“Reading, Writing, Rowling” Episode 9: “’Harry Potter’ and the Prisoner of the Academy: Reading ‘Harry Potter’ as Serious Literature”
Readers love the Harry Potter series, but is it a classic? Hosts John and Katy discuss Harry Potter’s relationship to academia and the importance of readers with special guest Dr. Cecilia Konchar Farr, author of The Ulysses Delusion and editor of A Writer of Their Age.
Perhaps you’ve had the experience of people considering the Harry Potter books “just” children’s literature, or bestsellers with little literary merit. This week’s episode confronts the issue of academia’s view of great novels vs. popular novels and how different approaches to literary criticism might help us to see the Harry Potter novels as both.
Professor Konchar Farr explains the characteristics that make novels popular as well as the standards literary critics use to assess whether a novel qualifies as a classic. We consider why novels by women and children’s literature tend to be overlooked by academia and how that may be changing.
Dr. Konchar Farr’s book The Ulysses Delusion examines why James Joyce’s Ulysses always appears at the top of book critic lists when few people have read it and it does not make the lists of readers’ favorite books. She argues that we must pay attention to readers’ assessments of literature; Harry Potter fans demonstrate that readers can love books and critique them at the same time.
Readers’ creative responses to the wizarding world (through fan fiction, performative critiques, and social activist groups like the Harry Potter Alliance) illustrate the power that comes from deep reader engagement with novels. Professor Konchar Farr’s forthcoming edited volume examines the Harry Potter series from a variety of literary critical perspectives that take the novels seriously as good literature.
The next generation of scholars who grew up reading (and loving) the Harry Potter books yet also see them as important literature are adding their voices to academia. How are they bringing academic attention to popular novels like Harry Potter and what theories are they finding useful?
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