Harry Potter and Fairy Tales

As the ending for our freshman composition and rhetoric course first semester, I cover how to write literary analyses. These are difficult for my students particularly because few of them have ever written any. It is apparently hard for lots of people, however, because that is the number one hit on my blog, according to Google Analytics.

So, how do you teach them literary analysis without requiring them to read literature? Good question. If you’ve been reading here a while, you know the answer. Use fairy tales.

This semester, in an attempt to mix it up a bit for me since it had gotten stale, we didn’t do “The Three Little Pigs,” “Goldilocks,” or any of the multiple Cinderellas, like we usually do.

We did do Grimm’s “Little Red Cap” and “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” I tell them that is one of my favorite stories because I grew up on Norwegian fairy tales. (I didn’t know that till I started teaching this class though, which is why teaching is so exciting– I’m still learning!)

But we also did “Bremen Town Musicians” which I think I had read once in my life before. I own a pretty book of it, but don’t read it.

We also did “Brave Little Tailor.” I love that story and the students liked it too.

Tonight they are reading “The Fisherman and his Wife.”

And in class today, we read the 1812 and the 1857 versions of “Hansel and Gretel” and then we read “The Elves and the Shoemaker.”

One way to get students involved in a fairy tale is tell them, “This was most likely the source of Dobby in Harry Potter.”

Then afterwards I asked them what about the story made me say that… It was very fun and they enjoyed the idea that they were learning some “behind the scenes” information. Now, I didn’t hear from JK Rowling that she used “The Elves” as the pattern for Dobby, but I would be surprised if she didn’t, even if she didn’t do it consciously.

And, though they aren’t great literature, my students are being exposed to some folk stories that have been around for centuries. Many of them they had never heard of before.

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