THE Abbot of Glenstal Mark Patrick Hederman, a self-confessed avid Harry Potter fan, has labelled the prodigiously successful series of books “the most influential writing in the history of the planet”.
Delivering a keynote address at Magic is Might 2012 in the University of Limerick - the first ever Harry Potter academic conference to be held in Ireland - the Abbot also declared JK Rowling’s books to be the “most formative cultural phenomenon of the childhood of the 21st Century”.
“I think that the Harry Potter series and JK Rowling are the most important influence on all children of the world today,” Fr Hederman told the Limerick Leader before delivering his address.
“480 million copies of JK Rowling’s book have been sold, so, if we don’t take an interest in it, we don’t know what is going on. She is, without any doubt, doing work that all of us, especially those of us in education, would love to be doing, we would love to have the connection that she has with the youth of our country,” he added.
The former principal of the top fee-paying school in the country said that imagination was being “wiped off the desktop of every child that is suffering what we call ‘free education’ in this country”.
“We are forcing them to memorise all that stuff that we suggest is interesting and important for them, they have no time for imagination,” he explained.
“Rowling is making that alive and doing work that we are failing to do. I am recommending to Enda (Kenny) and Eamon (Gilmore) that they put a great deal of HP sauce on the recipe that they are devising for us at the moment - HP being Harry Potter. The books are already there, they have already done it, we don’t have to do anything, we just have to allow imagination time to flower.”
Two life long Potter fans, who use JK Rowling’s creation in their academic work, were behind the conference on the famous wizard in UL, which ran over Monday and Tuesday and drew top academics from as far away as Canada and South Africa to deliver papers relating to popular culture and the Harry Potter series.
The halls of UL’s C1 corridor, normally inhabited by language students, were transformed to look like Hogwarts with banners representing the four houses of the Harry Potter wizard school.
The conference was a collaboration between the Interaction Design Centre (IDC) and the Department of Sociology in UL, as represented by the co-organisers, Dr Luigina Ciolfi and Gráinne O’Brien, a research student in the sociology department.
“We are blown away by the reaction to the conference, the people that have come, the conversations that have gone on, their reaction to it, it couldn’t be more positive,” said Ms O’Brien, who is from Sixmilebridge and boasts an MA in Sociology with a focus on Gender Studies and said using Harry Potter in her research had ‘kept her in academia’.
Dr Ciolfi, from Italy but who has lived in Limerick for 13 years and refers to Harry Potter in her lectures on technology design, found herself defending the virtue of the conference on Ray D’Arcy’s Today FM radio show.
“I was a little bit surprised that there is even a question why something that has affected so many people and inspired so many people would be questioned as whether it is worth looking into or researching,” she explained.
“My point was that anything that inspires people and shapes our culture is interesting and we need to understand better why that is, and what people are taking from it. It has a lot of connections to everyday life, from thinking about issues of prejudice and equality, education and technology.”