New course evaluates Harry Potter, young adult literature
Published: Monday, April 9, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 9, 2012 12:04
Roosevelt University’s fall 2012 course English 115: Exploring Literature will take a contemporary approach to the coming of age novel: the analysis of the Harry Potter series and books similar to it.
The course will focus on books written about youth for youth audiences, including “Peter Pan,” “Tom Brown’s School Days,” “Diary of Anne Frank,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” “The Outsiders,” “Harriet the Spy,” “The Giver,” “American-Born Chinese” and of course “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
“I was certainly excited when I saw the title,” Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Lois Backas. “I wish I had time to take it myself. I read all the books out loud to my children, and I loved them.”
Students will read the fifth book of the series, “The Order of the Phoenix,” toward the end of the course.
“You say, ‘Harry Potter,’ and instantly you will tap into an enthusiastic audience, right?” asked professor Ji-Hyae Park, the course’s instructor. “However, the main reason I chose it as a focus is because it cleverly draws from and revises tropes that have been explored by literature from the past, especially nineteenth century British literature.”
Currently, 20 students are enrolled to take the course. The course’s capacity is 40 students.
“I think that 20 students enrolled this early in a 100-level English course that is not required shows a fair amount of interest in either the topic or the teacher,” Backas said.
Prospective student Sasha Vukovic signed up because of Park.
“I only briefly looked at the subject matter,” she said. “She was the draw. She’s a brilliant teacher.”
Every semester, the department of literature and languages offers an English 115: Exploring Literature course. The courses are humanities electives, and the professor teaching the course chooses the topic.
“I think that analyzing coming of age literature that has been embraced by younger audiences will be an interesting way to approach the questions people have considered primarily with respect to novels written for adults,” Park said.
Previously, courses on science fiction literature, American satire and black women in literature and film have been offered.
“My hope is that by the time we get to [Harry Potter], we’ll be able to look at it differently because we have been schooled in the literature it productively draws from,” Park said.
Since the topic of English 115 changes, this particular topic may not be offered in future semesters. However, Park said she would be willing to teach it again if students enjoy the course.
“It’s going to be a great course, both because it involves books students won’t have a chance to read in other courses and because Professor Park is an expert in the subject,” Department Chair of literature and languages Bonnie Guzenhauser said.
Park hopes the class will allow students to analyze how childhood stories shaped their personal identities, relationships and perspectives.
“Professor Park is interested in popular culture and literature,” College of Arts and Sciences Dean Lynn Weiner said. “We are excited by her creativity in developing this course and hope that students will find it a worthwhile class.”
Park stressed that not all students taking the course need to be Harry Potter fans, and the content will be beneficial to English majors and non-English majors, alike, giving the opportunity for students to study and revisit texts from childhood.
“I feel like the kind of reading you do as a child stays with you and can impact the way you make sense of your life and the world around you,” Park said.
Park is a fan of the Harry Potter series herself, noting that she read the first five books of the series and ordered the last two books as a reward to herself for passing her qualifying exams in graduate school.
“Rowling creates a vibrant, rich world for audiences to imagine, but I think that the story has a hold on people because it is actually quite familiar,” Park said. “I think that’s why adults are also fans of the series.”