The Literature Continuum: The Harry Potter Phenomenon

Article excerpt

This article discusses the Harry Potter phenomenon as popular culture, and traces the evolution of the literature from children's work to young adult. In addition, it demonstrates uses of this literature in the school environment with a large number of activities to support this use. Available companion literature is also covered, as is the controversy over the appropriateness of the series for our children.

Introduction

The Harry Potter phenomenon began in 1997 with the United Kingdom publication of J.K. Rowling's first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (published in the United States in 1998 as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) (Fraser, 2000). Since that time, the world has seen three more books published about the young sorcerer Harry, as well as a movie on the first book, with more books and movies to follow. In addition, a plethora of authorized and unauthorized books, posters, newspaper and magazine articles, toys, candy, televised news shows, and Internet sites about Harry and author, J.K. Rowling (Beech, guides 1-4, 2000; Bouquet, 2000; Brannan, 2000; Feldman, 1999; Fraser, 2000; Gray, 1999; Greene, 2000; Kjos, 1999; Shapiro, 2000) has exploded upon the world scene. The resulting outbreak of Harry Potter mania has covered the globe from Europe to the US to the Far East (Harry Potter, 2001; Harry Potter Magic, 2000; Russians, 2000).

One effect of this phenomenon are the images: of a businessman on a plane trying vainly to hide Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone behind an airline magazine; of a grandparent concentrating on Harry Potter and the Chamber of secrets so that she will have something to talk to her grandchildren about when they visit; of middle school students gathered in the school hall discussing Harry Potter and the Prisoner ofAzkaban; of a small kindergarmer vainly attempting to carry the 734-page Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire out of the school media center; of lines of children, parents, and other caregivers at midnight waiting in bookstores across the US to purchase book 4; of the lines at movie theaters when the movie version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone first came out; and of a book-burning in New Mexico (Church group, 2002; The Literature Continuum, 2001; "Satanic" Harry Potter, 2002). These are the images of thousands upon thousands of people making a story and the author behind it part of our popular culture.

It was after observing much of this shockwave first hand, including devouring each book as soon as I could get a copy, that led me to create a graduate level class entitled "The Literature Continuum: The Harry Potter Phenomenon." As a faculty member in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) at Northern Illinois University, I teach graduate students in the areas of instructional technology and school library media. Part of the process in our department is faculty discussion of prospective course offerings with their departmental colleagues. That is what I faced the semester before the course was offered when I attempted to persuade the Instructional Technology faculty (of which school library media is a part), that there was a need for a course on the Harry Potter series. Although some good-natured teasing did occur (including trying to add the name Harry Potter to courses as diverse as "Theories of Computer-Based Education" [Caro, 200O]), the faculty overall was quite supportive of my idea. Thus it was that spring 2001 found me with 19 master's and doctoral students in a three-credit course "all about Harry." Although the course was originally aimed at school media specialists, the students in this course also represented mainstream instructional technology. As a result, I found myself tailoring the course as we went along in order to fit the various needs and interests of my students. The course retained a focus on K-12 education, although activities, skill sets, lesson plans, and so forth became broad enough to cover classroom as well as school library media use. …