Literary scholar Malin Alkestrand has in her thesis work at Lund University shown how Harry Potter can be an effective tool when working with fundamental values in school.
Text: Tindra Englund Translation: Elise Petersson
Malin Alkestrand has through studying three different fantasy series – Harry Potter, the Artemis Fowl series and Engelsforstrilogin – researched how fantasy literature can be pedagogically used in school to educate students and highlight and discuss questions regarding democracy, human rights and cultural diversity.
“My point is that fantasy actually often reminds us of our own reality, which can aid us in gaining new perspectives. A clear example is how Voldemort’s racism is similar to Hitler’s ideology”, says Malin Alkestrand.
According to her, fantasy as a genre is a suitable tool to discuss fundamental values because it offers a certain distance to what is happening, which makes it easier to see it from another point of view. Malin Alkestrand hopes that the teachers who read her dissertation will be inspired and see what possibilities fantasy offers.
“However, my thesis is not about how to use fantasy in practice. That decision is up to each teacher. But I can imagine that you, for example, can use examples from literature when discussing fundamental values and then ask the students how they would have acted in a similar situation”, Malin Alkestrand says.
Today she teaches the course “Harry Potter from and intermedial perspective” at Linnaeus University, and she thinks it is a shame that there is such a contempt against “Harry Potter knowledge”, not least within Lund’s academia.
“I know there was some commotion over this course a couple of years ago, and in my experience there are plenty of hierarchies in Lund’s academic world. But I believe that Harry Potter is at least as important as Strindberg”, Malin Alkestrand says.
According to her, Harry Potter can be highlighted with the same theoretical tools as Strindberg, and she thinks there is strength in using the literature young people actually read.
“Harry Potter research is full of different perspectives like gender and race. Therefore it’s a good way to learn how to analyze the literature academically, and besides the course at Linnaeus University is extremely close to research”, Malin Alkestrand says.
A lot of English research on Harry Potter already exists, but Malin Alkestrand’s is the first Swedish dissertation about the didactic qualities of the fantasy genre. She is also the first person to delve into the depths of Engelsforstrilogin, which is a highly successful Swedish fantasy series.
Malin Alkestrand is an elementary and high school teacher in Swedish and History, and discussed her thesis Magical possibilities, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl and the Circle in school’s work with fundamental values in the subject Literature on Friday, September 16 2016 at Lund University. She is now working at Linnaeus University where she teaches courses on children’s literature and Harry Potter.