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Harry Potter’s scholarly side

Harry Potter’s spell has not just bewitched the mainstream — it has also reached academia.

As Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is hitting DVD shelves, Mount Royal University Associate English Professor Diana Patterson’s book Harry Potter’s World Wide Influence is also making its way to the market.diana patterson

Patterson edited the book of 16 multi-disciplinary scholarly essays about Harry Potter. The essays are from authors from around the globe.

“Mount Royal has a very strong presence in this book,” says Patterson.

Essays from Mount Royal professors Deb Bridge, Aida Patient and Kori Street are included in the book which is being published by Britain’s Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Of course, Patterson has also contributed an essay. It addresses why Harry Potter had to be translated for the Americans.

Scholarly sorcery

So how does an English professor who has also spent the past 20 years writing a book that identifies the origins of recycled endpapers in 18th century books come to create a scholarly book on popular children’s literature?

Well, Patterson believes the Harry Potter books are so much more than simple kids’ entertainment.

“I wanted to contribute to scholarly works about Harry Potter because I genuinely believe that these books have something more to say and that it is in fact a 21st century epic work,” say Patterson.

“A big problem in Britain — and one of the reasons I was keen to publish with a British publisher — is the British don’t want to give author J.K. Rowling too much credit for anything because she makes too much money. There is snobbery about that.”

Won over by the charm

In fact, Patterson wasn’t an early Harry Potter fan. She initially started reading the books because she felt she had to. She was designing the History of Publishing course for the Faculty of Communication Studies and felt it was incumbent on her to read the latest “publishing phenomenon.”

Once Patterson started reading, she was hooked. But she wasn’t just a fan of the fun and magical tale — she saw much more.

“When I first read it I saw that it was a social satire. It’s like The Simpsons TV show — to a child it is a cartoon and to an adult it is social satire.”

One example she points to is Harry Potter’s uncle who is described as very boring. “He makes drills … literally he bores into things.

“Essentially what J.K. Rowling is doing is pretending to look at our world through the eyes of magical people.”Harry Potter's World Wide Influence cover

Epic tale

Also elevating the series of books in Patterson’s eyes is the plot line.

“The story is a long arc that builds into the notion of restoring a lost society and that is what an epic does,” says Patterson.

“A lot of people haven’t thought of it that way because the problem is Rowling is too good at drawing characters. We expect social satire like Gulliver’s Travels to be made of very flat characters.”

Becoming a Harry Potter expert has made Patterson very popular. She runs the Harry Potter Meetup group in Calgary; she has chaired the 2008 Accio conference in England and she recently attended a UNESCO conference in Paris that brought together the translators who translated Harry Potter into 67 languages.

Historic translation

These translators are unique in the sense that not only have children elevated them into star status, but they were the largest group of have worked on the same project at the same time.

“The Harry Potter translations are quite creative because J.K. Rowling invented words and often with puns in them. So when you translate them — and if you want to give the children the same sort of feel — you have to invent these quite strange and new word forms that make the same types of puns in your language.”

In Paris she also learned more about how influential Harry Potter has become. Patterson recalls listening to a Thai publisher who explained that the national literacy rate in Thailand jumped approximately 20% after Harry Potter was translated into Thai. That statistic got the attention of the Thai government and it is now actively promoting literacy.

And if all that isn’t enough on her plate, Patterson is also authoring a book about the 100-year history of Mount Royal’s Conservatory.

— Anika Van Wyk, Dec. 8, 2009