“Potterversity” Episode 11: “Reading the Signs”

This week, we’re reading Harry Potter through trauma theory, fat studies, and semiotics – and from the perspective of a nonbinary trans scholar of young adult literature.



What does it mean to be a Potter scholar? Get a glimpse of one academic’s research into a variety of topics in the Harry Potter books. In this episode, Emily and Katy talk with Tolonda Henderson, former librarian and current scholar of the intersections of disability, race, and adolescence in young adult literature, about their research into the seven-book series. Tolonda shares how they became interested in Potter scholarship, wondering “Why is Madam Pince so useless?” and then moving to a wide array of Potterian topics.

“What the text says matters,” Tolonda explains, and so looking closely at the language and symbols used in the books has become an essential part of their study of Harry Potter and other young adult literature. Tolonda decodes for us the symbolic and textual memorialization of Harry’s family in Godric’s Hollow to understand why the monuments were built, their purpose for the wizarding community, and the role they play in Harry’s own psychological journey. Tolonda also reveals to us how descriptions of fat characters (like Neville, Dudley, and Professor Slughorn) affect the ways we understand them, and how we are influenced by “thin thinking.”

Tolonda has studied the way the books convey trauma through the physical and psychological descriptions of peritraumatic disassociation. Trauma distorts Harry’s sense of space, time, and his own embodiment, most clearly represented in the scene at King’s Cross station, and the books have something important to say about how to navigate such crises.

As a nonbinary trans literary scholar, Tolonda also tells us how their scholarship has been affected by statements made by the author last summer. Is it possible or desirable to continue to study Potter, given those statements? Tune in to hear their thoughts on this difficult question as well as their ideas for other young adult fiction to read this summer.

We’d love to hear from you! Please send us an email at PotterversityPodcast@gmail.com, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Laurie Beckoff

My Harry Potter journey began in 2000 when I was six and continued through a bachelor's thesis and master's dissertation on medievalism in the series. I'm a Gryffindor from New York City with a passion for theatre, fantasy, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.