Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone : JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So this is where it all begins.

This is a slim, tight story about a boy who is a wizard, and it is a story which has come to provide a bedrock to contemporary children’s literature. Not just British, I suspect, but globally; a pebble thrown into the pond, the ripples of which are still felt today.

It’s been a long time since I read this, and the experience of the reread was blinding, really. This is where it all begins. This is where it all began. Both past and present; the promise of a whole new world, the promise of rediscovering that world. Harry Potter exists both in and out of time, I think, a Charlotte Sometimes of genre; a book that is there, as though it has always been, and yet reads as fresh as a dawn-damp daisy.

I’m not sure if there’s anyone in the world untouched by these books, this phenomenon, and so I think this is a review for those of you who circle back to these books or come to them after the films or after seeing pictures online or hearing somebody talk about Hogwarts. This is a review for those moments when you are in the magical world before knowing of it; walking past Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross station (which has always been there, you know it has) and for those moments when you walk down Charing Cross Road and try to spot the Leaky Cauldron. This is for those half-felt moments made flesh; those moments of coming to the series and realising just what an utter joy a character like Hermione is; and how straightforwardly wonderful Ron is, and how the great ripples of this book are marked in matter of fact prose that doesn’t mean anything at the time, but means everything now.

This is a book, this, one that quietly changed the world, and one that continues to do so. It is a classic, really, and it is one that I am amazed by, even now. It is a book that opens a series, but opens once more at the close. A Moebius Strip of a book; a never-ending saga, this world is blindingly everything.

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Call for Papers: Potterwatch

Harry Potter and Crossover Audiences
the 2011 PotterWatch Conference
at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
October 1, 2011
Charlotte, NC

The Harry Potter series has been translated into more than 60
languages, inspired a multi-million dollar theme park, and prompted the
creation of an International Quidditch Association comprised of hundreds of
teams.  What began as a British childrens book became an international
best-selling series.  Much of the success of the novels can be attributed to
crossover appealhow Harry is loved by audiences of a variety of ages,
genders, and religions.  How do the books speak to so many different,
sometimes opposing, audiences? Why do we love Harry so much?

Together, PotterWatch, the official Harry Potter club of UNC
Charlotte, and UNC Charlotte’s Children’s Literature Graduate Organization
will be hosting an academic conference focusing on the theme of audiences
within the Harry Potter series and fandom.  We invite submissions of paper
and panel proposals that address the theme of audience and crossover appeal
in relation to the Harry Potter series, looking at reader response from a
variety of academic perspectives.

Suggested topics include:
?  Harry Potter from an international perspective
?  Religious responses to the series
?  Generational appeal (the crossover novel)
?  Group response to Harry Potter (fan clubs, Quidditch, book/movie
premieres, etc.)
?  Gender response to Harry Potter (Is Harry Potter a “boys book”?)

To be considered for presentation, please submit a 500-word abstract for
individual papers or panel proposals to unccpotterconference@gmail.com by
September 1, 2011.  Please include the paper title, your name (and names of
all panel presenters if applicable), your institution, and your affiliation
(faculty, student, other). Individual presentations should be 10-15 minutes
in length, while panel presentations should last for 45 minutes. Graduate
and undergraduate students are encouraged to submit proposals.

For more information, please visit: http://www.potterwatchconference.com

“Gosh, odds bodkins!” expostulated Jemima : The very curious tale of the British Boarding School story

There’s something distinctly British about the boarding school story. It struck me the other day on my commute home. For some reason I had Sally from Malory Towers stuck in my head. Good old solid loyal steadfast Sally (poor sod!) was always doomed to be second fiddle to Darrell’s central role. And then I got to thinking a little further. I’m not poorly read, in fact I’m actively studying children’s literature, but it struck me that I do not know of a non-British boarding school story.

The genre itself has evolved substantially from Angela Brazil’s fixation with class and letting her girls study abroad without actually coming into contact with any of those foreigners. Even though they’ve dated (most frightfully so!), Brazil’s canon is breath-takingly impressive. Slipping away from the more didactic style of writing which had been very popular, she wrote for the reader (including plenty of thrills, and illicit tucker) and left an indelible mark on the genre of the school story.

Naturally, there were others, both writing beside her and following avidly in her wake. The obvious popularity of Brazil’s work started a boom in the genre. Sadly a lot of these writers have fallen by the wayside now but there’s still charm in these old works. Ethel Talbot is a name that I didn’t know but, noting the similarities of frontispiece and other peritextual elements, I recently picked up a copy of Jan at Island School. It was lovely. There’s a distinct pleasure in reading a book which still bears the mark of the thrill of incipient emancipation felt by these writers. They don’t quite burn the bra just yet but these books were the baby steps of a generation forced to independence by the impact of World War Two.  This sort of thing is quite obvious in the roles of characters such as Miss Theobald – a divinely wise woman who imparts pearls of wisdom to her charges.

And there is something quite splendidly British about them. Even modern reinventions such as Harry Potter have the distinctly patriotic Hogwarts (what with the latinate mottos and noble ghosts), where the train to gets it leaves from the indelibly British location of Kings Cross. Think of Trebizon with the obsession over tennis and boys, not necessarily in that order. It seems that the image of the sports mad, gung-ho girl is a resolutely British one (I’m immediately thinking of one such girl who ‘bowls across the playground’ in one of the Follyfoot novels and knocks the bullies out of the way of Callie due to her physical impact).

I hope you’ve gathered by now that I truly love these books. The Chalet School will always have my heart but there’s something about them all that I find perfect. For me it is heavily due to the distinct identity of the genre. Play up, play up and play the game and all that. I also couldn’t imagine them being produced by any other society – and come to think of it, is the boarding school a very English concept? What are attitudes like elsewhere? Do wade in and let me know – I’m happy to be corrected!

For now, I think, the words of Angela Brazil sum up the best of the genre and what made her, and her fellow ground-breaking authors so legendary in their time: “I am still an absolute schoolgirl in my sympathies”