Harry Potter and U of T?!

Any Harry Potter fans out there? If you are, then I am sure you know what happened this weekend. Yesssssss, Deathly Hallows (part 1) was released in theatres!

I grew up with Harry Potter. I remember devouring the first three books when I was in Grade 6 and then eagerly awaiting subsequent new releases as I graduated from each grade.

Even though U of T is huge, one of the things that secretly comforted me when I first started here was that our college system was much like HP’s house system, and even more so that I was at Trin! We wear robes, yo.

But the books are completed and the films are approaching its end. The one thing that has been with me throughout the highs and lows of highschool and university applications and tests and pretty much the one thing that remained constant with me year after year is slowly fading into the recesses of my memory.

What delights me though, is how I’m coming to discover that this childhood friend of mine really hasn’t gone away. It started when I noticed that a photo of a student on the U of T homepage has a Gryffindor scarf wrapped around her neck. Then, when I did my Colleges series last year, Janine Hubbard, Recruitment and Outreach co-ordinator at Vic told us a fun fact:

Students often comment on how much our dining hall looks like the one in Harry Potter. Well, after a colleague did some research, he found out that our hall design was based on one at Oxford (Christ Church College’s dining hall), and it was used in the Harry Potter films, so we essentially have the same design!

HP has leapt off the pages of its canon and has taken a life of its own, going so far as to challenge and engage our student and academic life. Don’t believe me? For starters, Professor Alison Keith, chair of classics, credits the increase of interest in Latin courses at U of T to the Harry Potter series!

Two things that make me smile every time I hear about it are U of T’s Harry Potter lectures and our Quidditch team. What? You didn’t know we had these? Now you do, dear readers, now you do.

Shamefully enough, I couldn’t make either. I know, I know. I’m sorry. To make up for it, I wrote my final paper on a literary analysis of the rhetorical strategies in Harry Potter for my INI209 class. Concurrently, I wrote a 20-page essay on the Jungian perspective of Lady Gaga. I may have slept very few hours in those last couple of weeks of the semester, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy rereading HP looking for evidence while blasting Lady Gaga in my room.

Anyways, I digress. Every now and then, we have lectures on the science of Harry Potter. I really wanted to make “The Quantum Physics of Harry Potter”. The department even brought in a magician! Who said academia is all serious business? Luckily, you can experience the book and science nerdiness in all its glory here.

Apart from physics, Professor George Eleftheriades from the Department of Engineering (ECE) was researching the possibility of making invisibility cloaks, and finally… WE HAVE A QUIDDITCH TEAM.

I have Facebook friends on the Quidditch team and I saw pictures, but I can’t for the life of me find them. I did email the team and they said to keep checking back on their Facebook page for upcoming games next semester.

Muggle Quidditch is as ridiculous as it sounds. It’s a mish-mash of soccer and lacrosse and tag, except, you have a broom stuck between your legs. I’m going to be mature and adult and not make any of the litany of wildly inappropriate jokes that come to mind. Check out the photos from The Varsity. Despite sticking a broom between your legs and perhaps giggling self-consciously, the game is actually quite intense; just look at the photos from when McGill came over to teach us how to play. U of T went to the Quidditch World Cup a few weeks ago and played their first game against the NY Badassilisks (what a kickass name). We didn’t win, but I found a video of the action on Youtube:

Take a break from writing/studying and reminisce with me. What memories do you have of Harry Potter? Have you seen DH1 yet?

– Cynthia

Act One: The Magic of Rare Books

Before I had gone there, this is how I pictured the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library:

The student walks onto the stage, through the revolving doors of the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library. In front of her is a grand atrium, made of white marble. There are about fifty floors rising above the atrium, each with a gallery, and with walls lined in brown, leather-bound books, their spines embossed with the gold lettering of their titles. Magic book dust© catches the light and sprinkles continuously to the ground. Each footstep the student takes echoes resonantly. There is a female librarian nearby, behind a counter. She wears pince-nez glasses, capped oxford shoes, and a ladies’ tweed double-breasted two-piece tailor-made suit.


Can I help you, miss?



Oh, yes please. I’m here to look at old books.



Ah, very good. Did you bring white gloves?



I’m afraid I didn’t. I don’t have any.



Not to worry, you can sign some out here.


The student walks to the desk, flashes her U of T card, and signs a piece of paper. Over the countertop, the librarian hands her a pair of white gloves. The student walks off-stage and reappears on one of the balconies, wearing the gloves. As she makes her way from one end of the balcony to the other, angelic harp music starts, as if from nowhere. The student carefully pulls a book from off the shelf. The spotlight focuses on her, the rest of the stage gets dark, and the voice of Linnaeus is heard, omnipresent, through the digital sound-system.


I wondered when you would come to say hello. I’ve been sitting here years.



I can’t believe I’m holding you! I feel smarter already.



Melius tarde quam numquam.¹ I feel particularly sanguine today.


The student turns a page or two, looking reverently through the Hortus Cliffortianus, printed in Amsterdam, 1737. The scene then fades to black.

Unlike my daydream, which was nice while it lasted, here’s what really (just about) happened today:

The student walks into the library, through the revolving doors of the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library. She has never been to the Rare Books Library before, and is sure that someone will stop her before she touches anything printed before 1979. She is an undergraduate, you see, and therefore feels like an impostor. “First edition books,” she thinks, “are for Ph.D. candidates.” She walks two steps and reaches a reception desk. She feels being positive is her best bet for getting in.


Hi there! I’m here to see old books!



Coat and purse, here’s your vestibule ticket. The elevator is broken, you can take the stairs.



Do I go up or down?



Go down, around the corner, there you’ll see reception, where they’ll make you a Rare Books Library Card. You can’t go into stacks.



Do I need to wear gloves?






Gloves… So as not to contamintate the books.



[Looking sidelong at the students hands]

Contaminate the books with what?



Oh, oops. Haha. To protect the books. Haha. Okay! Downstairs, around the corner. Haha. Ahem. Goodbye.


The student walks down the cement stairs. Fluorescent lights line the way. She comes to the reception desk. There is a man sitting behind the counter. When he looks up to greet the student, he gives her a shockingly warm smile for a U of T librarian. He also gives her colourful forms to fill out.



Your new card is good for two years. Enjoy!


The student walks through one last set of doors into a very quiet room. There are a number of dark oak desks scattered about the room. Looking up, the student sees several stories’ worth of walls lined with books, about five floors high. The room has a special smell. This is too much to be true: it’s the old book smell.² A few people are seated at random desks. Behind a counter there is a wonderful-looking man with glasses and a white beard.  He is wearing a wool sweater.


Hello, good day. I signed out some books online last night?



Ah! Have you got the library card that reception just made you? Excellent. One moment, please.


He walks over to a small wooden shelf lining the wall behind him and carries back a collossal, behemoth book the size of fifteen textbooks. He has also brought four small taupe volumes.


So… Hortus Cliffortianus, by Linnaeus. And Pamela, by Richardson. Hoho. Isn’t Pamela the book in which the maid marries the master because he offers her chocolate but she doesn’t even like chocolate? Hoho.



[The student’s jaw drops to the ground.]³



Okay: can you initial these two forms, please? You can take three volumes at a time to any desk. You can’t photograph them unless you sign up to do so on special dates but otherwise, feel free to make yourself at home. Don’t be scared of the Rare Books Library. After all, I am one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet at U of T.



It’s true! You are so nice! I need to come here more often!

The student picks up the books. Linnaeus’ work is very heavy. It is very big. The student walks across the little room to where there is a solitary desk and chair. She puts the books down on the desk. She can’t believe she’s holding an illustrated 1st edition work from 1737. “Either I fooled them with my cool confidence, or this is the best library ever,” the student thinks. She sits down and pulls Linnaeus’ book up close. She opens the front cover and looks around the room.

Silence. The student waits… No voice. No Linnaeus speaking from the other side. Only the occasional swish as the page of a yonder book is flipped. The student turns another page.


[Internal monologue]

Hortus Cliffortianus: Plantas exhibens quas in hortistam vivis quam siccis, hartecampi in Hollandia, coluit vir nobilissimus & Generosissimus Georgius Clifford.” Holy smokes! A lot of Latin! Best get out my thinking cells.


The scene fades out to black.


© Property of UpbeaT.

¹Anonymous. Latin for: “Better late than never.”

² Fariya! I can’t believe it! It’s the old book smell!

³ During our last weekly UpbeaT meeting, Heather brought with her a synopsis of Pamela, written by a friend in an English Lit class. It was short, shocking, and guffaw-inspiring. So in tribute to the salutory works of U of T summaries, I signed the book out online the night before my trip to the Rare Books Library.