Plot to pinpoint Potter

October 20, 2000

This might worry the Ministry of Magic, but muggle - Harry Potter speak for non-wizards - academics in Hanover, Germany, are planning to research the secrets of Harry Potter.

A seminar starting this autumn in Hanover University's English department will examine the causes of the phenomenal success of British author Joanne K. Rowling's children's books about the boy magician Harry Potter.

Martin-Christoph Just, an English literature lecturer who will lead the seminar, said the aim is to study whether Ms Rowling had created something original or simply found a delicate new formula for stock themes such as Dickens's poor orphan makes good or Enid Blyton's boarding-school antics.

"The books clearly satisfy readers' fantasies, especially that of being able to do magic.

"But the tales of boarding-school adventures and the battle between good and evil, in which readers are never quite certain who belongs to which group, offer other points of reference to a much broader readership," Dr Just said.

The bespectacled anti-hero Harry Potter also provides a refreshing counterbalance to other modern children's heroes such as video game character Lara Croft, he said.

Dr Just joined the ranks of Potter fans a year ago when a student submitted plans for a study of the books. He became addicted, like millions of other readers, but confesses that he is baffled by the commotion surrounding the books and the powerful marketing machine that helped catapult them to the top of the world's bestseller lists for adults.

"Of course, our seminar will also discuss the ideological aspects of the books and marketing," he said.

He emphasised that the seminar would not just be an excuse for Potter fans to indulge in their favourite children's literature.

The seminar also aims to examine the source of the peer pressure among children surrounding the books, Dr Just said.

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