English class dives into Wizarding World of ‘Harry Potter’

While diving into the realms of the Harry Potter world, this Baylor class aims to offer new perspectives of our world in contrast and comparison with the imaginative and renowned book series. Photo courtesy of Dr. Greg Garrett

By Caitlyn Beebe | Reporter

English professor Dr. Greg Garrett and his students are exploring “Harry Potter” from a serious literary analysis perspective in class, inviting students to discuss themes and real-world issues raised by J. K. Rowling’s seven-book series.

Cupertino, Calif., junior and teaching assistant Brooke Horning said the class focuses on topics such as morality, ethics, faith and freedom of choice.

“It is about an entirely fictional world, but the human experience in those books is so truly realistic,” Horning said.

Garrett said books like “Harry Potter” help readers understand both themselves and the real world, and class discussion prompts students to confront pressing issues. Garrett said he is particularly interested in the intersection of religion, culture and literature.

“[Rowling] said early on that the story of ‘Harry Potter’ — the whole seven-volume story — was based on the Gospels,” Garrett said.

Garrett said Harry Potter appears as a Messiah figure and gathers a band of faithful followers in “The Order of the Phoenix,” the fifth book in the series. He said the Christian theme of love and compassion is one of the most powerful messages in the series.

“It’s very much a religious commentary,” Horning said. “It has a lot to do with morality, and it’s a very beautiful allegory.”

Baylor alumna Charlotte Johnson currently works as a literary agent’s assistant in Charlotte, N.C., but as an undergraduate student, she was an unofficial teaching assistant for the class. Johnson wrote her undergraduate Honors thesis on “Harry Potter” under Garrett’s mentorship.

Johnson’s thesis studied different characters in the series through the lens of C. S. Lewis’ “Four Loves.” Her work drew support from thinkers such as Aristotle and Søren Kierkegaard — a Danish philosopher and theologian.

Johnson said listening to others’ experiences of “Harry Potter” helps readers learn more about the series and themselves.

“You have to think about your own experience with the text and also share in other’s experiences,” Johnson said.

By the end of the semester, Garrett said students don’t have to be called on to join the conversation.

“The students are so willing to talk about the books that it makes them talk to each other,” Garrett said. “It’s not so much me teaching them, but them teaching each other.”

Joshua senior Ella Belzner is taking Garrett’s class this semester and said rereading the series as an adult has brought more depth to the stories.

“There’s actually a lot of real-world meaning and societal implications that we don’t really think about when we’re younger,” Belzner said.

Horning, Johnson and Belzner each found messages in Rowling’s work that stuck out to them. Horning saw Harry as a celebrity who became a hero by choosing to put others first and do what’s right. Johnson said Harry and Neville Longbottom demonstrated how everyone has value and a place in the world, regardless of their starting circumstances. Belzner said the books combined fun whimsicality with deep introspection.

“It’s very relatable for people our age really trying to emerge into adulthood,” Belzner said. “I like that the characters are finding themselves too.”

Garrett said the themes and issues covered in “Harry Potter” draw students together, including from different academic disciplines.

“It’s a really powerful work that, when we talk about it and reflect on it and think about the big issues involved with it, it seems to draw people close together,” Garrett said.

Students who are interested can enroll in ENG 3378, which Garrett said he will continue teaching regularly in the spring semesters.