“When in doubt, go to the library”: Books at Hogwarts

August 5, 2010

Say what you like about education at Hogwarts (and I could say plenty: There’s seriously not a single year’s class on literature or even basic math?  That’s putting a lot of faith in early home schooling, folks!), wizarding students know how to hit the books.  Hermione is the one everyone thinks of first in conjunction with research and reading at Hogwarts, but one of the things I love most about Harry Potter is that really ALL the students read nearly constantly.

“Honestly, don’t you two read?”

When Harry Ron and Hermione wanted to know who Nicholas Flamel was in Sorcerer’s Stone, they couldn’t Google it.  There is no wizard Wikipedia.  Instead they spent every spare minute in the library, stopping off there between classes and during evening hours.  When Harry gets an invisibility cloak for Christmas and decides to take it out for a spin, the cool, illicit place he decides to sneak into is the Restricted Section of the school library.  Even Hagrid turns up in the library looking for reference material about dragons.  (Note: Harry Ron and Hermione are hanging out in the library, presumably studying, long after they’ve finished their Flamel research project.  As they tell Hagrid, “Oh no, we figured out who he was ages ago.”)

This need for continuous research is built into the structure of the seven books;  Harry and his friend are very rarely just told or handed information but instead must scour spell books, take subscriptions to the Daily Prophet and remember key lessons from class.  As the books progress the three of them continue to constantly refer to books for needed information.  This is true even recreationally, Harry loves to page through Quiddich Through the Ages.  Neville is adequately consoled for being reminded of the lifetime loss of his parents with a book about rare plants.

What else would they be doing?

Interestingly, wizards may have photographs that move and painting that talk (a nice distinction) but they have nothing like movies so far as we see.  There are also no video games, no computers, and there don’t even seem to be any portable music players.  For fun, wizarding children and teens, fly on their brooms, play chess and other board games and read.

It is a school after all.

They also hit the books hard for school every year.  Hermione is the most extreme example, naturally.  Even at eleven (or twelve by that time) she’s making study schedules 10 weeks before the exams.  But although Harry and Ron don’t take her seriously then, they all study hard later.  Even Fred and George express respect for other students’ need to concentrate (and relax from studying) when they explain that they have taken a week off from their harassment of Umbridge during the Easter holiday of Order of the Phoenix.

Reading isn’t believing.

On the other hand Rowling also stresses both implicitly and explicitly that you shouldn’t believe everything you read.  Its a fairly straightforward message in Chamber of Secrets: “never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.”  OK.  But later its more a matter of questioning content than worrying about dark enchantments.  Harry foolishly puts his faith in the Half Blood Prince’s annotated textbook and ends up almost killing Draco with the Sectum sempra spell.  He and Hermione also learn about the insidious power of the press to mis-represent them during the Goblet of Fire and then in the next book Hermione takes a stab at harnessing that power when she sets up Harry’s interview with Rita Skeeter.  She arranges to have the article printed in the Quibbler, which isn’t exactly a reputable source, but that too seems to underline the power and value of information.  Even when its printed next to Lovegoode’s utter nonsense, the wizarding community (AND the student body) rushes out to buys and reads Harry’s account in record numbers.  As the printed word is their main source of information and the material in the Daily Prophet is patently suspect they are searching out alternate media.

So what if they can’t add or spell (Ron certainly can’t) Hogwarts students all know how to do their homework.  And I love them for it.  Thanks J.K. Rowling!

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One Response to ““When in doubt, go to the library”: Books at Hogwarts”

  1. […] never worked).  But I love the process of watching Harry (and co) learn new spells in this book.  Once again, when in doubt, they go t the library.  And then they practice practice practice to learn what […]

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