A Brand of Fictional Magic: J.K. Rowling and E. Nesbit

by Anna Blanch on May 18, 2012

I’m back in St Andrews after a long journey from Australia! I presented a paper yesterday at the first International Academic Conference on J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally successful Harry Potter series. This conference represents the work of a range of scholars exploring Rowling’s work, and its literary implications.

A Brand of Fictional Magic: Imaginative Empathy in Harry Potter

A two day conference hosted by the School of English, University of St Andrews
17-18 May 2012,  Kennedy Hall, St Andrews, Scotland

The relentless success of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1997-2007) evokes words like phenomenon and catastrophe. With the conclusion of the film franchise and the launch of Pottermore.com, the series is receiving increased academic consideration in conferences, articles, and monographs. However, relatively little work has been done directly engaging with the series as a literary text. This conference attempts to begin redressing that lack.

The conference has received significant press coverage which, in some cases, gives some glimspe into the wide range of fascinating papers being presented.

BBC News – Scholars study literary merits of Harry Potter novels

Telegraph – Harry Potter and the Philosophers’ Conference at St Andrews University

STV – Academics from around the world gather for Harry Potter conference

Telegraph – You can’t be serious about Harry Potter!

University of St Andrews – Harry Potter goes to university – University of St Andrews

STV News – Magically-minded scholars gather in St Andrews for Harry Potter

Stand – St Andrews School of Witchcraft and Wizardry | The Stand

Evening Standard – Rowling’s Harry Potter books to be studied as great works at St Andrews university

Scotland Courier – scholars coming to potter around St Andrews

Scotsman – Harry Potter is great literature, say academics

Fife Today – Harry Potter goes to St Andrews University

I spoke yesterday afternoon in a session with Dr James Thomas of Pepperdine University along with  Mia Saskai. My abstract for the paper I gave about Nesbit’s influence on Rowling is below. I’m planning on writing a series of posts on Nesbit and her influences on 20th and 21st century authors over the next couple of weeks so the timing of this conference is rather, unusually, quite helpful.

J.K. Rowling’s Literary Great Aunt: E.Nesbit

Anna M Blanch

ITIA, University of St Andrews

 I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that J.K Rowling has changed the face of Literature in English. 110 years ago, it was Edith Nesbit who put fantasy and magic into children’s literature, with novels such as Five Children and ItThe Phoenix and the Carpet, The Enchanted Castle, and The Magic City. She was responsible for an innovative body of work in which realistic child characters in real-world settings interact with magical objects, have adventures and sometimes travel to fantastic worlds and other historical times.

In a BBC Radio 4 interview in 2000, J.K Rowling named Nesbit’s Story of the Treasure Seekers as one of her favourite books from childhood and declares that she “identif[ies] with E.Nesbit more than any other writer.” Given that the authenticity of Rowling’s child-characters and the way their relationships with each other developed across the series has been attributed as an important feature for the success of the Harry Potter series, this paper will explore the literary influence of E.Nesbit’s domestic realism married with magical objects and creatures. In particular, this paper will explore the way in which Rowling extends and develops Nesbit’s approach to her child characters and will demonstrate Rowling’s debt to one of her childhood heroes. Finally, this paper will briefly compare the purpose and importance of reading by child-characters in both Rowling and Nesbit.


Here are more press links relating to the conference and its reception.

IBTimes – Scholars Debate Inclusion of Harry Potter as Literary Texts

Guardian – Harry Potter and the order of the 60 scholars gets mixed initial reception


Anna M Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD student in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland. She is presently writing her doctoral dissertation on E.Nesbit.

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