In a reprint of a New York Times article from May 12 of this year, Stephen Kinzer looks into what is perhaps the inspiration–and thus the popularity–behind such books as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Here’s an excerpt:
Millions of books after Harry Potter became the most beguiling wizard of the modern age, scholars have welcomed him into the temple of Muggle academia.
“If you look closely, you see a lot of Arthurian components,” said Heather Arden, a professor at the University of Cincinnati who has drawn parallels between J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories and classic medieval legends. “So much of it fits into wonderful ancient patterns.”
That a best-selling children’s book would be the subject of scholarly attention isn’t a surprise; after all, academics have delved into the finer points of everything from Martha Stewart to table salt. But this engagement with the modern world is a hallmark of the International Congress on Medieval Studies, a yearly conference held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, which attracted Ms. Arden and about 3,000 other scholars earlier this month. For an academic conference it is remarkably unstuffy. There is no vetting of papers, and a platform is open to almost anyone with an idea.
One of the big ideas this year was the persistence of medieval archetypes in popular culture. In addition to Harry Potter, the scholars discussed the Hobbit series of J. R. R. Tolkien, which is considered to have been modeled on themes from medieval literature, as well as the continuing resonance of medieval figures ranging from Merlin to Thomas Aquinas. There were a dozen papers about Joan of Arc, and half a dozen about that equally extraordinary woman, Hildegard von Bingen.
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