A chance to study Harry Potter and friends, abroad

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga, about a boy wizard and his friends battling the forces of evil, enthralled a generation of readers through seven books.

The books spawned a hugely successful film series, with the finale, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” set to premiere this summer in London.

All of which got Roger Adkins and his colleagues at the University of Oregon’s Study Abroad Program thinking: Why not a Study Abroad program in London, timed to coincide with the release of the last film, that would examine the Harry Potter phenomenon and how fantasy fiction is “uniquely situated to comment on social reality,” as Adkins put it.

“There’s this assumption you can’t do real academic work around this, but pop culture is fair game for academic study,” said Adkins, assistant director of Study Abroad Programs and a frequent instructor of courses in literature, folklore and women’s and gender studies. “And sometimes a Study Abroad program needs something at the heart of it that draws people in.”

The first Harry Potter novel, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was published in the United States in 1998, which means many UO undergraduates grew up reading the series, Adkins said. The seven-book series sold more than 400 million copies and has been translated into 67 languages.

While some critics view the series as mere fantasy fiction or escapist fare, Adkins said there are many deeper underlying themes. “The whole series is about social purification,” he said.

The six-credit course will include an orientation in the spring, a reading list featuring other works of fantasy literature, online course work, and a three-week intensive program in London in July. Students will see the last installment of the film series in London soon after its premiere on July 15, Adkins said.

In addition, students will take excursions sites of interest to fantasy enthusiasts, such as Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross station, and the cathedral cloister where many interior scenes of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry were shot, and historic sites relevant to the course, such as the British Museum and Stonehenge.

Erin Davey plans to write her senior thesis on Harry PotterA maximum of 30 students will be selected for the program, though if enough students apply, a second section could be opened.

Erin Davey, a junior from West Linn majoring in English in the Clark Honors College, hopes to be among those attending.

“An English major feels an obligation to go to London,” she said.

She plans to use the course as inspiration for her senior thesis, in which she may take a feminist reading of the Harry Potter saga.

“It should help me narrow my thinking and get me in the mindset of thinking about Harry Potter,” she said.

The application deadline for the program is March 15.