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Harry Potter’s influence on the Muggle world

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Harry Potter’s influence on the Muggle world
Photo: Flickr.com/n8kowald

It was almost a decade between books, but the crowds were no smaller for the embargoed release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on July 31.

Co-written with JK Rowling, Cursed Child is a two-part theatre production being initially performed at the Palace Theatre, London since early June.

The book is being sold as a script, rather than a novelization of the play and was described by Rowling as Potter’s “last hurrah”.

Set 19 years after the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter is now an employee of the Ministry of Magic.

The play’s initial synopsis sees Harry’s past coming back to haunt himself and his children, now attending Hogwarts.

“It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.

“While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted.

“As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.”

Stacks of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child books on tables, with crowds of people seen in the background.
Photo: Pottermore

In a heartfelt message to fans on the official Pottermore website and Rowling’s Twitter page, the author implored fans seeing the stage show early to ‘keep the secrets’ and avoid spoiling the magic.

“You’ve been amazing for years at keeping Harry Potter secrets so you didn’t spoil the books for readers that came after you,” Rowling said.

“I’m asking you one more time to keep the secrets and let audiences enjoy Cursed Child with all the surprises that we’ve built into the story.”

Massive demand for the stage show has seen the theatre preparing 250,000 tickets to go on sale on August 4.

Harry Potter influencing Muggle practices

The Harry Potter series has enthralled adults and children alike for the better part of two decades.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Hagrid collected Harry from The Hut On The Rock but the influence on some unexpected parts of humanity continue.

The depth of Rowling’s meaning and seemingly endless hidden treats within the text have meant every reading of the series inevitably finding a new treat.

The reach of Potter’s influence though, extends far beyond the casual reader into the worlds of academia – we explore three examples of this below.

Changing teaching methods

Andrea Bixler, a biology professor from Clarke University, USA, wrote a 2011 research paper titled What We Muggles Can Learn About Teaching From Hogwarts, exploring the teaching methods of Snape, Lupin and Dumbledore as lessons for real-world educators.

Bixler points out three key areas where Muggle lecturers could find opportunity in Hogwarts pedagogy:

  • Teachers should question students about their prior knowledge, as Professor Lupin does before his lessons.
  • We should encourage students to develop theoretical contexts in which to organize facts, perhaps through Socratic dialogue (that is, small-group discussion) such as Professor Dumbledore uses with Harry.
  • We should promote metacognition, as Harry, Ron and Hermione use when they discuss their successes and failures.

Addressing prior knowledge, Bixler said, is done poorly by Hogwarts professors, citing Harry’s first Potions class with Professor Snape.

Snape rebukes him for not knowing the outcome of a combination of “powdered root of asphodel [and] an infusion of wormwood”.

A view from the rear of a large lecture theatre, showing several hundred students in a lecture with maths equations shown on the big screen.

Bixler said this approach to understanding prior knowledge is out of touch with recognised guidelines established by the National Research Council.

“Snape should instead use a written, even anonymous, pre-test or a discussion activity in which every student is encouraged to speak,” Bixely said.

Professor Lupin is praised though, for providing the opportunity to put theory into practice and encouraging ‘metacognition’ – awareness of your own thought processes, and how you’ve reached certain conclusions logically.

“In The Prisoner of Azkaban, after Professor Lupin and his class discuss what a boggart
is, they put into practice the appropriate techniques for getting rid of it.

“Although active learning is not the only good teaching method available, nor necessarily the most efficient, it is an excellent one for deep learning.

“There is evidence that active learning, especially inquiry-based learning in science, increases student understanding of, interest in, and retention of subject matter.”

Harry Potter as a role model – reducing prejudice against refugees

The Harry Potter books are littered with concepts of “outgroups”. Full-bloods vs mudbloods, Muggle vs the magical folk, the enslavement of house-elves, the (rather obvious) parallels between Voldemort and Adolf Hitler – both of whom were striving for a ‘pure’ master race.

It has been anecdotally argued the series could provide perspective and acceptance of outgroups when seen through Harry’s eyes. He even finds himself on the outer in the view of characters who resent his celebrity; Draco Malfoy and Professor Snape are perhaps the most obvious versions of this.

One of the three experiments led by Loris Vezzali from the University of Modena, looked at how the Potter novels changed university student attitudes to stigmatized groups including refugees, homosexuals, and immigrants.

A concrete wall with a template spray painted on it saying "Refugees" arced across the top, and "welcome" arced across the bottom. A silhouette of a family holding hands and running is in the centre of the template.
Photo: Flickr.com/WalterWA

The research was driven by the concept that if just one person in the ‘in-group’ – the cool kids – has a friend from a stigmatized group, this becomes enough to reduce prejudice.

The students were tested to see if they aligned more closely with Harry or Voldemort, with those more alike with the Boy That Lived being more likely to improve attitudes toward refugees.

It turns out age has a lot to do with it the results, in terms of how we position ourselves in relation to the characters.

The study found younger students tested are more likely to see themselves in Harry, while the university students are inclined to compare themselves relative to He Who Must Not Be Named.

“Children (Study 1) and teenagers (Study 2) that participated and Harry have a similar age, whereasVoldemort is portrayed as an adult … identification with Harry Potter may be more relevant for children than identification with Voldemort,” the research found.

“On the other hand, adult participants in Study 3 [university students] may have found a child/young teenager character (i.e., Harry Potter) less relevant as a role model. Instead, dissimilarity from the main (adult) negative character might have been more relevant to them.

“In other words, adults may have based their attitudes more on disidentification from the negative character rather than on identificationwith the positive character because of perceived dissimilarity with the role model.”

Can a Harry Potter addiction be compared with drug addiction?

The word “addiction” is most commonly associated with drugs, alcohol, gambling, or any number of other habits seen as destructive to someone’s health, or well-being.

Most definitions of addiction include craving, the chemistry associated with the reward, withdrawal, and a negative impact on lifestyle, family, job, and health, to name a few.

Researchers from Muhlenberg College looked at 779 people in the lead up to the release of The Deathly Hallows, the final book in the core series.

More than half the participants reported reading each book in the series at least four times, around a quarter more than eight times, and 10 per cent at least 15 times.

The study looked at participants in the two weeks leading up to the release, just after they had finished reading it, and six months later.

The aim was to look at the principles of craving, the euphoria associated with reading the book, and the persistence of craving and withdrawal down the track.

Three pill capsules in the foreground, each with a clear half and a pink half, sitting on a black surface. In the background, the top half of a syringe can be seen, slightly blurred.
Photo: Flickr.com/kaushiknarasimhan

Using a scale typically used in assessing smoking urges, the lead up to the release saw the HP fandom experiencing very high levels of craving (an average of 5.46 on a 1-7 scale), with increased time spent on fandom activities, (such as on sites such as DarkMark, FictionAlley, and HPANA).

After reading the books, fans reported spending more time on their own, or in HP-related social activities. Withdrawal symptoms including measures of depression decreased within a similar time to morphine withdrawal, typically with the biggest decreases in the first 36-48 hours, disappearing in 7-10 days.

The 6-month follow up revealed surprisingly strong feelings about the end of the series.

One 18-year-old female participant commented, ” I feel completely depressed and genuinely hollow since I finished the seventh book. I feel like a huge happiness that has filled my life or so many years has been ripped out. I feel lost and hopeless. It’s pathetic, but it’s true”.

Another said “I simply feel empty inside as a result of the acknowledgment that an entire chapter of my life (that being the HP series) has ended forever.”

More than a quarter were still spending more than one hour a day in Harry Potter-related activities.

The research concluded while not all participants exhibited traits of addiction, a significant number did. The strongest effects were found in under 30s – in other words, those most likely to have literally aged as Harry did.

JK Rowling inspired a generation of readers and opened many eyes to the world around them in a way no-one predicted when Hagrid first left him on the steps of 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging way back in 1997.

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