SIOUX CITY | As a young girl growing up in Treynor, Iowa, Jamie Jacobsen remembered falling in love with all of the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of books.
"I saw all of the movies while assuming the books would simply be more of the same," she said, shaking her head. "Instead, I discovered the books were much denser and, perhaps, even more magical."
By the time she turned 12, Jacobsen read all seven of Rowling's fantastical novels, one after another. And then she read them all again.
"I'd be embarrassed to tell you how many times I've read these books," Jacobsen admitted. "Actually, I think I've lost count."
Jacobsen's interest in the students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry continues to this day. Currently a Briar Cliff University English and sociology junior, she has presented a literary critique of Rowling's writings as part of the school's Academic Excellence program, held April 18 in the Atrium of Heelan Hall.
In preparing "Harry Potter & the Oppressed Minorities: A Race, Class and Gender Criticism," Jacobsen used a critical eye in examining a series that some may consider to be "kid's stuff."
However, she reasoned that Rowling was able to inject important sociological themes in what has become the best-selling book series in history.
"The books really stand up to critical scrutiny," she insisted.
OK, we have to ask it: Is Harry Potter a sexist, racist or snob?
"Well, it isn't as simple as that. The project was part of a literary criticism that I was taking. Originally, my professor wanted me to narrow the focus to one topic and to one Harry Potter book. I knew that wouldn't work because none of the characters were the same people in book one as they were in book seven. In addition, the themes of race, class and gender are referenced throughout the series so that you had to examine each aspect to get an overall impression."
But you're not the first critic to research this topic, right?
"No, there's actually been a surprising number of research papers that have tried to examine the gender culture of Harry Potter, for instance. The stories are, after all, told from the perspective of Harry. Would the series still be successful if it was shown through the eyes of (fellow Hogwart student) Hermione Granger? Is Hermione a good role model or is she a bossy know-it-all who must seek the approval of her male friends?
Well, is Hermione a good role model?
"I think so. More importantly, so does Harry. Hermione is presented as someone smart and strong and independent. She is also someone who happens to be muggle-born or someone with non-magical family members. This is how (Rowley) chose to handle racial issues. In this universe, characters could be pure-bloods, half-bloods, muggle-born or someone who is mixed. Once again, race didn't matter to Harry. He put a greater emphasis on friendship over blood."
But what about class? Class distinctions seem so important in British culture. Was it the same in the world of Harry Potter?
"Class distinctions were touched upon throughout the series even though Harry wasn't a party to it. In many way, Ron Weasley was presented as the typical boy in the series, especially early on. He was the character who had the inferiority complex and who felt he didn't measure up. Growing up poor had something to do with that. In Harry's eyes, a person's wealth meant very little."
Well, it seems like Harry Potter did pretty well in your analysis. Who will you be critiquing next?
"You know, I'm a big fan of William Shakespeare. I've read many of his sonnets, plays and poems. I'm anxious to see the sexual, cultural and racial politics at play in Shakespeare's time and how they apply in the age of feminism and Black Lives Matter."