By KELSEY CASTANEDA
The wonderful Dr. Roger Ward, Chair of the philosophy department, who teaches “Potter lovers,” and signs his emails with “peace,” has recently published a new book. Ward’s “Harry Potter and the Magic of Self-Discovery” was inspired by the syllabus he prepared for his Philosophy of Harry Potter course, his desire to publish something short and accessible and also by his students. I recently met up with Dr. Ward to ask him a few questions about Harry Potter and his newest publication.
So, how exactly does an academic become professionally interested in Harry Potter? I asked Dr. Ward this question, and he said, chuckling, that he became professionally interested in Harry Potter because of his daughters. He said, “I’d heard it was about witches, so I was a little nervous and thought I should read it. And I liked it.” He explained to me that the more he read the novels, the more he “began to notice that they had substance, and that they weren’t just books for children.” The fourth book, “Goblet of Fire,” was the one that he says, “really caught my attention” as having something underneath the surface to explore.
As I stated earlier, the book was partly inspired by the Philosophy of Harry Potter course that Ward teaches. He said that this class was produced out of his desire to offer a course that “non-philosophers could take and be interested in.” A Harry Potter course was suggested to him by his students, so he decided to give it a go. Ward says that he “began to re-read the books, and I realized that there are themes that correspond to each of them. I began to develop those, and to find corresponding philosophical texts.” In the class, students write one short essay over each book, relating Ward’s different themes to philosophy. Ward writes essays along with his students, and he told me that this may have been what sparked the idea to turn his clever syllabus into a book. The more essays he wrote, the more he realized that was he “was actually looking for something thicker and more comprehensive than what the students were getting at, so it inspired me.” If you haven’t taken this class, you’re really missing out. It’s a personal favorite of this writer, and it includes a Sorting Hat song and ceremony, a House cup competition, “academic viewing” of the films and a Goodbye Feast.
Students were involved in the editing process of Harry Potter and the Magic of Self-Discovery, and Ward is so grateful to them for their insight and encouragement. A former student, Jessica Shields, designed the cover of the book. Dr. Ward also noted that “a big share of credit goes to Betsie Phillips because in class she latched onto the idea of the themes…and told me I really needed to write it up, and I thought, ‘She’s probably right.’” Dr. Ward’s daughters, Rachel and Kara, Betsie Phillips, Katie Rapier and I all read Ward’s initial drafts and responded with comments and suggestions. Ward also joked that his daughter Rachel was definitely the strongest critic of his writing, but that “her advice was really good and helpful.”
Dr. Ward also commented on how much he enjoyed writing and publishing this book. Ward said that for academics it is sometimes difficult to get motivated to write and research, and what motivated him to write this book was last year’s Homecoming book signing. He said, “My academic books were at the book signing, and I realized that they were all rather expensive and too boring. So, I started thinking that what I really needed was a little book that people would want to buy that didn’t cost a lot of money.” Ward said that he just “felt really good” writing this book, and that he hopes everyone else enjoys it as much as he does.
“Harry Potter and the Magic of Self-Discovery” is available for purchase from Dr. Ward for $10 for students. It is also available in the bookstore for $12.99 and on Kindle for $3.99.