For a long time, the subject of magical schools in fantasy fiction was dominated by Harry Potter, and Hogwarts. While the popularity of Harry Potter was at its height, any author who dared to tap into that particular trope was likely to be accused of anything from trend-hopping to plagiarism.
At the same time, there was an ongoing (and very loud) conversational track about how unoriginal Rowling’s books were, with fans of her predecessors waving their own favourite magical school books around, either defensively (look, it was written 20 years earlier, it’s not derivative of Harry Potter!) or happily (look, all these great magical school books to check out once you’ve reread Half-Blood Prince for the third time!).
Seriously, you haven’t lived until you have reread The Worst Witch books by Jill Murphy post-Potter, and realised quite how closely Ethel Hallow, Miss Cackle and Miss Hardbroom map on to Draco Malfoy, Dumbledore and Snape… but I digress.
Works by authors like Diana Wynne Jones actually gained a new lease of life because of Pottermania – it was never this easy to access Chrestomanci books in the 90’s, I know I had to hunt for them in second hand book shops until the big first reissue of her novels in colourful, Potterish covers.
The most interesting thing about Hogwarts as a magical school (apart from the fact that it’s the biggest, baddest, most popular, most bestselling example of the trope) was the gaps in the educational system – the honking great question marks, which fanfic writers leaped on with great enthusiasm. What did wizards and witches offer as primary education? Where did they learn about subjects other than magic – surely they needed some form of mathematics, or basic english courses?
Most importantly, what were the options for further study after they graduated? We all know that Hermione wasn’t going to be content with going straight into the work force at the age of seventeen. What came next?
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