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27.8.11

À mon chevet: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
The bell rang. Ron and Hermione led the way to History of Magic, bickering. History of Magic was the dullest subject on their schedule. Professor Binns, who taught it, was their only ghost teacher, and the most exciting thing that ever happened in his classes was his entering the room through the blackboard. Ancient and shriveled, many people said he hadn't noticed he was dead. He had simply got up to teach one day and left his body behind him in an armchair in front of the staff room fire; his routine had not varied in the slightest since.

Today was as boring as ever. Professor Binns opened his notes and began to read in a flat drone like an old vacuum cleaner until nearly everyone in the class was in a deep stupor, occasionally coming to long enough to copy down a name or date, then falling asleep again. He had been speaking for half an hour when something happened that had never happened before. Hermione put up her hand.

Professor Binns, glancing up in the middle of a deadly dull lecture on the International Warlock Convention of 1289, looked amazed.

"Miss -- er -- ?"

"Granger, Professor. I was wondering if you could tell us anything about the Chamber of Secrets," said Hermione in a clear voice. [...] Professor Binns blinked.

"My subject is History of Magic," he said in his dry, wheezy voice. "I deal with facts, Miss Granger, not myths and legends." He cleared his throat with a small noise like chalk snapping and continued, "In September of that year, a subcommittee of Sardinian sorcerers ..."

-- J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, pp. 148-49
As someone who teaches music history I could not help but take note of this portrait of the dusty, boring history lecturer: theater students dread theater history, art students dread art history, and music students dread music history, just as students of magic dread the History of Magic. The mean-spirited depiction cuts to the quick: the droning voice, reading from the same notes, so old and calcified that he did not even notice that he died, simply continuing to read from his note year to year as if nothing had happened. Plenty of stereotypes to be careful to avoid in class!

1 comment:

Mike Walker said...

I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan but have enjoyed the books and films. Much of what I think makes Rowling's work magical though is her nuanced eye for how pre-teens and teen see the world. As a former teacher herself, she may embark on stereotypes, but she also takes trite and absurd ideas and makes them work perfectly in her fiction. That comes through in this quote.