THEY were a publishing phenomenon that worked magic on young readers everywhere, but left some literary critics far from spellbound.
Now a major international conference at St Andrews University will attempt to argue the case for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels and refute the charge that the books have no literary merit.
Sixty scholars from around the world will gather at the university today for the conference, the first of its kind to be held in the UK.
The two-day event, A Brand of Fictional Magic: Reading Harry Potter as Literature, aims to redress the lack of direct study of Rowling’s works as literary texts.
American author John Granger, a man described as “the Dean of Harry Potter scholars”, is among those taking part in the conference, which will feature 50 lectures discussing how the books deal with death, the role of empathy and the influence of writers such as CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien.
He said: “The Hogwarts saga is the most loved story in the history of publishing by quite a margin and, consequently, it is a natural and important subject of study for anyone interested in the literary arts.
“I take exception to the unexamined and misinformed assumption that the books are light on literary merit. Ms Rowling’s works are comic, certainly, but it’s a great mistake to think they’re simple or haphazard storytelling.”
He added: “Hogwarts, we’re told, is hidden somewhere in Scotland; the author lives here, too, and Ms Rowling’s mother was half Scots. It’s somehow appropriate and fitting that the first academic conference of any size be held at Scotland’s oldest university, St Andrews.
“The quality of the universities from around the world who will be represented at the conference make it a landmark event.”
The conference was organised by John Patrick Pazdziora from the university’s school of English, and Father Micah Snell, from its Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA).
Mr Pazdziora said: “We can’t avoid the fact that Harry Potter is the main narrative experience of an entire generation – the children who quite literally grew up with Harry Potter. The Harry Potter novels are simply the most important and influential children’s books of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
“For very many people, this is their first experience of literature. So they want to analyse it and talk about it. It’s important because people care about it, and care very deeply.”