This fall, Harry Potter came to Mercer in the form of English 236, an upper-level English class where students learn about none other than “The Boy Who Lived” himself, and at the same time can fulfill their gen. ed. requirement. Specifically, the class aims to take a critical look at fantasy literature, how it comments on and shapes our society and how J.K. Rowling formed the Harry Potter series.
Dr. Gary Richardson, who comes to class each day in robes, is teaching the class of 75 students. Dr. Richardson first became interested in Harry Potter when his thirteen-year-old son began reading the books. Through a series of lectures and Socratic sessions, and as the students read all of the 7 books, Dr. Richardson hopes to discuss things such as how J.K. Rowling manages to change her writing style as the series progresses, how she incorporates social commentary in the Harry Potter novels, and why fantasy literature is no longer considered a “great art.”
“It’s nice to have so many people interested. They seem like a good group,” Dr. Richardson commented, saying that he had a hard time finding a classroom to accommodate the large number of students.
Because the Harry Potter class has generated so much interest, Dr. Richardson decided to sort the students into various houses. Each house will discuss the particular novel they are reading, providing a smaller atmosphere for the Socratic seminars.
“Professor Mcgonagall would not allow me to take the Sorting Hat off campus, so I created the sorting box,” said Dr. Richardson, explaining that each student drew a ping-pong ball corresponding to a certain house out of the sorting box. Their next assignment is to write an essay explaining why they should or should not be the prefect of their house.
Ann Marie McAllaster, an art major, hoped to be sorted into Hufflepuff. “I’m just a super Harry Potter nerd,” answered McAllaster when asked why she decided to take the class.
McAllaster grew up with Harry Potter, and the fact that Mercer is now offering a class on her favorite wizard is really exciting for her, especially for someone who is not interested in conventional english classes.
“It’s awesome to have a diverse selection for those who don’t like English,” she said, mentioning that Mercer should offer other such classes.
McAllaster thinks that fantasy literature classes would be a great addition to the English department, saying, “I would take those classes.”
Political Science major Matt Hickman grew up reading Harry Potter just like McAllaster. While Hickman enjoys reading the classics, he said that reading Harry Potter is definitely “better than reading Thoreau,” and that a class such as the Harry Potter class is great, because the students know that they will like what they read.
Hickman is looking forward to reading and discussing books five and six the most, since those are the ones he does not remember as well.
Hickman is also excited to discuss all of the novels. “I have my own theories [about the books],” he said.
For those who are upset that they missed out on the opportunity to enroll in this class, Dr. Richardson and a few other English professors will be giving Harry Potter oriented talks in September in cooperation with the Harry Potter exhibit coming to the Jack Tarver Library. Also, students are welcome to sit in on Dr. Richardson’s Harry Potter class provided they email him ahead of time.
Students interested in enrolling in English 236 and learning about Harry Potter have an apportunity to take the class in the future. Dr. Richardson is willing to continue teaching the class after this semester.