Learning How History Inspired the Harry Potter Series
Since its debut in 1998, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has spawned a movie series, a Broadway production, and several theme parks. But it all began with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,which fifth graders read this fall. They concluded their study with a visit to the New-York Historical Society for the fortuitously-timed exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic. Thank you to Jude W. and Jackson H. for sharing their experiences!
Reading and Analyzing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
In my Language Arts class this year we all read the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. We explored the themes and characters in the book with several assignments. We did a character review where we had to decide whether the characters were evil, neutral, or good. We read different scenes in class and used them to talk about different characters and the book’s plot. We also talked about how a book can have several different parts of its plot. In the Sorcerer’s Stone, the story, in part, revolves around a mysterious package that is brought to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, whose contents remain unknown until the very end. But the story also dwells on the character of Snape, a professor at Hogwarts, who is hostile to Harry for reasons that Harry doesn’t understand, but eventually learns.
After we had finished the book, our teacher asked us to create our own summaries of the book. As an example, we looked up a summary of the novel My Side of the Mountain, which we read last year, and pointed out the faults and successes in it. Once we had all completed the summaries and edited them, we moved on to essays. Our prompt for the essay was: Did Professor Snape do more good than harm, or more harm than good, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? We agreed that Snape does do more good than harm, but one person in our class chose to argue the other side in their essay.
The Historical Origins of Harry Potter
On October 15, fifth graders visited the exhibition “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” at the New-York Historical Society. There we saw ancient texts that showed where J. K. Rowling got some of her inspiration for the world-renowned Harry Potter series. One of the things that we saw was Nicolas Flamel’s headstone. Flamel was famous for supposedly discovering the Philosopher’s Stone, which can make the “Elixir Of Life.” This Elixir could not only turn any metal into gold, but if drunk, it could make any human immortal. Alchemists studied and tried to make the stone for a long time, but never succeeded. People believed that Flamel made the stone because he was rich, and when someone checked his grave, there was no body. We also saw mandrakes, that look like people and are also in Harry Potter. In the other rooms, we saw displays that told us that people thought that unicorns were real because they found narwhal (a type of whale) horns on beaches, and that people charted the planets and stars in order to find their way when they sailed at sea. At the end of the tour, we looked at different illustrations of things that happen in the Harry Potter series that were drawn by different artists. We also got to see the covers of translations of the Harry Potter series in many different languages, like French, German, and Japanese.