courses on the series. Some colleges are taking the Harry Potter phenomenon to a more serious level by offering courses that focus on the boy wizard and the world that J.K. Rowling has created. Frostburg College, in western Maryland, is currently offering a class called, “The Science of Harry Potter,” in which students learn about the science relating to such magical occurrences as flying and re-growing bones. Students at Kent State in Ohio can take “Literature for Young Adults,” which features Harry Potter. Cerritos College in California devotes a class to “Words and Magic: Harry Potter and Vocabulary,” and James Madison University has initiated a new class, “The World of Harry Potter: A Critical Cross-Disciplinary Examination.” It may initially seem strange that professors are warming to a new literary phenomenon that hasn’t had the chance to stand the test of time. But the interest generated by Rowling’s books is undeniable.”Professors generally try to design their courses to be as engaging, exciting and interesting as possible, and books full of wizardry, magic, romance and danger would surely help to hold students’ attention,” Lee said.Harry Potter has slowly permeated various areas of the university system, and the series has seeped into areas beyond literature and literary criticism. Tufts graduate Shawn Kline wrote, “Harry Potter and Philosophy,” a book of 16 essays on the philosophy behind the good, evil and magic in the series. Connie Neal’s, “The Gospel According to Harry Potter: Spirituality in the Stories of the World’s Most Famous Seeker,” reconciles theology and the Potter stories, which are often criticized by religious groups for glamorizing witchcraft. The true mark of an important novel, at least for a busy college student, is whether it is featured on Sparknotes.com, which is an online source for notes on books. The site now contains notes, chapter synopses, criticism and postings for all of the Harry Potter novels. The embrace of Harry Potter by college students and some universities speaks to the universal nature of Rowling’s books and also to the fact that some colleges are warming to new cultural trends as sources for classes. The ability of Potter to completely transcend the normal age barriers of interest might be the most unique quality of the series. “It’s intriguing that so many people read the books – my parents read them, I read them, my sister reads them. It doesn’t have age limits,” Nuccio said.