Newswise — LAWRENCE, Kan. — When the final Harry Potter movie is released next month, it will answer a lot of questions about Voldemort, the group of youngsters that came up together at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the world they inhabit.
University of Kansas professor Giselle Liza Anatol has already brought together a whole new set of questions about the larger impact and meaning of the ultra-popular book and movie series in her book, “Reading Harry Potter Again: New Critical Essays.”
Anatol, associate professor of English, edited the book, which includes essays from writers from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom that explore how race, religion, morality, gender and class are represented in and the sociocultural impact of author J.K. Rowling’s series. The book is Anatol’s second on the topic. “Reading Harry Potter” collected critical essays on the first four books in the Potter franchise.
“When I first started putting it together, there was very little scholarly writing on the series,” Anatol said of her books. “I wanted to do more of an in-depth literary analysis. People think of Harry Potter books or children’s literature as content-free fluff. I feel like they do deserve to be examined and interpreted to see what ideas people are getting.”
Readers’ interpretations are especially important, given the books’ enormous popularity over the years. Anatol teaches a children’s literature class for students who will educate future generations about reading. In 1999, the year after the first Potter book was released, maybe five of 35 students in the class had read the book. Now, that figure is much higher. A good number of her students have grown up reading the books and watching the movies for the majority of their childhood.
“Now they know some of the details even better than I do,” Anatol said of her students. “There’s definitely a spark when we talk about the Harry Potter books in class.”
The essays in “Reading Harry Potter Again” are both new examinations of the material and expansions of works in the first edition. Several writers returned to address their first contributions as the themes they explored were expanded upon or evolved with the final three Potter books.
“I love taking part in this type of discussion,” Anatol said. “For both projects it was a really nice back and forth and exchange of ideas.”
Students often go through a similar re-examination of the books’ themes in class. Representations of power, controversy surrounding the books, fate versus free will and other topics that many young readers don’t initially consider are brought to the fore in Anatol’s class.
In addition to editing both essay collections, Anatol contributed essays on race and ethnicity to the first volume and explored metaphors of race and stereotypes in the second and wrote introductions for both.
Contributors to “Reading Harry Potter Again” are primarily English professors, along with a few philosophy and religious scholars. Leslee Friedman, who authored a chapter on militant literacy and its application to the book series, is a KU alumna who wrote her master’s thesis about Harry Potter. Mike Johnson, author of the book’s last chapter on “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” film, is a KU alum.
The Harry Potter series may be finished, but Anatol hasn’t stopped exploring themes in popular literature. Her collection of essays about the massively successful Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, “Bringing Light to Twilight: Perspectives on the Pop Culture Phenomenon,” was recently released.
“It’s a somewhat different population of readers,” Anatol said of Twilight fans. “But you can see the passion for the books go beyond the literature itself, just like it did with Harry Potter.”