Harry Potter's World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives. Edited by Elizabeth E. Heilman. Pedagogy and Popular Culture. (New York and London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003. Pp. ix + 308, introduction, appendix, index.)
Five books into the commercial and social phenomenon of Harry Potter, the scholarly world is taking more notice of its various implications and opportunities for research. Harry Potter's World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives is a notable attempt to contextualize the series of books by J.K. Rowling in the overlapping academic spheres of cultural studies, reader response theory, literary theory, education, sociology, and related fields. The volume, edited by Elizabeth E. Heilman as part of a series titled "Pedagogy and Popular Culture," is composed of an introduction, fourteen essays, and an appendix.
From Heilman's introduction alone, the complexity of the collection is evident. She begins by relating how she bought her first Harry Potter book to read with her son and expands her viewpoint to describe how the social impact of the books can be both experienced and studied in numerous ways. More than many other studies of children's literature, this collection contains personal anecdotes of interactions with the Harry Potter books and related subcultures interwoven with densely layered theory; works cited in the essays include everything from Roland Barthes and Judith Butler to Umberto Eco and Edward Said. The book's complexity must speak for itself, as Heilman's overly general summary of the book demonstrates: "This book examines Harry Potter from some of the major theoretical and critical vantage points for the study of literature and culture" (2).
The essays are divided into four major categories. The first, Cultural Studies Perspectives, contains three essays, which approach the issue of cultural reactions to the Harry Potter books from different angles. In the first, "Pottermania: Good, Clean Fun or Cultural Hegemony?" Tammy Turner-Vorbeck uses Neo-Marxist theories to articulate some of the perceived difficulties with the Harry Potter books and merchandise: the fetishization of commodities, the transmission of socially normative messages, and the battles to foster resistance through literary criticism and media literacy. The second essay, "Harry Potter's World: Magic, Technoculture, and Becoming Human" by Peter Appelbaum, links magic, science, and identity in the Harry Potter books and the culture that has sprung up...