Harry Potter seguing to magical universities

Courtney M Eckhardt cme at MIT.EDU
Tue Aug 8 16:20:37 EDT 2000


In message <3UyQOYam4FDSHtO=jRavE8UEWZPD at 4ax.com>, Melissa Proffitt writes:
>The one other university I've come up with is Patricia McKillip's
>riddle-mastery school.

In Song For the Basilisk, she had a bard school and a musicians' school
(bards and musicians being very different), but though the concepts of
their existence were central to the plot, the book was definately not a
school-story.  Hmm, that's not very clear... the fact that the schools
*existed* was important to the advancement of the plot and emotionally
important to the characters, but the plot was not about what happened in
schools, really.

>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.

Hmm. I've read a lot of short stories that had magic schools in them...
but I guess they were mostly schools rather than universities.  The more I
think about this, the more I think there may be a few things going on
here:

A lot of authors use a system where the children are talented instead of
their powers "coming on" at puberty or some such.  Therefore, the children
are trained while young and graduate from school in their middle-late
teens.  Stories like this seem to have final exam-type event that earns a
character the title used in that world.

There's also the apprenticeship style of learning, which doesn't lend
itself well to universities either- solitary mages teaching their
apprentices in stone castles far away from everything.  Characters become
fullfledged adults when their mentors graduate them.  

In a lot of cases, mages are seen as solitary sorts with attitudes like
mad scientists- they forget to eat, the research is everything, they don't
like people, and they sacrifice cute, furry mice to The Cause. :P  These
are not university types either, except when used as the one weird old
person whom all the students avoid and make up wild tales about.

These theories of learning seem to constitute a large portion of the
collective of fantasy ideas that people have been discussing here (in the
context of possible plagiarism).  Somehow they seem to fit better in a
semi-midevalist magical society.  It seems to me that all of that and what
Melissa said contribute some to why universities don't show up much...

Courtney
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