Saturday, July 24, 2010

AGTO Day Six: The Seminar

Friday was the Harry Potter day, but we actually spent almost an hour discussing an extra reading Maria had given us. It's called "The Problem of Susan," and it's from a short story collection by Neil Gaiman. Maria wasn't sure what the book was called, and neither am I. If you do, let me know. So this was a really weird story. Very sexual, and it's not totally clear what's going on and, more importantly, why. Personally, I'd read it, thought, "Huh, that was weird," and moved on. Some people were really stuck on it though, and it was quite the interesting discussion trying to figure out what on Earth was going on in the story, and whose dreams were who, and what was the whole Mary Poppins thing about? I can't really talk much about it in a way that will make sense unless you've read the weirdness, so if you have, or do, let me know and let's talk. Because man, that was weird. What was he trying to say about C. S. Lewis?

Anyway. We had read a chapter from Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins. The chapter is called "Why Heather Can Write: Media Literacy and the Harry Potter Wars." The chapter addressed three different things. First, it talked about the Harry Potter fan sites, in particular, The Daily Prophet, a site where children from around the world came together to write news articles about the world of Harry Potter. It looked at how these sites can be beneficial to students. We talked about incorporating these kind of sites in the classroom. Some people were against this, when you bring it into the classroom, it takes away the fun, and then kids won't seek it out on their own because it's become a school thing. Leave it alone, and let kids write because they love writing. Others felt it's a good way to reach out to students and meet them where they already are.

We skipped a bit to the third section of the chapter, which talked about the censorship of Harry Potter. Would anyone be allowed to even teach Harry Potter in their classroom? For the most part, people felt that they wouldn't be able to teach Harry Potter in the classroom not because administrators feared a backlash, but because it was a book all the kids had already read and wasn't considered a "classic." We looked at the reasons for Harry Potter censorship, and what the fear of the books might be. How do you address parents who might be wary of it? One woman, a librarian, talked about a parent who wasn't sure if she wanted to let her kid read The Golden Compass because the priest at her church said it was bad. But the parent hadn't actually read the book herself.

Doubling back, the second section looked at the legality of these fan sites. Copyright and trademark! My favorite! So. It's blurred, like almost any copyright issue. On the one hand, the writers are using characters and a world that was created by someone else. On the other hand, are they creating something that is original enough to be transformatory? And they're not making money off it, so maybe it could be considered fair use. Or, maybe it could be considered satire, or commentary, which would be OK. For the most part, authors leave fan fiction sites alone, because, again, the creators or contributors aren't making money, they get the book attention, and you don't want to be mean to your fans. That would just be silly. There were problems, as the chapter explained, when Warner Bros. got hold of the movie rights. They tried to shut some of the cites down, and the leader of "The Daily Prophet," Heather, organized the fan cites to fight against it. And, impressively, they won.

Now what about slash fan fiction? If you are not familiar, slash fan fiction is about relationships, usually same sex relationship, between characters. And it's often very graphic. Is that OK? Well, if we're going to argue fair use, that kind of writing is probably more transformatory then any of the writing on "The Daily Prophet," or should the writer have to write to say, "You can't use my characters this way." Never a dull moment in copyright wars. If you are interested in learning more about HP fan fic, or fan fic in general, Maria gave us this URL to check out.

Since we'd seen Tolkien's Oxford and C.S. Lewis' Oxford and Phillip Pullman's Oxford, Maria took today to show us her Oxford. First we went to Rhodes House. It was quite fancy pants. The door handles were lion heads. When you come in the front door, you're in this round room with a very high ceiling. Along the tops of the walls are engraved the names and dates of Rhodes Scholars who died in past wars. It's one of the few places that commemorates both axis and allied powers.

We went into another gigantic room with pictures of famous Rhodes Scholars. There was a large one of Bill Clinton.And all over floor to ceiling windows. And built in bookshelves. Sigh. Built in bookshelves. Someday... Maria told us about how last year she had helped organize an event for all the past female Rhodes Scholars. It gave them an opportunity to come back and speak to the women who are Scholars today. It's going to happen every year now.

We went out back where we were actually ALLOWED TO WALK ON THE GRASS. You aren't allowed to walk on the grass anywhere in Oxford. Grass is pretty much off limits. So it was very exciting. The gardens were lovely, and we got to go back through to a private one, which was also beautiful.After Rhodes House, we walked over to Keble College, where Maria went. I think Keble was the most beautiful college I'd seen so far. I really liked the architecture. We got to walk all over. Keble has done a good job of building new buildings, but hiding it where you can't see it from the outside. But you go around a corner and there's this interesting mix of new and old.

Maria took us to the dining hall, and it was another one that felt right out of Harry Potter. Little lamps and bowls of sugar cubes on the tables. Maria said that every night but Saturdays you had to be in full dress, which meant wearing your college robe zipped up. So people would just come from the gym and throw their robes over their gym clothes.
We took a look around the Keble library. It looked how I pictured an Oxford library looking.

The minute we stepped into the cathedral, organ music started playing. It was like Maria had planed it. It was actually just a guy practicing the organ, but it was very dramatic in the moment. The Keble cathedral also had some beautiful stained glass.

The Keble cathedral is home to the original painting "The Light of the World," by William Holman Hunt. Maria told us the Keble originally charged people to see the painting, and Hunt was so angry he painted another one and gave it away so people could see it for free.

This is not a very good photograph of it, but it was hard to catch. It's Jesus getting ready to knock on a door. It looks like this close up.

I kind of can't believe there's only one class left!


  1. Arianna. I've enjoyed following your blog journey. I did two weeks continuing ed. residency at Keble College a few years ago. Loved it and loved Oxford, so I envy your experience.

    Dick (Anna's dad)

  2. The Gaiman story is from a book called "Fragile Things." Overall, it's a really wonderful collection! I'd forgotten about that story until just now. I wish I'd been able to have had a discussion about it when I'd read it, because you're right, that story has a lot going on.

  3. Thanks Anna's dad!

    Thanks Alana, I will send out an email to my seminar group. A lot of people were wondering.


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