University of Cambridge > > Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars > What can fantasy literature teach us? Relationships of power in magical realms

What can fantasy literature teach us? Relationships of power in magical realms

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Since the release of the first Harry Potter book 18 years ago, the interest in fantasy literature has expanded immensely. Millions of children, adolescents, and adults have followed the adventures of their favourite fantasy heroes and heroines as they venture into magical realms, where the laws of reality are challenged, transgressed, and subverted. But what can readers learn about their own world through the characters’ exploration of magical worlds? And how can fantasy literature be utilised in the classroom, when discussing relationships of power in the real world? These are the general questions of Malin Alkestrand’s dissertation project. It focuses on what three fantasy series for children and adolescents – the Harry Potter series, the Artemis Fowl series and the Swedish fantasy series the Engelsfors trilogy – can teach the reader about democracy, human rights, and confrontations between different cultures. In Sweden all teachers are obliged to discuss this type of questions with their pupils. Alkestrand’s thesis statement is that fantasy literature is a perfect starting point for this type of discussions, since the magical worlds function as allegories for reality, while at the same time creating an alienating effect that helps the reader to view questions of power from a distance.


Malin Alkestrand is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Lund University, Sweden. She qualified as a teacher before she started at the PhD Programme. Her main research areas are fantasy literature, YA-literature and the teaching of literature in secondary and upper secondary schools. In 2014 she published the article “Righteous Rebellion in Fantasy and Science fiction for the Young – The Example of Harry Potter” in Hype – Bestsellers and Literary Culture. Alkestrand presented a paper on queer love in The Engelsfors trilogy at the fantasy and science fiction convention Loncon 3 in London, in 2014. Her doctoral thesis will be published in 2016.

This talk is part of the Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars series.

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