One thing that continues to fuel and spread the Harry Potter magic is the existence of standalone college-level Harry Potter courses. They started with students (and parents) actually doubting their purpose but like the series, have now become a fixture. More and more universities are offering courses in the US and the UK, with the teachers claiming the course is a an excellent instruction tool.
Morning News USA has become quite curious to know that such a course also exist on the “other side of the pond (Southeast Asia),” and sought out the professor who is handling this course. The course is being offered in a renowned university in the Philippines, De La Salle University – Manila and the professor was kind enough to accommodate our invite for an interview. From what we gathered, the course just ended its 12th batch. The course started in 2005.
Now Professor Anne Frances Sangil has given us the chance to chat with her on what a day in this class is like. She also talked about how Harry Potter is touching the lives of the many students she taught, how it is as a literature instruction tool, if the magic of Harry Potter can last for a long time, and many more. It’s quite lengthy, which shows the depth of her passion and excitement for this course. She also let us have some of the photos of her class, looking quite… magical.
A Day In the Life In A Harry Potter Class
Why Harry Potter as an elective literature course?
Our department (Literature and Cultural Studies) wanted to offer electives that were not only in keeping with popular culture, but also relevant to contemporary readers. While we do offer standard electives such as Shakespeare, and Greek Tragedy, and other canon-centric courses, we figured students might also enjoy choosing electives that were more in tune with their current interests.
Tell us about the course. Does it focus on the books, on the author, or fantasy literature in general, drawing largely on the Harry Potter series?
This course introduces students to the works of writer J.K. Rowling, specifically the Harry Potter books, from the vantage point of popular culture, and as a terrain to examine many of the deeper issues that inform the books. It’s is reading-intensive, exposing students not just to the primary texts of Rowling but also to several exemplary essays that investigate this literary and cultural phenomenon. The variety of readings allows for a range of approaches and interpretive methods in exploring Rowling’s Potter novels, and reveals the deeper meanings and attitudes towards morality, justice, race, gender, class, and technology.
What’s a day in this class like?
Let’s see, I usually start the class with a trivia competition among the four Houses (yes, all students are sorted into Houses), with points awarded to the winning House. It’s just to check if they’ve read the assigned text for the day/week. From there we proceed to the discussion of the nitty gritty of the novel. From the plot to the characters, to the major themes explored by the author not just in the book but in the entire septology. Students participate with the hope of being awarded points since the House that gets the most number of points wins the Cup by the end of the term (and that’s currency for bragging rights, hahaha). An hour and a half is usually not enough time to cover everything so I usually give each book give or take two weeks’ worth of discussion
We heard that the class is finishing the 12th batch. Do you think this is a course that can last for maybe 10 years more?
Oh I hope so! The universe created by Ms. Rowling is continually expanding, evidenced by the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie(s). There is so much more to discuss and to explore in her novels that the only thing that I can hope for at this point is 10 years’ worth of energy on my part to teach her works, to match Ms. Rowling’s creative output.
Do you always have a good turnout of enrollees in this class?
Yes. Apparently it’s one of the most popular literature electives at the University. Students have told me many times how pre-enlisting in my class is like the Hunger Games. There’s always a mad dash to be part of the list. But that’s not to say that everyone who enrolls stays.
Some students, after hearing my spiel during the first day of the term, you know, what with all my warnings about my course being a difficult one (because it is) do decide to drop out of my class. I suppose they initially thought that it would be easy-peasy, it being a Harry Potter course. So I tell them, “well what did you expect? To learn without exerting any effort? Even Harry had to struggle at Hogwarts, you know.” 🙂
Harry Potter And Literature
How does this class teach them about literature in general?
Ms. Rowling’s novels are thought provoking and thoroughly engaging emotionally, intellectually and imaginatively. Why is that? What makes her books so engaging? So we discuss the “hows”, the techniques she employs in her writing of the novels. We talk about how she develops her characters, from the heroic journey of Harry Potter to the villainous voyage of Voldemort, even the supporting cast of witches, wizards, and other magical creatures. How do her novels stack up against the other fantasy novels we have read? Will the novels stand the test of time, or will it have a shelf-life? These are some of the questions we try to answer in the course of the term.
Many of my students, past and present, see the books as some kind of a mirror to all the craziness that we are going through in our society, and they use this knowledge that they have acquired courtesy of the books to inform them in how they look at the world.
Some of my students have attended protest rallies, for example, against the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the “Libignan ng mga Bayani” (Cemetery of Heroes) IN THEIR ROBES. They carried placards expressing their anti-Marcos sentiments like, “Marcos is a Dark Lord, not a Hero.” That they are able to see through the novels as more than just children’s literature but something that have inspired them to think and act proactively in defense of democracy and freedom and truth pleases me to no end. That is literature in action. It’s Dumbledore’s Army in real life.
What do you think draws people to fantasy literature in general?
Fantasy presents us with possibilities that we do not easily find in real life. And it’s these possibilities that draw us into our search for our better selves, whether it’s in the company of wizards or fauns or centaurs or elves. I think fantasy offers us just that — the idea of a “what if”. And we like to entertain those ‘what ifs’ because they present to us a whole new version of not just the world (say, Middle-earth, or Hogwarts, or Narnia) we would love to live in, but also a new version of ourselves, this time minus the limitations of reality as we know it.
Not all fantasy literature strikes a chord among their readers, what do you think makes Harry Potter different? Particularly to Asian students?
Harry Potter is an Everyman, and that alone gives him an edge. We can all relate to him. He is not that spectacular as a hero (Hermione is definitely better than Harry in most aspects) but that is his appeal. His seeming ordinariness makes his journey, his triumph in the end all the more rewarding and spectacular. And who among us can really claim to be any different from this young, ordinary boy? His story is a universal one, a salute to Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces. It is one we are all too familiar with, and reading that, being reminded of that is a comforting thing.
Harry Potter And Millennials
In your opinion, why do you think Millennials are attracted to the Harry Potter series? Some of them we believe, are not even born yet when the first books came out.
I think Harry’s journey is such a universal one it appeals to many readers regardless of age, or gender, or social status, or race, even sexual orientation or religion. The novels serve as a social commentary to our lives. It has illustrated to us how, despite the difficulties and the challenges we face on a daily basis, there is still the promise of a “Nineteen Years Later”, of a happy ending. That never mind all the struggles that await us, in the end, like Harry, we will all prevail. And that is such an enthralling attitude to take, don’t you think? To hold on to that sense of hope that novels like Harry Potter give many readers is quite empowering.
Is it hard to teach the class, especially to students who have not cracked a Harry Potter book open ever?
Teaching the course is always a challenge, whether the students have already read all the books or are considered Muggles upon enrolment. My preparation for the course is quite strenuous since I can’t afford to be lax when it comes to the details. Students will always have questions about the canon and so I always have to be on my toes and know my stuff. It’s not just the constant re-readings of the novels but also being up-to-date with the recent literature about the series from fellow academics, and participating in Potter-related international conferences to stay abreast of the latest developments in the area. It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun kind of challenge since it’s something that I am passionate about.
What do you think Harry Potter and J.K Rowling teach the millennial generation?
Among many things, that we always, ALWAYS have a choice. Albus Dumbledore said it best, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” Ms. Rowling, through Harry, teaches us that we shouldn’t feel hopeless because there is always something that we can do, and that it all boils down to the choices that we make, and how we live with the consequences of those choices.
Will The Harry Potter Magic Last?
Do you believe that the love for the series will ever die down?
Hmm. . .as fan, I don’t think so. Stephen King said it best, “Harry will stand alongside Dorothy, and Frodo, and Huck Finn” and it will be enjoyed by many readers from generations to come. His story is our story. It’s a modern day classic if you ask me. So Harry has a place on top of our shelves, and I don’t see it dying out anytime soon.
Is the latest book, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” part of the syllabus?
Yes. I actually organized a book discussion at a local bookstore (Powerbooks) so that my students can interact with the local Harry Potter fan community (Pinoy Harry Potter/Hogwarts Philippines) and some Muggle book patrons as well. I think learning outside of the classroom can be very engaging, moreso when you talk about the book outside of the typical classroom set-up, and in the company of people you don’t normally see everyday. The interaction, I think, was very helpful to my students since they actually witnessed hardcore fans talking about the book passionately, outside of the confines of the academic setting.
We usually hear about these classes in the UK and some in the US, but I believe this is a first from an Asian University. How was it, when it was first offered? Was there a great sense of excitement from the University or the students?
Not at first, no. I mean, as an elective, it is only offered to Liberal Arts students so not everyone at the University has even heard of it, especially not during its first few years of conception. I guess it was easier for me as a teacher back then, because the books were not yet complete, and there was less pressure on my part since the course back then was not as popular as it is now. But now, there’s some excitement, I suppose, among some students. In fact, I’ve had some students outside of Liberal Arts (College of Business, even College of Science majors) who requested to audit my class because they really wanted to learn more about Harry Potter. And I think it’s a good thing. 🙂
In the age of intensifying social media, do you think students’ interest in literature (and Harry Potter) is declining?
In some ways, yes. Many young people are no longer into reading literature. Many young ones are turned off by the many pages they need to read, and in the case of Harry, that’s seven thick books in all. Most of them leap to the movie adaptations as their version of a CliffsNotes. They find it easier, to be spoon-fed with all the details in the cinematic adaptation, which I think is a disservice to the novels. The films are there to complement the original material so I always tell my students to start with the books. And with social media around them, it’s very easy to get lost in trivia even if they have not read the source material. So it is a surprise to me to see that once in a while, I still do get students who are very much in love with the written word. I have forty of them in this batch, and for that I am grateful. They make my job so much easier, and so much enjoyable.
Professor Sangil’s Harry Potter Class Photos
— AFSangil (@potionstar) October 24, 2016
Can you still imagine a life before Harry Potter? Are you not familiar with the words Muggle and Quidditch? If yes, how ‘Muggle in a cave’ could you be?
The Harry Potter books are well on its way to become a classic. This is partly because of its franchise, measured to be worth $25 Billion by CNBC. The said franchise is composed of theme parks, tours, newly illustrated versions of the books, and many more wizarding paraphernalia. The movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” resurrected the love and the fandom.
But if courses like that of Professor Sangil’s continue to exist, then we can be sure that the Harry Potter magic will live on.