November 16, 2005: On the Campus
By Elyse Graham ’07
What do you think of the idea that Harry is a horcrux?
The question rose above the chatter animating the Mathey College common room as the Mathey Book Club discussed its latest selection, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. With the night sky peeping in the windows of the oak-paneled room and a yellowish glow lighting the faces of the young participants — one wore a scarf in the Gryffindor colors, and another arrived in a black robe and round glasses — the scene might have come from Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s magical boarding school.
Anne Matthews *81, a Pulitzer finalist and lecturer in English, led the discussion while the 25 participants snacked on mock Potter food like homemade butterbeer and Every Flavor Beans, whose flavors in the book included earthworm, vomit, and dirt. Each book club meeting features a different faculty guest and theme menu.
Matthews suggested that the Potter series was born partly of unresolved sorrows in the life of the author, whose mother died at 45. “It’s a seven-book meditation on the meaning of death, loss, maybe transcendence, but certainly darkness,” she said.
Students also excavated the books’ smaller details for meaning. One contended that Harry’s attraction to Ginny has Oedipal origins, since Ginny has red hair, like Harry’s mother.
Analyzing the character Albus Dumbledore, sophomore Porter White said, “There are two words in Latin for white, to my knowledge. One is candidus, and that is shining, clear white, and the other is albus, and that means dull white. That seems to suggest he is a good but morally ambiguous character.”
As for Harry as horcrux — which Potter fans will remember as a magical object in which a wizard can store part of his soul to extend his life, and which requires an innocent’s murder — the group found the idea “brilliant.”
It’s not surprising that undergraduates are reading Harry Potter, Matthews said. For many students, “their heavily scheduled childhoods left little room for magic, mystery, danger, and urgent moral choice. Every generation finds its mythic narrative: Their parents had Star Wars; their grandparents, The Lord of the Rings; their great-grandparents, the Second World War.”
One hundred and fifty-eight steps up the dark staircase coiling up Cleveland Tower, Robin Austin pushes open a heavy oak door and floods the space with light. The windows beyond the door frame the lawns of the Springdale Golf Club; the Graduate College buildings are clustered below like a medieval village. But Austin and his companions aren’t here for the view. They’ve come in pursuit of sound.
Every Sunday afternoon, a small group of carilloneurs, both students and staff, climb to the top of the tower to play music on its 78-year-old carillon. They play for 45 minutes at a time, mostly classical and Romantic music but sometimes Broadway hits like “The Phantom of the Opera.”
The playing room is inside the bell chamber itself, a one-room cabin tucked among the bells. “See if you can just kiss that bell and get a real quiet sound,” Austin, the bellmaster, advises the young woman playing. The other musicians lean at the windowsills, the sound of chimes flowing around them. Vibrations buzz up through their shoes.
Movement of the player’s hands and feet over the instrument’s knobs and pedal board controls the 67 bells above and below the cabin. Played together, they generate a rich, mournful sound. Arthur Bigelow, the University’s first bellmaster and a professor of engineering, tuned 14 of the bells himself, supervising their casting in New Brunswick and then adjusting them on a lathe in his basement.
After Bigelow’s death in 1967, the bells fell silent. But in 1990, a group of townspeople and alumni decided the bells should be restored. At their encouragement, the University replaced the rusted bell frame and installed 35 new bells, including a bronze giant weighing more than 12,000 pounds. In 1993 the University hired Austin and rededicated the bells.
The young woman finishes her song. Austin sits next and strikes the opening notes of “Partita II” by Johann Sebastian Bach. His head nods gently as he plays. Sixteenth notes soar across the gray Gothic spires rising among treetops turning to gold, tan, and red.
Elyse Graham ’07 is an undergraduate fellow at Mathey College. She is studying art and nonfiction literature.
MORE ON THE CAMPUS Online: “It Happened One Night” by Amy Sennett ’06