I should know better ~
On Wednesday a reporter from The Exponent emailed me.
Hi, my name is Lauren and I am emailing on behalf of The Exponent. I am writing a piece for Friday and I heard you teach the Harry Potter books for your english course. I was wondering if you would be wiling to do a phone interview or meet with me sometime today or tomorrow. Please let me know. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.
To which I replied:
Hi Lauren ~
I’m sorry, but I’m not in town currently (or even in the country ~ I’m in Quebec) but I would be happy to answer any questions you have about the series, etc. via email or ichat ~
Best wishes ~
To which she replied:
Okay, well I have put the questions below. Thank you so much. Also, this story is running tomorrow so if you could get back to me as soon as possible that would be great. Thank you.
Fine. No problem, right? So I spent an hour or so composing these answers, and the “article” that came out today? “my” statements in the article bear almost no resemblance to what I really said and emphasized as important.
In case you’re interested, what I actually said was as follows:
Hi Lauren ~
Sure, no worries ~ I know all about deadlines 😉
Why did you chose to teach Harry Potter for your class?
I initially chose Harry Potter for my English 108 classes because I admired the series so much ~ not just the content of the series itself, the engaging storyline, the well drawn characters, and so on, but also because I had seen for myself how the series caused a resurgence in reading for pleasure not only for children in the target age group but also for adults who, before Harry Potter, did not read as a leisure pastime. Also, the students were enthusiastic about the idea, some of them having “grown up with” Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
Why a book series, specifically Harry Potter, for an advanced composition class?
It’s difficult to teach only one book from a series, and that is especially true of the Harry Potter series because ~ while each book has its own story arc, providing a definitive beginning, plot, complication, rising action, climax and dénouement ~ the overarching plot and story arc take place across all seven of the books, with the series itself being uniquely structured like a book.
By that, I mean that the first three novels build in intensity up to the fourth book which one can think of as the “spine” of the story. Book Four: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is, indeed, the axis upon which the series turns from a fairy tale/child’s fantasy to a darker more adult fantasy tale. In fact, significant literary criticism has been written on the fact that many components of the final three novels mirror events, places, objects, and character interaction of the first three (hence, the 4th book, in the center, is the spine in both a figurative and a literal sense within the world of the story).
How did you incorporate that into your advanced composition course?
In advanced composition class, the emphasis is upon learning to write well about most any subject, even those that are unique and out of the ordinary. I’m also of the opinion that students, including adult students, learn more and retain what they have learned longer when the material is presented to them in a way that’s fun. Harry Potter is nothing if not fun.
The Harry Potter series lends itself particularly well to the contemporary composition classroom inasmuch as there is not only a wealth of content in the books themselves for students to draw upon but also a wealth of literary antecedents to write about, opportunities to create projects that are “composed” in media other than print, illustrating visual rhetoric, for example (the first project in my class was a visual rhetoric project, and the last one q multimedia project ~ and I don’t mean PowerPoint presentation).
What themes or motifs did you find important in the series for college
Since I taught from a “writing through literature” perspective, identifying literary strategies and devices, like the author’s use of themes and motifs, and tracing them through a particular novel or the series as a whole was in itself important to my students’ experience in critical writing and composition. In fact, I had several final papers from students in my Harry Potter classes that could easily have been shaped into publishable articles, the students had put so much time and thought into them. I also had several students who presented visual rhetoric projects, most of which were not about Harry Potter, at the Spring 2010 iCaP Showcase (one of whom won the “Judges Choice,” I believe it was, for a video he created).
I know you taught only the 4 through the 7th books in your class, why did you choose to do that rather than the whole series?
Actually, I taught books 1 through 4 through the first two semesters, and then changed to teaching books 4 through 7 during the last semester that I taught 108, again choosing to include Book 4 in both cases because it is the “center” of the story. I would have loved to have taught all seven books in each class ~ and if it had been a literature class, I would have done ~ but in a composition class there is so much else one needs to teach in addition to the texts themselves, “composing” in unconventional or nontraditional media, for instance, that there just isn’t time for the students to do a close reading of seven novels. In fact, I would love to design a literature course that focuses on the entire series, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen for me, at least not here at Purdue.
Anything else you would like to add?
Anything else I would like to add ~ hmmmm. Well, as the eighth and final movie debuts this weekend, I can only hope that the movie does justice to the characters, events, and revelations of the final book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Rowling was able to fulfill the promises made by the series to two very disparate audiences ~ the adults who saw Harry’s death foreshadowed so many times and the children who were expecting (and rightly so) the fairy tale ending of “and they lived happily ever after” ~ in the final book, and did so in a way that was eminently satisfying to both audiences. I simply hope that the movie honors that.
Well, there you go. Sorry it’s so long ~occupational hazard for writers and teachers, and I’m both :-).
You’re welcome to use the Q & A verbatim, if you like ~ but if you need it shorter, I hope you’re able to distill it down into whatever length you need without losing the message ~good editing practice, right? 🙂
I also hope you enjoy that movie ~ I hope we all do! 🙂 have a most excellent weekend.
Best wishes ~
That’s the second time someone from the Exponent has taken what I said out of context and completely changed the tone and, indeed, the meaning ~ the significance ~ of what I actually said into some inane nonsense they could have made up themselves.
Next time, they can just skip the interview entirely and do that ~ sans attaching my name to it.