"Heroes, Wizards and Nobody: Identity in Children's Literature" with Lisa Kalkowski

Course description:

Hagrid ran his fingers through his hair, fixing Harry with a bewildered stare. "Yeh don know what yeh are?" he said finally. (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher s Stone

"Who are you, Chiron? Who who am I?" Chiron smiled. [ ] "Who are you?" he mused. "Well, that s the question we all want answered, isn t it?" (Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

The question of Who am I? has pervaded much of human thought, philosophy and, of course, literature. The reflections connected to this seemingly simple question are as complex as they are endless: How can we describe who we are? What enables and what limits the categories we use to construct identity? How much of our conceived individuality is determined by structures and discourses and by which? How do identities function within relationships and how do relationships constitute identities? Is there some kind of essence of identity deep within us? Where does the Self end, and the Other begin? And what agency do we actually have in determining our own identity and those of others? 

In this course, we will look at how questions of identity and subjectivity are being negotiated in famous examples of contemporary children s literature. In order to tackle these issues, we will gain an understanding of what constitutes the genres of children s and fantastic literature. Furthermore, we will interrogate theories about the construction of identity, and how these theories along with the concept of individuality have developed over the last centuries. With this theoretical framework, we will be able to interrogate identities constructed in Diana Wynne Jones s Howl s Moving Castle (1986), J.K. Rowling s Harry Potter and the Philosopher s Stone (1997), Cressida Cowell s How to Train Your Dragon (2003), Rick Riordan s The Lightning Thief (2005) and Neil Gaiman s The Graveyard Book (2008). We will ask how identities come into existence in these coming-of-age -stories, interrogate labels such as heroes , witches and wizards , half- or mud-bloods ; debate the influence that comes with belonging to Hogwart s houses or camp cabins, discuss the importance of names for characters like Nobody Owens and The-Boy-Who-Lived, look at how quests and prophecies shape and determine individuality, and analyse the significance of mastering notions of self, language and magic. 

Participants will be asked and encouraged to practice various methods to approach both literary and theoretical texts, engage actively in discussions, and exercise their presentation and moderation skills.