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Scholars serious about Potter

ACADEMICS gathered in Scotland on Friday to discuss a range of important literary topics including the racial politics of goblins, the canonisation of Neville Longbottom, and Beedle the Bard as mythopoesis in the Chaucerian tradition. Welcome to Britain's first conference on Harry Potter.

Entitled A Brand of Fictional Magic: Reading Harry Potter as Literature, the conference brings together 60 scholars for a two-day event hosted by the University of St Andrews school of English.

Billed as the world's first conference to discuss the Harry Potter series strictly as a literary text, it offers almost 50 lectures, with academics taking on issues including paganism, magic and the influence on J.K. Rowling of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Shakespeare. Seminar titles range from ''Moral development through Harry Potter in a post-9/11 world'' to ''Harry Potter and Lockean civil disobedience''.

John Pazdziora, a doctoral candidate in the university's English department who organised the conference, is adamant Rowling's seven children's books merit an academic conference.

''These are the most important, seminal texts for an entire generation of readers,'' he said. ''In 100, 200 years' time, when scholars want to understand the early 21st century, when they want to understand the ethos and culture of the generation that's just breaking into adulthood [now], it's a safe bet that they'll be looking at the Harry Potter novels.''

But John Mullan, a professor of English at University College London, was less convinced. ''I'm not against Harry Potter, my children loved it, [but] Harry Potter is for children, not for grown-ups,'' he said. ''It's all the fault of cultural studies: anything that is consumed with any appearance of appetite by people becomes an object of academic study.''

Guardian News & Media