Keith Hawk (KH) John Granger (JG) Carrie-Ann Biondi (CB) Ariel Kline (AK) Ashley Feith (AF)
[Show music begins]
Eric: Hey! Josée! Wait up!
Josée: Oh hi, Eric! I'm sorry, I really can't talk right now. I'm running late.
Eric: Late? Late for what?
Josée: Oh, it's because I have to go meet Keith and John Granger. I'm actually going to listen to a Harry Potter literature lesson at MuggleNet Academia.
Eric: Oh cool, that sounds awesome. Can I come with?
Josée: Yes, of course you can. Just come with me.
Eric: Okay. Let's go!
[Show music continues]
[2013 MuggleNet Fandom Calendar promo begins]
Ron: Hey, Harry. Working on that Potions essay for Monday?
Harry: Uhh, it's due Friday, Ron.
Ron: What? No, you're pulling my leg.
Seamus: Hey, Harry. Doing that essay quite early, aren't you?
Ron: See? It's not due until next Monday. Right, Seamus?
Seamus: Erm, I thought it wasn't due until the Monday after next.
Parvati: Well, I already did mine because it's due Thursday.
Ron: What are you talking about, Parvati?
[Harry, Parvati, Ron, and Seamus argue]
Hermione: What is going on here? I'm trying to do my Charms homework.
Ron: Hermione, when's that Potions essay due?
[Harry, Parvati, Ron, and Seamus argue]
Hermione: Hold on! Let me check my calendar from MuggleNet. It has all kinds of important dates, such as future conventions, birthdays, and important events in the wizarding world.
Ron: Yeah, but what about homework?
Hermione: Ahh, here we are. Yes, I thought so. That essay is due... tomorrow.
[Harry, Parvati, Ron, and Seamus groan]
Michael: Start 2013 off right with the new MuggleNet Fandom calendar. Each month features photos and drawings from various corners of the Harry Potter fan base, as well as historical dates from all seven Harry Potter novels and Harry Potter birthdays for characters, actors, and your favorite MuggleNet staff members. Visit MuggleNet.com to preview the calendar and get your own copy today.
[2013 MuggleNet Fandom Calendar promo ends]
KH: Welcome back to another episode of MuggleNet Academia. John, how are you today?
JG: I'm great, Keith. Thank you for asking. Yourself?
KH: I'm great. I heard you were in California this week. What's going on in California?
JG: I was in California at the beautiful Cate School up by Santa Barbara. Magnificent views, wonderful people, and very excited students about Harry Potter. We talked ring composition. Then I went to Pepperdine and talked to James Thomas's class there about the same sort of things. And then I went to Biola and talked about The Hunger Games. So yeah, I've been back and forth to LAX, and up and down the coast. Don't drive from Malibu to Los Angeles in the late afternoon, Keith, because it's not much of a drive. It's a lot of bumper to bumper stuff. Anyway, I've done that now. I've checked that off my life list, I've been caught in traffic in Los Angeles. But hey, it was a great trip. What have you been up to?
KH: Oh, we have been having a ton of fun on MuggleNet. I'll tell you, we have now kicked off, for those of you listening, the second annual MuggleNet Holiday Giveaway Event. We are in day two as we are recording this. By the time it comes out, we'll probably be in day five or day six or something like that. But every day, you have a chance of winning one of the fabulous prizes that we have. We have prizes from Alivan's Master Wandmakers. We have a Kymera Remote Control Wand from The Wand Company. We have some special gifts from a whole bunch of groups and teams, 10-9 Nano, and even some special gifts from the actors of the Harry Potter series.
KH: Something that you definitely do not want to miss out on. So basically, what you want to do is go to MuggleNet.com, check out the Second Annual MuggleNet Holiday Event. What you do to enter this contest is go over to the Advent Calendar page, find the window that is open for that day. There is a visual clue and a written clue. When you hover over it with your mouse, those clues will tell you where the hidden page is on one of our MuggleNet sites. You have to search either MuggleNet, MuggleNet Interactive, Mugglenet Fan Fiction, or MuggleSpace websites, to find that hidden page. Once you find that hidden page, trust me, you will know. There will be a big congratulations, you found the holiday event. And there's a trivia question on that page. Answer the trivia question, submit it to where you are supposed to submit it, with the information that we ask you for, and then you are entered for that day. We basically do a random number generator out of all the entries that are received and we're receiving above five hundred entries each day, so you're going to have a one out of five hundred plus chance of winning one of these fabulous prizes, and you will be notified right away. So, I can't wait. John, we even have tickets for the WB Studio Tour. How about that?
KH: So, there are some great prizes being given away. Now, the other big announcement is the calendar. The calendar kicked off on Thanksgiving Day. We've had a lot of success with it. There's been a lot of orders going on, and people that have received this calendar already have already given their complete praise on it, how wonderful it is. So, if you are a Harry Potter fan, this calendar is definitely for you. In the beginning, we had a few issues on shipping. The prices of shipping were ridiculously weird. So, we've had some negotiations with our marketplace, and we now have $8.75 domestic shipping inside the continental US. International shipping is still a little pricey. Sorry about that. What I suggest you do is get it with a group of friends, order a bunch of calendars and do one shipment, and that way you can save on your shipping cost as a group. So, that's how I recommend you get around the expensive shipping charges internationally. But this calendar, John... I don't know if you've ordered yours yet, I hope you have. This calendar has character birthdays, actors birthdays; it has dates that occurred in the books in the Harry Potter series, so if you're looking for when Educational Decree Number 24 happened, we have that in there.
KH: If you're looking for when Fred and George quit Hogwarts and flew off their brooms out of Hogwarts, we have that date in there. We also have dates of fan trips from HP Fan Trips, HP Magical Tours, Wizards at Sea...
KH: ...which I know John, you're a part of. We have all the conventions, the Quidditch World Cup in there... all these dates are listed throughout the book. It's really quite a fascinating calendar. Even the release dates for the movies and the books are in there. So, you can keep up with your Harry Potter geekiness like we do and know what happened on each day of the year. So, I think it's a great calendar. I hope everybody decides to go out and order it. It's only $19.95 and you get all of this geek goodness. What do you think, John?
JG: I can't wait for mine to arrive, Keith. I've only got a month left here.
KH:[laughs] That's right. The orders will now start piling in as we get closer to the end of the year. But listen, I want to talk a little bit about some previous shows here. Last show we had with Travis Prinzi, "The Half-Blood" Prinzi, and it was an amazing show. We had the most downloads we've ever had, we've also had a couple of good responses to the show. Here's one that we received on iTunes and if you get the chance, go onto iTunes, give us a five-star rating - because I know you like our show, obviously, or you wouldn't be listening to it - and give us a little spiel as to what you like about the show. Here's one from TheDreamingDragon, John. I'd like to read this one to you:
"May I just say that your third episode 'Parseltongue, Gobbledegook, and Troll: Translating Harry Potter' is by far my favorite episode! It was very interesting, just throughout the entire time I was basically squealing in delight. I've recently found a French version of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone', so to have someone talking about the French version was very cool. I've always wanted to learn French, and I think 'Harry Potter' is the perfect way for me. Thank you so much for this podcast!"
And that's the podcast with Josée and Amanda. We had Josée who is French Canadian who is obviously somebody who speaks very well French because that's her natural tongue, and Amanda who said she learned English from the Portuguese... instead of getting a Portuguese edition of the books, she went out and got an English version because they were available quicker, and then she would learn English from the books. And that's the thing, John. One of the things about these books is that you can learn a second language by reading the English version if it's not your native tongue. Or if you want to go and learn French and you know the English version inside and out, go get the French version and start learning French. Very easy to do, is that correct, John? What do you think?
JG: Well, I've used it to teach Latin. There's a Latin version and an Ancient Greek version, and it seems to work pretty well. People who know the stories backwards and forwards have an inside track on this. And I know that we're going to talk with Professor Biondi in just a little bit about how teaching students a subject with a book that they already know very, very well is an entirely different experience than teaching a normal class on a given subject.
KH: The thing is, about the Harry Potter series, is that students are lining up throughout colleges all over the world to get into these classes that are being taught on the Harry Potter series, and we are privileged today to have just that scenario. Our professor joining us today is Carrie-Ann Biondi from Marymount Manhattan College, and we have two student guests today, not the normal one. Both of the students take her class. John, why don't you go ahead and introduce our special guests for us today?
JG: All right, we've got Carrie-Ann Biondi. She's the Associate Professor of Philosophy at Marymount Manhattan College, and she offers a course on Harry Potter and Philosophy that - as you said, Keith - has people lining up. In addition though to the course, Professor Biondi has sponsored an interdisciplinary academic conference in 2011, "The Power to Imagine Better: The Philosophy of Harry Potter," that brought students and academics from around the country to New York City to talk about the depths of Harry Potter. She's going to put this together in a special paper that proceedings of the conference revised, expanded, and recently published as an edited collection by her in the journal Reason Papers. She's also written two papers on Harry Potter and Philosophy, and she's proud to be the faculty advisor for Marymount Manhattan's student club, The Marymount Marauders. That's too cool. I assume that's a Quidditch team. Is it a Quidditch team as well here, Carrie?
CB: Not yet, but they're working on it.
JG: Okay, get to work here. Seriously, Carrie is also part of the Hog's Head Blogengamot crew, I believe. Am I mistaken there, Carrie?
CB: No, you are not mistaken. I am one of the writers/members of the Blogengamot.
JG: ...Travis Prinzi's champion crew of writers and Harry Potter thinkers. And she's a PhD in Philosophy as well from Bowling Green. She's certified as an actual, authentic Potter Pundit, Keith, and today we're going to talk about the front and the back, the heights and the depths, of Potter studies and how you can use these books to get at the most interesting topics and the biggest questions about what it means to be human. I can't wait for this one.
KH: To be or not to be. That is the question.
JG: It's going to be a question today. Hooray! [laughs]
KH: Speaking of twos, we have two guests with us today, two student guests with us. First up, Ariel, tell us a little bit about yourself.
AK: Hi, I'm Ariel Kline. I am a Philosophy major at Marymount Manhattan and I am pursuing an Art History minor as well. I really, really have enjoyed the Harry Potter series pretty much ever since probably I was in about first or second grade. Some of them I've read more often than others, but for me the themes of Harry Potter that stick out the most to me are what I'm writing my paper on - death, dying, and immortality, and the pursuit of that - which obviously Professor Biondi's class has really, really helped me to explore.
KH: Awesome. Well, welcome to the show. I hope you have a good time here today. And our second student guest is also taking the class with Professor Biondi, and that is Ashley. Ashley, tell us a little bit about yourself.
AF: Hi. Well, my name is Ashley Feith. I am a Philosophy and Religious Studies major at Marymount, so I focus more on religious aspects. And I also have an International Relations minor, so I'm really interested in a lot of the connections between philosophy of politics and international law, and Harry Potter was definitely an eye-opening book for me to read when I was younger. There's a lot of relationships between the international wizarding community, and the Ministry of Magic is a very interesting association of people that have made up some interesting laws and work the whole wizarding world in a very strange way. But I was very happy to get into the Harry Potter and Philosophy class. As you said before, definitely got a huge line up, so I'm proud to be in it this semester.
KH: Well, we're happy to have you on board. And if you're big with the international, political, anarchy part of the show, then you should have listened to Lesson 13 with Professor Daniel Nexon.
[Show music begins]
KH: That was a political science law where we got into the international parts of British law, American law, all kinds of right wing, left wing, and everything else in between.
AF: Yeah, I saw that. It looks really interesting.
KH: You ready to kick off this show, John?
JG: I'm ready. I'm ready.
KH: All right, then let's get it going. From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor and author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
CB: I'm Carrie-Ann Biondi, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Marymount Manhattan College.
AK: I'm Ariel Kline, Philosophy major at Marymount Manhattan College.
AF: And I'm Ashley Feith, Religious Studies major at Marymount Manhattan College.
[Show music continues]
[MuggleNet Podcasts promo begins]
Harry:[yawns] Good morning, you two. What are you up to?
Ron: Hey, Harry. Hermione and I found this wireless sitting here in the common room.
Hermione: We can't decide what to listen to, though.
Harry: Well, have you two heard of Alohomora!? They always come up with interesting new ideas and theories about the wizarding world, and invite their listeners to participate in the discussion, on and off the air. They even talk about things we do here at Hogwarts, like magical creatures, wizarding history, Divination...
Harry: Yes, me... I mean, what? No! No, no, no, they don't talk about me. A lot.
Hermione: Well, I've really been enjoying MuggleNet Academia. The show goes into an in-depth analysis of the wizarding world and what impact it has made on Muggle culture. They invite guest speakers and students on every episode to discuss classic and modern works of Muggle literature, and further examine why the wizarding world, as Muggles know it, has made such an impact on them.
Ron: Well, we have the day off, so I want to listen to Audiofictions. The MerMuggle Readers tell new stories written by Muggles. I love hearing what the Muggles think about us! Not only that, but listeners can request which stories they'd like to hear, and participate in contests to have their own stories read. I've even heard a few stories about the three of us.
Hermione: Well, these all are great suggestions, but which one should we listen to?
Harry: Chosen One gets first dibs!
Ron: Hey, I found the wireless! I get to choose!
Hermione: You two have homework to do! I'm done, so we should listen to my show!
[Harry, Hermione, and Ron bicker]
Neville: Good morning, you three. Err, what are you doing with my wireless?
Ron: Neville? This is your wireless?
Neville: Yes, I've been looking for it everywhere. I don't want to miss MuggleCast. They're always up on the latest wizarding news.
Harry: Oh. Well, we were hoping to listen to Alohomora!
Hermione: MuggleNet Academia!
Neville: Oh, sorry. But you three know you can just download those shows to listen to whenever you want, right? Anyway, thanks for finding my wireless!
Michael: The magic lives on with MuggleNet's new podcast family.
Caleb, Kat, and Noah: Open the Dumbledore with Alohomora!
Carole, Jessie, and Michael: Live beyond the books with Audiofictions.
Eric: Get the latest news and excitement from MuggleCast.
Michael: Find every member of the MuggleNet podcast family on iTunes to subscribe and download the latest episodes today. With hundreds of episodes available, the choice is up to you.
Ginny: Hey, you three. Mum just sent her old wireless over to me. Isn't it great?
Harry, Hermione, and Ron: Ginny!
[Ginny, Harry, Hermione, and Ron bicker]
[MuggleNet Podcasts promo ends]
KH: This is Lesson 15: Harry Potter and Philosophy - Metaphysical Musings at Hogwarts. In her conversation with John and I, and our student guests Ariel and Ashley, Professor Biondi surveys the philosophical categories such as ethics, epistemology, politics, and metaphysics, that reading literature and especially Harry Potter can open up for serious readers in a classroom or outside of one. We will discuss particular subjects like love and death, friendship, punishment, lying, torture, justice, fate versus free will, and the meaning of life - which is number 42, by the way...
KH: ...through a philosophical lens, which demonstrates how philosophical tools can help us appreciate our experience of the Hogwarts saga more profoundly and more intimately. So, get your geek on for this wild ride as we dive into "Harry Potter and Philosophy."
KH: Professor Biondi, you're a PhD graduate, student in Philosophy at Bowling Green, how did you ever get caught up in the Harry Potter series? And I want to ask your students the same question. They grew up with the books and Harry Potter, starting at a young age, as we heard in the introduction piece, and how do you correlate some of the things that you read in these books, and then see it in Harry Potter? Now, how did all these philosophical implications just jump out at you on your first reading? Or was it what you read at the beach?
CB: Well, how I got interested in Harry Potter and philosophy really comes from two things. One, I think my academic background and my general love of reading literatures from the time I was young really primed me to encounter it. My Bachelors and first Masters is in American Studies, where I specialized in American literature, history, and political science, and my second Masters and PhD in Philosophy is in Applied Philosophy, where I studied the intersection of ethics and politics. And in addition to that, many people who knew me told me for years that I would love the Harry Potter saga. However, I was so wrapped up in learning how to do philosophy as a graduate student that I didn't make time to read the saga until the summer of 2010. And when I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. I read the entire saga in less than two weeks. So, everyone who encouraged me to...
JG: Woo! Woo!
CB:[laughs] So, everyone who encouraged me to read it, and who knew me well, and knew my love of literature well, they completely got me right, that I would absolutely adore it. And it's just been a life full of Harry Potter for the last two and a half years for me in many, many ways.
KH: Okay, wait a second. You said you read the entire series in two weeks.
KH: Okay. Did you sleep or eat during that time frame?
KH: Did you shower at all?
CB:[laughs] Very little. Very little.
KH: That's some rapid reading because even if you just take in the story at a nice, chilling pace, there's two weeks worth of reading in there for sure. That's not hard to come by.
JG: Well, 4,100 pages divided by 14. Yeah, we're talking about some heavy reading here. Especially if you were probably teaching a full load and correcting papers and, as Keith said...
CB: Well, it was during the summer, so I wasn't actually teaching.
CB: So, I...
KH: So, there was plenty of time on your hands.
CB: Well, I was actually recuperating from some minor surgery and I couldn't do any other work at the time...
CB: ...and I thought, "Well, I'll read some literature," and I absolutely fell head over heels in love with it. And you asked me whether the philosophical implications were apparent, and to me they were, right from the very first read of the very first novel. And because I was very familiar with Joseph Campbell's work prior to reading it, I knew that this was one of the role models, the paradigms of a hero's journey narrative. And at the heart of any hero's journey narrative is the quest, which automatically puts on the table two core philosophical issues in metaphysics and ethics that have to do with the nature of the self and the process of self-transformation, which really grapples with answering the questions "Who am I?" and "How shall I live?".
So, on the first reading of that first novel, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - at least for us in the United States; we didn't get to read the Philosopher's Stone version - there were actually four things which I'll highlight briefly that jumped out as being incredibly rich in surfacing deep philosophical questions. The first one has to do with the issue of personal identity. I remember thinking when Hagrid told Harry that after seven years at Hogwarts he wouldn't know himself, and my question in my mind was, "I would surely hope he would know himself after seven years!" But then I paused to think, "Well, what does he really mean by that? He'll change and grow a lot, but there's still going to be an essential self there. What is the nature of that self and how does that persist through all these other changes?" Then of course there's that wonderful scene where Harry refuses to shake Draco Malfoy's hand. That goes to the heart of the ethics of friendship and choosing your friends well and why that matters. Of course the Mirror of Erised also leapt out at me as being a parallel kind of tale to the Ring of Gyges from Plato's Republic. Dumbledore says to Harry, oh my goodness, being near-sighted is something that can happen when you're invisible, which is exactly what happens to a shepherd who chooses poorly when wearing a ring that makes him invisible in Plato's Republic. And at the very end of Sorcerer's Stone, when the Flamels choose to destroy the Sorcerer's Stone and so go on to their deaths, the reader is faced with questions about whether immortality is really a good thing and what makes life worth living and what is the meaning of life anyway? So, all these questions rolled in my mind that very first day I encountered this saga, and I knew right away I have to teach this in a philosophy class.
JG: Ashley, how did you wind up in this class?
AF: Well, I'm a Religious Studies major so I am really interested in taking a lot of different philosophy classes to fill up my major. I saw Professor Biondi's class being offered, I guess it was a year or two ago, and I immediately emailed her and said, can I get into this class? And she said, no, you need to have your Philosophy 101 first, and so I took every step that I needed to along the way to get all the pre-reqs, and so this year I'm a senior and I finally got in.
KH: And Ariel, how about yourself?
AK: I related to the Harry Potter series since I was younger, but in taking the class I think I have definitely realized all the philosophical implications that Professor Biondi is discussing, which, to me, is the most fabulous part about it. And most people, I guess, would think that that would do something to ruin the element of fantasy in the books, and that's a comment that I get a lot from friends, but I actually think it enhances the experience. And our class discussions help me to sort of approach the books in a close reading way that I don't think I would have been able to do without it.
JG: Well, this is great, it leads right to my next question, because I went to a school that looks like Hogwarts.
JG: They even call the University of Chicago "Chicogwarts" now because it looks so much like it.
[AF and CB laugh]
JG: I wish I could have taken Harry Potter and Philosophy when I was an undergraduate, but no way! Back when the dinosaurs walked the earth in Hyde Park, there's no way this course would have been offered. I want to hear... you shared a little bit about how people think it would ruin the story, but I want to hear about, what was your experience, Professor Biondi, with other philosophy faculty members? Did they laugh up their sleeves about this? Did you have trouble getting the thing approved? What did the administrators think? And did the students really line up for this, or was it something that grew over some time? Because you've offered this more than once.
CB: This is actually the second time I've run it and I've actually had a marvelous experience. You'll be probably surprised to learn that the chairman of my department, the other philosopher in my department - there are only two philosophers at Marymount Manhattan College - is Dr. Mark Conard, who is one of the pop-culture gurus, one of the founding grandfathers of the popular culture and philosophy movement. He and Aeon Skoble and William Irwin have co-edited dozens of volumes in pop-culture and philosophy. So, he actually had a course on the books in pop-culture and philosophy, and he focuses on film and philosophy, so he teaches the films of Martin Scorsese and philosophy, and I focus on literature and philosophy. So, there's... the shell of the course is already present and he had already created a space of respectability for the academic study of popular culture.
CB: So, it was the perfect place for me to be able to develop this course, and our different interests complement one other. And the students, it was overwhelming. The first time I ran the course, about seventy students wanted to take it and they were only twenty spots in the class. So, I had to turn away many people, and actually Ashley was one of them last time who... she didn't have all the prerequisites. It's a 300 level philosophy class, and you need to have taken the two courses in the freshman writing sequence plus one other philosophy class at a minimum. So, I had to turn away a lot of people and a lot of the administrators were supportive. They said, "Oh, I've never been able to talk to other people about this before, but we're so glad that you have this class and now I can talk philosophically with my grandchildren..."
CB: "...about the novels." So, actually it was a very warmly supportive environment.
JG: So, that's all good news here. All right, now let's talk a little bit about the gut of this class. What texts are you using? Are you just using Philosopher's Stone to Deathly Hallows, or do you blend in books like Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts by my friend David Baggett? Do you incorporate other philosophy texts? You've mentioned Plato's Republic. Do you use Aristotle's Ethics? I mean, all the stuff on choice I assume would bring that in. And do you use any literary criticism books by people like we're talking here?
CB: Well, I do use all seven books in the canon and I use an anthology called The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy edited by Gregory Bassham who is a philosophy professor at King's College in Pennsylvania.
JG: Yeah, I have a chapter in there, Carrie, right?
CB: I know that...
CB: ...and we actually read and discussed it last week.
CB: So, we use that because it's the only volume on Harry Potter and philosophy that was written after all seven novels came out, and we also use an additional course packet of readings that I've put together that draw in various other articles on Harry Potter and philosophy that have been published in journals and other collections, but also that our primary source is in philosophy because I structure the course... the first part is philosophy and literature. We read Joseph Campbell, a chapter from Travis Prinzi's book on Harry Potter and imagination, and from someone who works in philosophy of literature, Noel Carroll, "Art, Narrative, and Moral Understanding." Then in the ethics section, we read Aristotle, Kant and Mill, as well as some of the chapters from the Basham collection.
CB: In political philosophy... yeah, it's fantastic. And in political philosophy, we read John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, selections from John Locke's Second Treatise of Government, and selections from Plato's Republic, in addition to various philosophical articles that integrate Harry Potter and philosophy. And then in the metaphysics section, we read some primary material as well, and the secondary literature and all of this in parallel going sequentially through the seven novels at the same time.
CB: It's a heavy reading load.
JG:[laughs] I'll say. I mean, this sounds a lot like Reverend Danielle Tumminio's class at Yale...
JG: ...where she basically gives... yeah, you're fire hosed with western theological concepts book by book as you plow through the canon. She's hitting you with Augustine and Aquinas... everything. I mean, it sounds great. Ashley and crew, does this work or is this just too much? [laughs] Is this like trying to take a bath in a waterfall or what? I mean, what is this like?
AF: No, I think it's great. Like Professor Biondi said, a lot of the articles that we read actually integrate the Harry Potter novels within the philosophical text. So, it kind of makes it really light and interesting, these books that we've read since they came out basically. Ariel and I grew up with them. Harry was as old as we were. We get to read them in a new light and start delving into these kinds of concepts. I mean, I know the class struggled a little bit with some John Stuart Mill, and John Locke Treatise of Government, those days are a little bit longer, but they're necessary and they give you a different light to look through everything with. But, as a whole, it's not that much and reading the novels along with it really open up some of the concepts. So, the way that the syllabus is oriented, the novels that we read are paired very well with the philosophical arguments that we're dealing with at the time.
JG: Here is kind of a side question. You mentioned all the requirements that Marymount has for taking a 300 level philosophy class, but is it a requirement that they've read the 4,100 pages before they come in?
CB: No, it's not although I believe all but one or two students at any time I've taught the course have actually read it multiple times, so there are only one or two complete newbies who took the course because they wanted to be motivated to read the entire saga.
KH: Now, in order to get into the class like Dr. Melissa Aaron out in California, what she does is she gives an exam to make sure that the students who apply to this course actually did read the books, not just are movie fans.
JG:[laughs] That's great.
KH: She asks specific questions that only people would know if they actually read the books. I mean, I would imagine you offer any kind of a Harry Potter course at a college that kids like Ariel and Ashley... sorry, I know you guys aren't kids anymore, but when you were kids you were reading these books as a young person, growing up with them, and it seems like if you're offering this course it'd be like, "Oh, okay. I'm going to take this course because I know the subject material inside and out. This is a definite A for me." So, I would assume that a lot of kids would be jumping at the bit to get into this class. Is it true, or is a more restrictive selection of students, or do we not see as many people actually applying?
CB: Well, because of the pre-requisites, they had to have had at least one philosophy class to be exposed to the philosophical method and have some practice writing philosophical essays. It's a very different way of writing. This is not a literary analysis course which is the kind of writing students have experienced with when they take a course that integrates literature, and so that does weed out some people who would probably fail the course despite their passion and love for the subject matter. Despite that though, some students do struggle, especially if they've only had one prior philosophy course and it was maybe two or three years before they actually are taking this course with me. So, it's not an easy A [laughs] as I'm sure Ariel and Ashley will let you know, and students do struggle with learning how to set aside their passion and commitment to the novels and their love of the characters, set that aside for a moment and focus on the underlying philosophical issues and explore those and come back and integrate the two things. So, it's certainly not a lightweight course even if it's experienced as very exciting and easy to work through the readings. The actual demands of writing are challenging.
KH: Well, Ariel, let me ask you a question. When you're sitting in class there, is it an exciting class or is it a lecture class that would put you to sleep if it wasn't for the materials?
KH: What's the classroom setting like for you?
AK: I would say that every person in the class luckily is diligent and engaged with the conversation at hand. We've all read the reading that we were supposed to read for the day, and we do get very passionate about it. [laughs] We are all pretty big Harry Potter fans, and it's good though. It's a good discourse, it's a passionate argument, obviously depending on our favorite character or the issue that strikes us the most within the series. But I would say that every class is a very eventful one, [laughs] whether it be in discussion of the novels or the reading that we have done for the day.
KH: The person who knows themselves the best in the books is obviously - in my opinion, anyway - Luna Lovegood. I mean, she's got to be a philosophical dream come true when it comes to learning about the Harry Potter series and discussing philosophical courses. Is she the easiest one or am I missing another character that knows themselves better than somebody else?
CB: Well, that's a good question. Actually, Luna Lovegood we have not actually focused on her very extensively as a character. We're focused on the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, to an extent Neville, we've talked a lot about Dumbledore. So, we actually have not spoken a lot about Luna.
JG: Yeah, Luna is almost the anti-philosophy character. [laughs] She's more of a gnostic than she is a discursive, rational person. She's the one that drives McGonagall and Hermione and maybe Carrie and her students a little crazy, and she's a little off the wall. I'm going to switch the flow of the conversation.
JG: I do want to come back, Carrie, to talk about what it's like to teach a class where students already know a book so well. We had a little exchange yesterday about Judith Jones at Fordham and her experience... what she said recently in an interview. But how about... you want to talk about the issues that go on in these things. The Harry Potter books are sometimes called "Pride and Prejudice with wands" because of Ms. Rowling's devotion to Jane Austen, and the manners and morals quality to the books. And as you'd expect in a schoolboy novel, there isn't much difficulty in saying: here's the good guys, here's the bad... white hats, black hats, [laughs] and the very few people who just are conflicted between those two things. What kind of ethical dilemmas... you talked about your experience about ethics and politics and stuff. What kind of ethical dilemmas can you explore in a world that may not just be good guys and Death Eaters, like Sirius says, but comes pretty close to that when it comes down to the real action of the story?
CB: Oh, there are actually so many I'm sure I would forget in trying to enumerate them, but there are issues about lying which Hermione, of course, is against in the very beginning, yet in Sorcerer's Stone she's trapped in the girl's bathroom with a troll, and Harry and Ron come to save her. She lies directly to the professor she respects the most, Professor McGonagall, and that challenges a young reader to think, "Wow, she's lied. She's not the one who did this, but she lied." And this actually was at the source of their friendship and she took a hit for that, realizing that there are some things that might be even more important than telling the literal truth at every moment. So, here we have a character who is seen to be perfect and yet lying makes her better, [laughs] which is one of the early ethical dilemmas. Issues about friendship, who to choose as friends and why they are important in life. Who should one love, when Harry thinks he's falling for Cho, and some people may have rooted for that, some may not have. What is it to fall in love with someone, who should one love, who is worthy of love, and what is love anyway? And so then he turns his attention toward Ginny. And issues of torture, despite the fact that there are... torture is one of the Unforgivable Curses to engage in. Harry does employ it at one point - which got some people irate, they thought, "Well, how could someone like Harry do this?" - when Amycus Carrow insulted Professor McGonagall in Deathly Hallows, for example. So, there are many, many ethical dilemmas to show that even some of the very best characters are faced with choices that will stretch not only their own characters and personalities, but also the reader's understanding of what makes for a good person and that there may be exceptions to certain rules that are in fact... show that you're a good person with a morally wise way of judging these things that are not just black and white.
KH: Ms. Rowling has said this more than once but it turns on our understanding of death, and Deathly Hallows is about the struggle to believe. You see Hermione just doesn't want to believe in the Deathly Hallows, that they can't be real, it's a myth, et cetera. Do you explore issues of faith and reason in your course? I mean, there's no religion basically in the books, but Harry's concern about the afterlife... even his experience at King's Cross seems to invite discussion of man, God, and immortality. Can you guys go there in a classroom discussion about philosophy and deal with these types of issues?
CB: I'll just say a few words and I'm going to turn it over to Ashley and Ariel, who I think are more well-positioned to engage in some of these questions than I am. I'm trained in philosophy, although in some of my intro to phil courses I do segments of philosophy and religion, so the topic per se is not off the table in the least. And the distinction between faith and reason and struggling to believe is something that's at the heart of epistemology, the theory of knowledge. So, they are certainly topics that can be put on the table, so I'm interested in hearing what Ashley and Ariel's experience of this are.
KH: Go ahead, Ashley, especially since you're a religion major.
AF: Yeah. Well, in general I don't... I think that you can go there, and I think that you should go there, in college classes. Like I said, my whole major is putting God and reason and immortality and afterlife and faith - all of this stuff is all on the table and you always look to kind of come from different perspectives, even. I think that that's the best part about talking about these kinds of topics in a college class because just to grow up with a certain belief and just have that belief without knowing why is totally different than really sitting down and thinking through it. So, to use Harry Potter as a background for these kinds of things... one of the main topics I know Ariel said she was really interested in these kinds of concepts and she's working with that in her paper right now, but one of the things that really jumped out at me is that there is... in the Harry Potter series, there are ghosts, there are people that can die but come back through Priori Incantatem sort of forms, there are portraits of headmasters in the office that can still talk to you, and so there's all these kinds of notions that are imbedded in the novels about what happens to you after you die. And I don't think that they're all necessarily classic visions and they're not just one vision. There's plenty of different perspectives all brought in which is really interesting, and I'm glad that she did it that way and she didn't leave it so ambiguous. She brings in... sorry, JK Rowling, that is. She brings in all these different perspectives on what could happen, and I think the King's Cross moment in particular is a really big moment of this. Harry has sort of died and gone to this purgatory place, and has this conversation with one of his headmasters who we know is dead. There's plenty of conversations to be had about all of these issues. I'm not sure what Ariel exactly has been finding out with her research...
KH: Ariel, tell us about yours.
AK: Well, I think the fact that we... these issues are things that are a little bit taboo and have the ability to be feared. I think that's one of the main reasons that Rowling tackles them. Especially looking at the Department of Mysteries, we have all of this magic and the means to do basically anything, defy the laws of physics and nature, and here we have this sort of secret place where there are the real mysteries about love and death. And I think that to acknowledge that maybe we don't have all the answers is one of the best things that the books bring to light, for me in particular. The topic that I'm researching specifically is immortality in relation... and sort of this, like, the mythology that comes behind the serpent and ambition, and the pursuit of immortality, and why it may or may not be a meaningful pursuit. And so, in exploring that, I don't know, it's just been a very, very interesting subject to research, and I'm glad for the opportunity to do it through the class.
CB: I hope that addresses your question!
JG:[laughs] Yeah, yeah, that's great! Ashley, I think you brought up the big conversation at King's Cross...
JG: ...which leads right into our next question, is that Ms. Rowling told a Spanish journalist that the key to the entire series... I have to wonder if she was drunk when she said this.
JG: Anyway, the key to the entire series she said, the exchange she waited seventeen years to write, was the, "Is this real or just in my head?" conversation between Harry and Albus at King's Cross. I'm hoping this is... I'm assuming, Professor Biondi, this has got to be the beginning point of some great epistemological discussions in your class. Arguments about how we know anything for certain, and if there really is an alternative, as Dumbledore seems to suggest, between the usual division of subjective and objective knowing. I mean, Harry says, "Is this real or in my head?" He's giving the classic empiricist thing, where if we can measure it and experience it by sense perception, then it's real, but if it's just my opinion or something going on between my ears, then that's delusional subjective stuff. And Dumbledore flips that back at him and says, "Well, of course it's inside your head. But why would you think that's not real?" He suggests that what an empiricist would call subjective or borderline delusional is actually more real, and that's... I've written a lot about this in The Deathly Hallows Lectures and other places, but do you try to unpack that inside your classroom?
CB: Well, actually, we did discuss that very article that you are talking about that you coauthored with Greg Bassham on "Is it just in your head?" and we discussed that last week while we were wrapping up Half-Blood Prince. And we actually do explore both epistemological and metaphysical aspects of that very scene and the questions that it surfaces, and I'll just sketch out the two directions it can go in, depending on how one takes the question that it raises or the questions that it surfaces. Because we were wrapping up The Half-Blood Prince at the time that we were reading your article, we tied it back to what was going on in people's heads in Half-Blood Prince and one of the persistent themes throughout has to do with luck, right? Harry wins the Felix potion and he has to get the memory from Horace Slughorn, and so he eventually ends up taking the Felix potion and getting lucky. And he has the confidence to go ahead and make certain choices, while at the same time, in parallel, Ron is very underconfident about his Quidditch playing. He believes he's taken the Felix potion when he hasn't, and so we were focusing on contrasting the two characters about the power of belief and whether that has a real effect in people's lives. And whether you've actually taken the Felix potion or believed you'd taken it, they both ended up having fantastically lucky days, both had the confidence to make choices they might not have done in other circumstances yet, and so they both gain something fantastic from this, one of them from taking the actual substance and the other from believing that he had.
So, that was one direction. And the other direction, there's an article I assigned by John Searle about the nature of the real. You're pointing to the usual, empiricist division between subjective and objective, and John Searle points to that as a false dichotomy, that there's a much more nuanced philosophical approach, and part of my job as a professor is to lay various perspectives on the table and to explode false dichotomies and shake people out of their presuppositions. So, whether or not something in your head is real or not depends on what you mean by what is real. And if it's in your head, it's a belief or an idea, a mental state. Those who are diehard, reductive materialists will just say, well, it's merely subjective, it's just neurons in your head. That's one false dichotomy, although that's one possible position some people defend. The other is the dualist perspective that this actually represents, in a platonic way, a higher form of reality. And John Searle offers a third way that's neither one of those. It can be in your head and it's a mental state you're having that is an emergent property. This is known as property dualism, an emergent property from your physical system that depends on it but is not reducible to it. So, this seems to be kind of what's at play with Ron. He believes in something and it has an effect on his life, but it's not reducible to having ingested some kind of magical substance, and yet, it's powerful, and yes, it's real. And so this scene really does have people ask about the nature of reality, and how does that relate to the power of belief and the effects that beliefs can have in your life.
JG: Well, I think that Rowling is actually not speaking from [laughs] the emergent idea or the empiricist one. I think she's arguing like Austen, really, against the empiricist view.
JG: She's arguing from the Coleridgean tradition of logos epistemology where she's... that's Dumbledore's position default, is that...
JG: ...what's real in your mind is somehow continuous with the fabric of reality.
CB: And that's a very platonic tradition of Plato. That's the kind of platonic transcendent idea of this other dimension. So, these are all live philosophical possibilities, and it seems pretty clear where Rowling stands through the mouth of Dumbledore.
JG: That's right, that's right. She's inside the book both as Dumbledore and Trelawney.
JG: She's kind of the wacky French teacher that only Trelawney has a larger view. She's the voice of the prophecy. I think that's clearly the wacky Rowling view of herself. But Dumbledore, I think she speaks for the tradition in English literature from CS Lewis, from George MacDonald, from that whole crowd of this... your thinking is somehow creative, hence when Harry is at King's Cross, what he thinks immediately happens. He just thinks of a robe and then all of a sudden it appears. He seems to be in logos land there and that's who he is. When he looks into the mirror and sees the eyeball, that's his identity, if you will...
[AK and CB laugh]
JG: ...that he is the eye of the heart, and only when he accepts that identity does he actually have success. When he looks in the mirror in his bedroom, he denies it. When he looks in the mirror and sees the eye again in the Malfoy Manor basement and accepts it, then Dobby appears and everything changes. Harry finally in the grave that he digs himself - his own grave - accepts Dumbledore's teaching, comes out of the grave on Easter morning, and he's a new man. He's decided he's going to pursue the Horcruxes rather than the Hallows in the story, and in some sense it's essentially over. We've already had our Easter morning. [laughs] We're going to have another Easter morning, I guess, when Harry rises from the dead in the Battle of Hogwarts, but we've had the more important one already. I think that's what Rowling is after there.
CB: She probably is, but...
JG: Anyway, I'm...
CB: Oh, no. This is very insightful literary analysis and I know that your books explore this in depth that I would not have ever been able to have thought up on my own, so I appreciate your detailed analysis of how... what seems to be going on for Rowling in this regard. As a philosophy professor, I've tried not to privilege Rowling's position as it seems to have manifested either though the novels or in her follow-up interviews, which are fascinating to see what was her intention, how did she see parts of herself manifest in different characters. But that's one perspective and as a philosophy professor, the heart of that is offering what are multiple interpretations about these different phenomena that have gripped Rowling, for example, so much to have moved her to write seven novels about them. So, I use these occasions to not just explore how the themes are present in the novels, but to surface the larger philosophical questions so that we can investigate them for ourselves in our own right and...
JG: There you go.
CB: ...in conversation with one another.
JG: That's really neat. I love this because you mentioned these philosophical tools that you're teaching. You're not just teaching Harry Potter.
JG: You're filling up the philosophical toolbox for these philosophers that you're teaching.
JG: I didn't have a formal education in philosophy, so what tools... and I imagine a lot of our listeners haven't had either, so what tools are you thinking of and how do they help us with these issues of love, death, friendship, lying, all these things that you want to talk about - the big human questions? Can you give us some of the tools in the box?
CB: Sure. Well, at the heart of it, really, is critical analysis. The tools of logic and epistemology, the tools of what is known as justification. You may state that you believe something but it's the philosopher's question, as was Socrates's question, and I teach socratically, I don't lecture, so it's this constant probing why, what are your reasons, point to the evidence. But evidence not necessarily in some reductive sense, but what is the texture of life, phenomenological feel of something that lends credence to your claim. So, it is essential about justification and so there are, I think, three parts to this. One, you have to formulate the essential questions about a particular issue that matters to people about ourselves, the nature of ourselves in our world. And secondly, come up with and generate possible various explanations and theories that account for the phenomena that matter to us. And then third, look at the grounding of what makes those various views plausible, and which one or ones seem to be more plausible than others to help us guide our lives with. So, I'll just use the example of the issue of love to illustrate very briefly how we would surface philosophical questions surrounding that. So, there's a lot about Lily Potter's love for her son, then we see the obsessive, not quite love - does it turn into love of Merope Gaunt for Tom Riddle Sr.? And then Harry's seeming to fall in love and out of love with Cho, but was it really love? And falling really in love with Ginny Weasley. So, what we first have to do is ask the essential philosophical questions: what is love? Many people assume it is an emotion. Is it just an emotion, or is there a cognitive dimension? If so, then how do you place a value on the qualities that are worth loving in another person? Is it even possible to choose with whom we fall in love? And is it appropriate to begin or end certain relationships with people who you might be in love with, and if so, under what conditions? We use as a touchstone one of the philosophers, Aristotle, has extensive discussions of friendship and love, and love for friends and loved ones.
JG: Wow, this is great...
JG: ...and I would love to sit down with you. You could do Plato's Symposium in the class and use Harry Potter as... but I want to talk to your students. They're Harry Potter fans...
JG: ...and serious readers. Does that drive you crazy that she wants to drag in all this philosophical stuff when you want to have a knock-down-drag-out about what the book means?
AK: No. Not at all, I don't think. If anything, it helps the reading process and like I said, it kind of makes you want to read more closely into what the characters are saying, but I think that you grow to love them more as characters for it. And so, for me it enhanced the reading experience, especially because we're encouraged to read the philosophical texts before we read the chapters in the books to understand what issues that we're going to be grappling with in the following class. So, for me, looking at the issues first and then reading the books with those in mind helps the reading process. For me. I don't know about Ashley.
AF: Yeah, no, I agree totally. I think that being able to use these kinds of ideas like Professor Biondi was saying, these notions of love about when it is okay and when it is not and initiating it with relationships and what it really is... we delved into that conversation about Merope. And just reading the texts, just reading the canon in the Harry Potter novels, I believe Dumbledore tells us it was because Merope loved Tom Riddle so much that she was finally able to stop feeding him with love potion, and even though he didn't stay, that was a redeeming quality in her. And if we just read the texts as that, then you kind of accept it. You accept it as part of the story, as part of the planning, but using tools about thinking differently and critically about love... one of my first papers that I wrote was about: no, I don't think that means that she does love him. I don't think that if she even was willing to administer love potion to even begin with, that she ever loves him. So, you get to go back to the novels and kind of criticize parts of what she writes, whether it's in a good way or a bad way. And you can further take that all into your own life and start thinking about things... you can use the novels as an example.
CB: I just want to highlight what Ashley just said very briefly. That to me is exactly the kind of connection from philosophical theory to textual analysis, engagement with the novels to making it matter in your life because we all care about who our friends are, whether we're really in love and what that means, and the commitments that entails, and it has you reflect more on your own life, so I appreciate that.
KH: Well, I understand friendships. It's the love part that I just never really got. I would never be good as an Unspeakable in the Department of Mysteries...
[CB and JG laugh]
KH: ...because that door needs to stay locked and it's just something that needs to go away. It's tough to deal with. But I want to circle back a little bit. John had mentioned about Trelawney being the big person who could oversee everything and some of the things that Rowling has liked, and that brings me to a point that I wanted to ask about the prophecy that Trelawney makes, the very first prophecy. There was just one part in the prophecy that basically goes, "And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives." So, this is really dealing with Harry's confrontation with the Dark Lord, and it raises a big question to me about choice and free will. Is Harry free to walk away from this fate, or is he doomed to follow through with it? Now, Ms. Rowling says that Macbeth is one of her favorite plays that she ever read, and being here on Academia, we like to circle back to other things like Shakespeare and Tolkien and Dante and Chaucer. So, Macbeth being a Shakespeare play, do you think that the answer between Harry and Dumbledore comes about fate and free will is a Macbeth echo, or is it her peculiar post-modern spin on the whole thing?
CB: Wow, this is such a fantastically rich question. I think... well, specifically the Harry and Dumbledore conversation, and I think you're maybe referring to the conversation they have in Half-Blood Prince, about Harry thinking that, well, if the prophecy says this then I'm kind of stuck with it, and Dumbledore says, well, it's your choice. And when Harry reflects, I think the Harry and Dumbledore conversation reflects that what you call Rowling's "peculiar post-modern spin" in terms of Harry does end up choosing his attitude. He said there's a big difference between feeling like you're dragged into an arena in combat or walking in with your head held high. And he does have a choice about what to do. He could avoid Voldemort and try to flee into hiding, but that would come at a great personal cost, right? That would then leave the world open to being destroyed. And is that a future that Harry wants to live with? Can he live with himself? And he chooses no, that's not what he wants to do. So, I do think that Rowling is emphasizing that this is the kind of life you can live if you choose, if you do make a choice about the circumstances you find yourself in, whereas Voldemort is the Macbeth figure. He does believe that there is this prophecy and his destiny is to fulfill it, and that is his downfall as someone who feels like he's locked into this fatalism.
JG: Yeah, I think you're absolutely right there. She's showing the two responses to the prophecy where the Dark Lord, he could have walked away from it and never created the guy that eventually destroys him. But he's absolutely tied up into it and he creates Harry Potter more than anybody else.
KH: Every great leader in the world, every tyrannical leader in the world, is always afraid of that person that they don't expect to destroy them is the person that's going to destroy them. Correct?
JG: Well, history is on your side there. [laughs]
CB: Absolutely because they become so full of themselves with power, that's that kind of, oh, the invisibility cloak makes you so near-sighted that Dumbledore made mention of to Harry in the first book, with the Mirror of Erised, and the power that someone gains does make them very near-sighted, they get full of hubris, and they underestimate other beings, other kinds of beings, the kinds of powers that are more powerful than power such as love. And so, I think you're quite right that a tyrant, because of what moves a tyrant, is exactly the very thing that leads to the tyrant's downfall.
JG: Do you think Rowling is saying that... because Harry, he may have free will, but he really does seem to have been fated into the position. Isn't she arguing for some sort of combination of fate and free will here? Harry is the Chosen One, after all, it seems.
CB: Yes. And he's been chosen, marked out, by Voldemort's choice. So, you're right. This does raise the issue of fate versus free will, and I think this is another false dichotomy, the way that the topic is generally put, that there is something in between. It's not this completely indeterministic free for all universe, but that there is a context, a set of circumstances that you're born within, that you don't have any control over many other things in your world. But there is a realm over which you do have control, and that's going to be the locus of moral agency. What kind of choices will you make in light of the circumstances that you're born into, so that there's a space carved out for free will, but it doesn't mean total control over everything, which is actually, for someone who goes in that direction, is going to be another aspect of the downfall of the tyrant thinking he has control over things that he does not. He does not have the wisdom to know the difference between the two.
JG: That's great. Do you think Harry's choice at King's Cross to come back to fight the Dark Lord is an immediate echo of his conversation with Dumbledore in the previous book, where he says I can go in there with my head held high because this is really my choice?
CB: Absolutely. Harry knows that he can just let go and die, whatever that means. He still doesn't really know what it means. Or he can go back to what's going to be a very difficult circumstance, not guaranteed to succeed, there's a lot of risk there and more pain and sorrow to live with, but he makes that choice. It's the hard choice, but it's the right choice. So, I think you're absolutely right. That is another echo underscoring the wisdom Harry has attained about knowing the realm over which he does have a choice, and wholeheartedly committing to making the right choice at the right moment.
JG: This is kind of a weird fan fiction tangent here, but do you think, because of the bond of blood, if Harry had chosen to move on, as it were, at King's Cross - which is sort of this cathedral, logos land, whatever - do you think that soul fragment that's there, that piece of meat child that's screaming or whatever - we assume that's the Dark Lord's soul fragment, the only thing that's left of him after all the Horcruxes have been destroyed - do you think that would have meant the end of the Dark Lord, too? Or is the Nagini fragment enough to have kept him on earth?
CB: I would have to go with the latter because all it takes is one Horcrux being in existence to keep that shred - that shadowy, less-than-the-meanest-ghost shred - still skulking about the face of the universe.
JG: This is a great point but it is a curiosity because the Dark Lord does not come back to consciousness until Harry does as well. It seems that his choice is connected somehow to that soul fragment that's at King's Cross coming back as well. So, maybe Nagini would have allowed that soul fragment at King's Cross to continue its tortured existence like it had before, after the Godric's Hollow murders. So, I assume that... you're saying that, yes, so Harry did have to go back...
JG: ...so that Neville could kill the snake. [laughs] But if Harry doesn't come out of the forest, does Neville kill the snake?
CB: We will never know. That's a hypothetical she didn't spin out! [laughs]
JG: That's right. I'm curious, that may have been why Harry made a point of going to Neville and saying... before he went into the forest, he leaves him with that sort of bizarre instruction. Because obviously Ron and Hermione know to kill the snake, but the only person he talks to after he comes out of the Pensieve is Neville to say, "See the snake, kill the snake," and Neville salutes him, and we're off into the forest. [laughs] Forgive me for the aside there.
CB: Oh, no! I think it's a fascinating speculation to investigate. But remember, too, what helps bolster the courage of people back at Hogwarts castle and the pause, the lull in the battle, is Hagrid coming out of the forest carrying what everybody thought was Harry's dead body. And that gets Neville to lead the charge. It was seeing that, and it had... it's hard to know whether if Harry had really died... I can't even spin out all the possibilities where the narrative could have gone, and there's a possibility that Neville would have finished him off. I don't know.
KH: Well, here's a possibility for you. Let's just say Harry did decide to go on, right? The prophecy said that the person born at the end of the seventh month, whose parents thrice defied Voldemort, would be the one to kill Voldemort.
JG: Aha! That's great, Keith.
KH: It could have been Neville! He was one of the possibilities. So, if Harry had decided to go on, Neville could have been the one that the prophecy was about. He would have destroyed the snake, he would destroyed Voldemort.
CB: He may have destroyed the snake, but who would have destroyed Voldemort?
KH: Neville would have. He would have been the chosen one.
JG: Well, and I think... again, this is all, as Carrie says...
JG: ...wonderful fan speculation or whatever. I don't think the Dark Lord would have risen in that body. I think that the bond of blood was such that the body that he is in is tied to Harry. If Harry goes on, that body lies dead in the forest. Or just disappears, I don't know, but it doesn't go on to fight. So, Nagini has to be killed or he still has that link and he can come back in a different form or whatever, but he's only a shadow of himself without that body form. Anyway, we're all over the map here. I want to... Keith will tell you... we finished every one of these classes with the same kind of questions because... here are your two students, and you, Professor Biondi. Obviously you've got a large part of your life invested in the Harry Potter stories. Even though you've come out relatively recently, tell us how your world would be different, or how different it would be, if you'd never stumbled across "The Boy Who Lived," if you didn't have that time after your surgery and those two weeks where you ran through those books? Are there ideas you probably wouldn't have explored? Folks like Keith and me you wouldn't have met? [laughs] Places you wouldn't have traveled? How do you imagine Harry has changed the arc and substance of your life?
CB: Here are some more fascinating counterfactual questions that are difficult to answer! [laughs]
JG: That's right. [laughs]
CB: Well, I'm not sure. I'll try to sketch out some kind of an answer here. What I can say is that reading Harry Potter reignited something in me that has always been present since I read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time over thirty years ago, and it was dormant inside me through my years of graduate study and I had set that aside for a while, and that something is the power of story to light the way, to remind you of how important everything in your life is and how important it was to bring philosophy to life. So, I actually think the way it's changed, as you put it, "the arc and substance of my life" is to have challenged me and inspired me to experiment with pedagogy, with teaching in a different way. I've experimented previously with teaching one work of literature at the end of a semester's worth of tough philosophical theorizing, for example, at the end of an Intro to Ethics course, going rigorously through the texts of Aristotle, Kant, and Mill. I love reading Jane Eyre and that was very rewarding...
CB: Yeah, fantastic experience. But very limiting. I had never thought to make literature the pervasive backbone of a genuinely rigorous philosophy course, and but for reading Harry Potter, I would never have thought to teach a course like that, and that would have been a shame. And as a result of this, I've envisioned expanding, for other kinds of courses, the integration of, say, Sherlock Holmes stories, in an epistemology course. The Hunger Games trilogy in a course on the ethics of war. And I certainly would not have discovered the wonderful online Harry Potter communities like The Hog's Head, Hogwarts Professor, and MuggleNet. I've developed some friendships from these wonderful online communities. I'm such a generally reclusive and in-person person, that had the Harry Potter phenomena not drawn me out into the virtual world online, I don't think I would be sitting here right now talking with you and knowing all of these wonderful people.
JG: Boy, that's great. Let's talk to your two students because unlike you... I wonder, do you guys remember a world very clearly where there wasn't a Harry Potter in it?
AF: Well for me, I know... reading Harry Potter actually came about through sort of a punishment technique. I was grounded to my room with no electronics and I had nothing but a set of books that someone had given me a while ago that I had never opened, and so I started reading them. I was locked in my room... similar to Professor Biondi. I read them all very, very quickly because I had nothing else to do, and being able to read those as a child brought about all of these philosophical issues that we've been talking about without knowing that they were philosophical issues. For kids, like we were talking about before with Hermione, is it okay to lie? What would I do in that instance? And reading these books kind of puts us as kids into a world of imagination, obviously, where we can start to think, "Well, what would I do if I were Harry right now?" or, "Harry, why are you doing that? I don't agree with you yelling at everyone like that. You're being so rash. They're really your friends. You should calm down," like how he does in the beginning of the fifth book. And so I think as a kid, you start to consider a lot of values that you maybe never have thought of before because they didn't arise in situations that had happened in your life yet. I know in the beginning of the class, one of the things that we discussed was, "What did these novels bring about for you? Who are your favorite characters and why? What did that mean to you?" And almost everyone in the class said that, "I didn't know what the real value to friendship was before this." Just by looking at Harry, Ron, and Hermione, we see the difference of this personification of the mind and the heart or soul and the body through these three characters, and how you can't just rely on one aspect or one personality, you need other people in your lives. And I think the personification of all of these characters, even outside of the trio, we can see the value in differences. And I think that that's a really important thing that I picked up on, is that you should value every different aspect of different people because together it all makes everything work. But overall, I wouldn't have taken this class probably if I wasn't a Harry Potter fan...
AF: ...and I wouldn't have been able to have these intellectual conversations based off of something that we all know so well because we've all read them, or at least most of the people in the class have read them multiple times. So, I think it's been a really great class to take and I'm glad that I had Harry Potter to kind of back up all of these things throughout my childhood.
AK: I think that was really well said. For me, it really came down to choice and the power of choice, which we ended up discussing a lot in class time. But the ability to make the right choice and... I had a professor at the college that I went to before this because I'm a transfer student, who with her opening speech said that our characters are defined by what we do when no one is watching, which I think is so important and that's one of the things that I gleaned from the series the most. I think that it's this notion of character, and when Dumbledore is making his speech after Cedric Diggory dies and he says when it comes down to making the choice between what is right and what is easy, and that for me was one of the lines from the novels that I think I took away from the most because it is about making what you... it's about using your own intellect to figure out what is the right decision and trusting yourself in the end that you have the maturity and the faculty to decide what is right and then to do it, and that is such a difficult thing to do but we see someone who is essentially our age who we've grown up with. He starts when he is eleven, the books end when he is seventeen. I think I started the books when I was maybe twelve. And so you see this person grow up with you and acquire the ability to not only see what is right but to make the right choice, and that changed the way that I saw the way that I could live my life. And so it's very important to me.
JG: Yeah, this is great. One of you, the meaning of friendship and core relationships, and the other one about human choice and responsibility. It doesn't get much bigger than that! [laughs] I promised earlier that I was going to talk about something that a professor at Fordham is offering also - a friend I think... Sue, a friend of yours, Professor [laughs] - about Harry Potter and philosophy. She was asked what it was like to teach a class in which everybody knew the book already. You talked about having taught a philosophy class where you dove into Jane Eyre at the end of it. But I assume that [for] most of the students there, Jane Eyre was probably terra incognita or something they may have read once. What is it like, both as students and as teachers... this is for all three of you. What is it like to be in a classroom where everybody or most everybody there has got the 4,100 pages down cold, where you can make a reference to Merope Gaunt who is not a very big figure in the story - she doesn't get a lot of face time on the pages or whatever - but if you talk about Merope Gaunt... and you have the vanity fair, you get all sorts of things about the family Gaunt. But what is that like to be in that kind of classroom?
CB: Have you ever tried to hug a tidal wave?
CB: It's... I knew this going in because I knew how overwhelmingly remarkable I found the experience of reading this saga and how powerful it was. I'd never felt like this about something else in between. At least not... individual books, yes, but a series, not since I'd read L'Engle's Time Quintet many years ago when I was a child. And I knew that there was going to be this overwhelming enthusiasm that was going to threaten to overwhelm the course at any given point in time. So, I sent the students the syllabus ahead of time - a month ahead of time - and let them know that we were not going to be talking about the films, that we were going to be talking about the novels, and that it was going to be a rigorous philosophical analysis, and what that meant. So, I tried to prepare them with informed consent well ahead of time about how we were going to try to stay focused on the philosophical issues, and that I knew that there was this massive fanbase love for the saga that powers the class, but in order to keep it from derailing the class, every time something came up that was, I guess, the course's form of extra canon material, I would say, "Well, we do have a Harry Potter club called the Marymount Marauders, and if you really want to talk about Quidditch, there's a meeting on Wednesday at one o'clock." So, I try to move some of that and shift some of that power that would derail the philosophical conversation to an extracurricular venue.
JG: Wow. I can remember probably one of the... maybe the key reading experiences of my life was [laughs] as a senior in high school. I had read over the summer... by a bizarre set of circumstances, I had read The Brothers Karamazov, and I arrived at school that September, and lo and behold the teacher that I was given, Claudia Gallant - a wonderful, wonderful teacher - had us read The Brothers Karamazov. I had just finished reading this book on my own and I liked it, I thought it was a great book, but I didn't give it a second thought after I closed the book, I don't think. And now, I had to go through it again and reread it, and it was an entirely different experience than anything I had in the class where I had just read the book for the class. To your two students, is that your experience, too, with Harry Potter? You've read the books, but now you're reading this book and you're talking with really smart people about it. Does that make a big difference?
AF: I think for me, part of it is... I mean, I had reread the books at least three times each, some of them at least ten times, depending on which one I liked the most. But rereading it necessarily, again, doesn't... it didn't bring out anything new, like you said, versus reading it and then reading it for a class. But I think bringing in the philosophical issues... some of them are brought more to life, but it's almost like using the novels as examples, to keep furthering our conversations. I mean, one of the biggest lessons that we learn is that you can't just say something and not be able to back it up. So, this class is sort of the difference of having a bunch of friends talk together about who their favorite character is and why, and then having that same conversation within this class and being able to back that up why. We do a lot of conversations about characters - I know Luna came up before - and there is a difference between saying Luna is this kind of person because I like her, and Luna is this kind of person because she is a very real person. She has the experience with Thestrals and she's not scared of them and she can relate to death and her mother... we know this canon so well that we can just sort of, without all of these examples, either further our point or have someone else in the class bring up an issue with them and say, "Oh, well, actually if you think about it, later on in the story, this happened." So, it's sort of just nice to have something that we're all so familiar with at our hands to just keep whipping up the conversation. I know some classes get very excited, hands are raised all around the classroom, and our professor has such an issue [laughs] with trying to figure out the order of when all the hands went up and who should talk, and it's very exciting. You're talking about a set of books that we care so much about and that are all very pertinent. There's plenty of materials to support any one conversation.
AK: Yeah, I completely agree. It's interesting that you mention this thing about backing up what you're saying, and if anything I think the class has really taught all of us to kind of look into backing up everything from a literary perspective, and then making that bridge from the literary perspective into a philosophical statement because... and I get caught in this trap a lot with papers, too, about getting into the literature too much and having a difficulty just sort of pulling it into one large issue. But we usually end up with one issue that surfaces in the class, [laughs] and we are all sitting here with our books, "Oh, well, if you look on page 288..." And that's great because now I feel like as students, I'm going to go into another class and realize how important it is to have something, textual evidence, to support a claim. [laughs] And so it is like a lot of information, but at the same time, I think we've all kind of learned to organize ourselves according to the structure of it.
KH: I'm really interested in knowing that when this show comes out, if one of the classes you guys have is just replaying this podcast...
[AF and JG laugh]
KH: ...to the rest of the students... here's your lesson for today, folks! We're going to just play the podcast.
CB: And my schedule, an additional session outside of regular class time...
CB: ...because every minute is precious in class, as you can probably surmise from Ariel and Ashley's discussions here where there's so much contribution, everybody wants to make to the discussion. Part of my task is half the time facilitating discussion and making it manageable because the excitement level is so high we need to stay focused, but playfully focused at the same time.
JG: This has been great, Keith. What is our next step?
KH: I think we're ready to wrap up...
KH: ...this show, John. Did we answer all of our questions? Did we get everything out on the table?
JG: I feel like we... I'm ready to transfer to Marymount here, but I'm not even in school anymore.
JG: What is this about?
CB: Oh, you're always in school.
JG: Aww. No, no, no, no! Don't say that. Oh my goodness. I'm always learning, learning all the time, but I...
JG: School is just a commodity for learning. Learning is the real deal. And thank you...
CB: Point well taken.
JG: Thank you for all we have learned here today, and obviously there is a lot of real learning going on at Marymount Manhattan. I'm ready to... even though I'm in Oklahoma City, I feel like I should get a little house-elf minicam hook up so I can watch all your classes on the screen. I would love to take part in your classes.
CB: We would love to have you.
JG: Oh my goodness. It's an invitation, Keith. Woo!
KH: This is the neat part about this show, is that we tried this as a new concept to just see what would happen having two students from the same class as our guest speaker today. And I think it really came to a pretty good success, John.
JG: Yeah, I think the experiment worked here. Instead of the bicameral mind of teacher and student, we had the tricameral mind, if that's a possibility, and it was a lot of fun.
KH: Yeah, it really was a lot of fun, John. A great show. So, before we close up the show, we want to remind everybody that they can go to iTunes and download the entire family of podcasts from MuggleNet. We have Alohomora!, Audiofictions, of course MuggleCast, and MuggleNet Academia. So, head on over to iTunes and while you are there, leave MuggleNet Academia a review and of course you are going to give us a five star rating because you love our show, but we would love to read your reviews on the air. You can also get the MuggleNet Academia mobile device apps on Android devices as well as iOS devices. If you have an iOS device - iPhone, iPad, iPod touch - simply go to iTunes and download the free app called Podcast Box. Then search for MuggleNet Academia and you'll download the app from there. If you have an Android device, you simply go to Amazon and for $1.99, you get the application directly on your device. The benefit of having the app is that we have bonus features on the app, a couple of interviews with professors, we have the ring theory composition discussion that we had with John, Micah, Eric, and I quite a few months ago, about a year ago now, John. These bonus features are a great addition to the show. One other thing we want to talk about is MISTI-Con is coming up in May. It is getting crowded. Registrations are filling up quickly. They are over eighty percent full, so if you have any intentions or plans on going to New Hampshire come May, you are definitely going to want to be there for this convention. It's a fun convention filled with all kinds of goodies. There's over a hundred hours of formal programing already done. We're going to have MuggleNet Jeapoardy and...
KH: ...MuggleNet Family Feud that I'm hosting. Alohomora! is going to be doing a live podcast there and there is going to be a whole bunch of other things going on that you are definitely not going to want to miss. We also have Wizards at Sea coming up, John. Why don't you tell us a little bit about Wizards at Sea?
JG: Oh, yeah. The Wizards at Sea is... we're going to take a giant cruise ship from Seattle all the way up the coast to Alaska here, and it's going to be folks from Harry Potter fandom talking about the books they love the most. I'll be giving a couple of talks and I'll be on board with my wife, and we'll be exploring some of the issues we're talking about today. Some of the heavy epistemological stuff, a lot of the symbolism, a lot of the structure. We're talking about ring composition. If you want an intense experience while you have the greatest views in the world of some of the most beautiful areas in the world, you want to be at Wizards at Sea.
KH: That sounds great. Last thing, but not least certainly, is what's going on with MuggleNet. Please, if you have any fandom friends in the Harry Potter community and you are looking to get them a simple gift, the MuggleNet Fandom Calendar is available for sale right now. Just simply go to the MuggleNet site, there is an ad banner on the right-hand side, you can click either the UK or the US and International marketplaces and order directly from them, and get your own calendar filled with all kinds of goodies. Also, the MuggleNet Holiday Event...
[Show music begins]
KH: ...Second Annual Holiday Event is going on right now. You definitely want to enter that. There are some terrific prizes for you to win. So, that wraps up Lesson 15: Harry Potter and Philosophy. I would like to thank you all for listening. From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor and author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
CB: I'm Carrie-Ann Biondi, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Marymount Manhattan College.
AK: I'm Ariel Kline, a Philosophy major at Marymount Manhattan College.
AF: And I'm Ashley Feith, a Religious Studies major at Marymount Manhattan College.