Friday, January 10, 2003

Pitching Potter to the college crowd

Two local academics help to put a wizard spin on the Hogwarts hullabaloo

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A couple of local academics took a hard look at Harry Potter, floated their fingers across their keyboards and, a little like magic, became contributors to a new book on the Hogwarts phenomenon.

[photo] Nancy Jentsch, left, and Rebecca Sutherland Borah
(Joseph Fuqua II photo)
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Rebecca Sutherland Borah, assistant professor of language arts at the University of Cincinnati, and Nancy Jentsch, instructor of German and Spanish at Northern Kentucky University, are among 16 teachers and writers who contributed to the book.

The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter - Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon (University of Missouri Press; $34.95) is being delivered to bookstores as the first book-length analysis of Potter adventures from a broad range of perspectives: literature, folklore, psychology, sociology and popular culture.

Much of the book explores literary ancestors of the series, focusing on magic and fantasy and the British boarding school experience. Other sections look at the moral and ethical dimensions of Harry's world, including objections to the series raised within some religious circles.

Dr. Borah wrote the final segment of the book, under the heading Apprentice Wizards Welcome: Fan Communities and the Culture of Harry Potter. A chapter earlier, Ms. Jentsch contributes Harry Potter and the Tower of Babel: Translating the Magic, which focuses on language translations for markets abroad.

[photo] Millions of moviegoers have watched Harry (portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe) perform magic on film.
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"I had no idea where my chapter would go until I saw it," Dr. Borah said. "When I did, I thought, `That's so cool.' "

J.K. Rowling's books on witchcraft and wizardry drew a unique and impressive following, she writes in the concluding chapter of Ivory Tower.

"More so than the majority of popular narratives found in print and other media formats, Rowling's series of novels has inspired an unusually large variety of readers - of both sexes, from different ages, races and cultures - to participate in activities related to or inspired by her fiction," she says.

"Clearly, Rowling's novels, especially since the publication of Goblet of Fire, with its increasingly more mature themes and darker tone, have crossed over from `just children's fare' to a broader, more adult audience."

Back when she was still wondering what all the hoopla was about, Dr. Borah organized a Harry Potter tea at a Kentucky church camp. That was shortly after the release of the fourth installment in the Potter series.

"I have vivid memories of hearing about them (Potter books) on Oprah and Rosie O'Donnell," she says. "I hadn't found time to read them because I was moving ... and busy at school ...

"I thought that the books would make good summer reading. Maybe I would have a chance to do something scholarly with it. I'm always looking for ways to make the scholarly stuff more fun to do."

These are the published Harry Potter book titles, in the order in which they were released:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, January 1998;
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, June 1999;
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, September 1999;
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, July 2000.
The fifth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is anticipated soon.
The movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released in November 2001. The second Potter movie, Chamber of Secrets, opened in theaters a year later.
In the five years since J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books first appeared, academics and experts in various fields have been busy researching and writing about them. Here's just a sampling of such work:
The Sorcerer's Companion: A Guide to the Magical World of Harry Potter, Allan Zola Kronzek, Elizabeth Kronzek (Broadway; $15)
Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter, Galadriel Waters (Wizarding World; $25)
Magical Worlds of Harry Potter: A Treasure of Myths, Legends and Fascinating Facts, David Colbert (Berkley; $13)
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide - Unauthorized, Philip Nel (Continuum; $10)
A Charmed Life: The Spirituality of Potterworld, Francis Bridger (Image; $11)
Harry Potter's World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives, Elizabeth E. Heilman (Routledge; $25)
The Science of Harry Potter: How Magic Really Works, Roger Highfield (Viking; $24)
My Year With Harry Potter: How I Discovered My Own Magical World, Ben Buchanan (Lantern; $13)
What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?, Connie Neal (Waterbrook; $13)
The Gospel According to Harry Potter - Spirituality in the Stories of the World's Most Famous Seeker, Connie Neal (Westminster John Knox; $13)
God, the Devil, and Harry Potter, John Killinger (St. Martin's Press; $23)
Fantasy and Your Family: Exploring the Lord of the Rings - Harry Potter and Modern Magick, Richard Abanes (Horizon; $12)
Sticks and Stones: The Troublesom Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter, Jack Zipes (Routledge; $20)
Beacham's Sourcebook For Teaching Young Adult Fiction: Exploring Harry Potter, Elizabeth D. Schafer, Elizabeth D. Sullivan (Beacham; $25)
Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick (and the Bible Series), Richard Abanes (Horizon; $12)
Irresistible Rise of Harry Potter, Andrew Blake (Verso; $19)
Kids' Letters to Harry Potter: An Unauthorized Collection, Bill Adler (Carroll & Graf; $18)
We Love Harry Potter!, Sharon Moore, (St. Martin's Griffin; $6)
Teaching Fantasy Novels: From Tuck Everlasting to Harry Potter, Phyllis Berry, (Libraries Unlimited; price is pending)
Pokemon & Harry Potter: A Fatal Attraction, Phil Arms, (Hearthstone; $13)
Harry Potter Goes Hollywood, Michael Sragow, James Hibberd, Laura Miller, (; $3)
Ultimately, she says, she was not surprised by the overwhelming interest in the books and subsequent movies because "They engage children in a positive way.

"On the teacher side, I like them because the themes become more rich and complex as you go along ... I haven't heard of a teacher that had a problem with it at all."

Ms. Jentsch, who focused her research on the French, German, Spanish and Czech versions of more than 30 translations worldwide, says, "It was interesting to watch the decisions the translators made."

While Harry is universally popular, "The stage and state of Pottermania ... vary greatly by country," she writes in her 15-page chapter in the book.

The French, for instance, opted to translate most proper names in the books, while other translators did not.

The Germans decided to use the familiar form of "you" throughout, "which makes the relationships special."

In a move that's hard to rationalize, "each of the different countries, for the most part, designed their own cover art ... I like the American covers...

"The Harry Potter series contains many words newly coined for the books by their author," Ms. Jentsch writes. "Though this is not uncommon in children's fantasy literature, translating such words does present unusual difficulties.

"Each translator has come up with a different solution for the translation of such newly coined words as Hogwarts, and for the insertion of explanatory material," she says.

"In the French version, most people's and place names are reinvented in French. Thus, `Squib' becomes `Cracmol' and `Hogwarts' is called `Poudlard'.

The Spanish translator has approached words that can't easily be translated by using the English word in italics." Beth Chandler, publicity manager for University of Missouri Press, said the new analysis book was written and published "for a more educated audience - not necessarily for academics, but not for Joe Blow on the street, either."

She said she expects Ivory Tower to be used by college students as an educational reference.

In addition to Dr. Borah and Ms. Jentsch, contributors to The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter include 14 other authors from Great Britain, Canada and the United States.

There are chapters that focus on Harry Potter commerce - accessory books, motion pictures, action-figure toys and other consumer goods.

Ivory Tower was edited by Lana A. Whited, professor of English at Ferrum College, Virginia, who also wrote a chapter on Theories of Moral Development.

Ms. Jentsch says she was a Harry fan long before she decided to look into the books' translations.

"I'm fascinated by the world J.K. (Rowling) has created," she says.

As for Dr. Borah, "I'm not terribly into the hype of it," but, as a youth, "I probably would have been a fan, if I had heard what it was about."

Now, she's collecting hard-cover Potter books for her son, Andrew, who was born in November, and painting a Hogwarts mural on his bedroom wall.

Will he be a fan?

"He just doesn't have a chance."


Pitching Potter to the college crowd
More children mind themselves
On the fridge
Get to it!