Monday, 30th October 2017

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Muggles study Potterverse

Lessons from the magical world are now being taught in classrooms. Manasi Shah explores the phenomenon

  • Published 27.11.18, 12:23 AM
  • Updated 27.11.18, 12:23 AM
  • 3 mins read
Durham University in the UK is believed to be the first institution, offering a module on prejudice, citizenship and bullying in the magical world as part of its graduation course in Education Studies Thinkstock/ Sabyasachi Kundu

The Boy Who Lived now lives between the pages of textbooks. Yes, the Muggles — the word used to describe non-magical people in the Potterverse — now study Harry Potter’s world as a part of the course in colleges and universities.

Colleges abroad have been offering such courses for quite a while. Durham University in the UK is believed to be the first such institution, offering a module on prejudice, citizenship and bullying in the magical world as part of its graduation course in Education Studies. First offered in 2010, Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion aims to place the books in their social, cultural and educational context and understand some of the reasons for their popularity. The course also tries to evaluate the relevance of Harry Potter to the education system in the 21st century.

Christian Theology and Harry Potter, the course taught at Yale University, US, connects Christianity to the magical book series and is structured to examine Christian themes such as sin, evil and resurrection. Kansas State University in the US offers a class called Harry Potter’s Library, through which students are taught to examine political themes of the wizard series. They also compare the Potter series with other novels of the same genre. Again in the US, Georgetown University teaches a course titled Knights of Old & Harry Potter. This undergraduate course explores medievalism in the Harry Potter novels through medieval examples from the 12th to 15th centuries, to contrast and compare the old and the new.

In Canada, the University of Waterloo in Ontario offers a course called Popular Potter, in which students make a close reading of the Hogwarts books and explore character development, the mix of genres and different language usages through the series. The fascinating bit is the materials provided for the course — they include a wand, a cauldron and an owl, a cat or a toad. In the US, Ohio State University’s Harry Potter: Mystery and English Comedy and Oregon State University’s Finding Your Patronus are some of the other courses on offer.

In a book, Teaching with Harry Potter: Essays on Classroom Wizardry from Elementary, editor Valerie Estelle Frankel says: “Many academics today are taking Harry Potter much further — bringing it with them into the classroom itself... The fascinating part is how many subjects outside literature the books can teach... In fact, issues of race, gender, class, marginalisation and stereotypes permeate the series, bringing Harry

and his friends into sociology, gender studies and other social science classrooms. Universities also welcome Harry into theology classes as they debate concepts of the soul, the afterlife, and true righteousness.”

Now, an Indian university is set to have a course based on Potterverse. The West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) in Calcutta will offer An Interface between Fantasy Fiction Literature and Law: Special Focus on Rowling’s Potterverse in the upcoming winter semester. The man behind the initiative, assistant professor Shouvik Kumar Guha, terms it an experiment and says, “I felt that somewhere we were being amiss in simply telling the students more about what the law is and where to find it, and not enough about the actual problems in society that law is meant to address and how to identify if it is doing enough and, if not, how to change the law to reflect the needs of society.”

Guha initially thought about using various realpolitik scenarios but hesitated because his students come from diverse socio-political backgrounds. Hence he focussed on a fictional universe with which all the students could identify. “The reason I chose Potterverse is its proximity to a modern-day society and the way Rowling has sought to highlight the various limitations of law and legal institutions throughout the books, albeit indirectly,” says Guha.

The course would cover legal traditions and institutions in Potterverse (such as role of law and rule of law in a magical society, moral choice and liberty and the role of bureaucracy in the Ministry of Magic), crime and punishment (unforgivable curses, the innocence of Sirius Black and the persecution of Tom Riddle), dignity and enslavement of house elves, marginalisation of werewolves, giants, centaurs and merpeople, mudbloods and squibs, militant literacy and the misuse of texts), Potterverse economy (Gringotts, magic of money and economic growth and entrepreneurship), politics (bases of authority, terror and counterterror, resistance, intelligence and secret societies), contracts and agency (unbreakable vows, agents of good or servants of evil, express will and loyalty, Snape and the Order of Phoenix: Dumbledore’s man through and through), family in Potterverse (blood relationship, familial ties, testamentary law) and miscellaneous topics (Quidditch and sports law, religion and destiny).

Apart from the standard university rules of selection, Guha has an additional qualification request for interested students — a thorough familiarity with Potterverse (which means the seven books and the additional related ones, with the movies serving as a bonus).

Guha, an alumni of NUJS himself, grew up reading Rowling’s creations and identifies with Remus Lupin, “the quintessential teacher who believed in dealing with his students as if they were his equals and trying to encourage them to become the best versions of themselves, not simply what others want them to be”.

Incidentally, Guha has received what he calls “an amusing mail” from Rowling’s managing agency, reminding him that while they have no objection to the course since it is clearly for educational use, he still cannot retain any intellectual property rights on the course.

Rowling’s magic now extends from the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to classrooms in the real world.