Harry Potter seguing to magical universities

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Aug 8 14:29:20 EDT 2000

On Tue, 8 Aug 2000 10:55:37 +0100 , Rowland, Jennifer A B wrote:

>Possible slight spoilers for Dark Lord of Derkholm
>Trying to drag this on-topic- I liked the university fees in Derkholm.
>That's dwj's only magical university, isn't it? (Howl and Polly both went to
>ordinary ones. Oh yes, there's one in Magicians of Caprona, the clans always
>try and have one member at the university a) to be civic-minded and share
>their learning and b) to have access to the University Library.) Shame we
>didn't see more of the Derkholm university beyond hearing how it'd been
>damaged by the tours. 

Isn't the university supposed to be part of the plot of the upcoming _Year
of the Griffin_?  Maybe we *will* see a magical university soon....

>It does seem that quite often in fantasy worlds there are single scholars,
>or small groups all bent on researching how to destroy the world, but not
>big multidisciplinary bureaucracies of learning. (Barbara Hambly has what is
>in effect a university, in Dog Wizard and the rest of that series, but she
>and Pratchett are the only ones I can think of offhand). 

Caroline Stevermer has one in _A College of Magics_, but that's only one
book.  hmmmm....  Tanya Huff has that "Quarter" series where people are
trained as bard/wizards, but I've only read the first book and the focus
isn't on the school at all.  There's the White Tower in Robert Jordan, but
it's not considered a university, and also the mage school in Sherwood
Smith's Wren books (again, it's not the focus of the series).  Interesting.
While I can think of a number of books which have mage-training
organizations--Ursula LeGuin has one in Earthsea, too, and Katherine Kurtz
has the Deryni "scholae"--very few of those are what I would call an actual
*university*, in the sense of being an open environment that theoretically
encourages learning.  That suggests that all those authors I mentioned above
are drawing on some other model for their schools of learning, but I don't
know what it is.  

The one other university I've come up with is Patricia McKillip's
riddle-mastery school.

>It seems to me that the effects of cramming together a bunch of eccentric
>magical scholars and young upstarts in one place would give interesting
>plots. (Unseen U. is wonderful.) 

I agree--which is why it's even more strange that there should be a fair
number of "magic schools" and yet very few of them are universities.  And
I've come up with a theory in the few moments I've sat here typing and being
harassed by my children, who want lunch or some other piffling thing:

I think most magic-training places in fantasy exist for the purpose of
explaining the author's magic system.  They're a plot device that let the
author get away with a ton of exposition that would be otherwise forbidden
by the rules of good writing (unless you are Robert Heinlein).  And that's
why they're not usually the focus of the story; maybe the author made up a
really neat magic system and wants to explore the implications of the magic,
but to do that the author has to make sure the readers understand the basics
of the system.  Even when it is *technically* a university, it isn't written
that way.  I haven't thought through this much, so everyone point out where
you think I've missed something.

>Did fantasy authors hate college? 

Another good theory...maybe they had roommates from Hell.  I sure did.

Melissa Proffitt
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