Harry Potter Wizards Unite: Magic and Marketing in Our Phones (Travis Prinzi)

A Guest Post from the author of Harry Potter and Imagination and long-time friend of this weblog, Travis Prinzi, about the Wizards Unite game with more than 400,000 downloads worldwide. He’s a fan of the medium and of this Wizarding World application, albeit a fan with reservations. Enjoy!

The Niantic game Harry Potter Wizards Unite (HPWU) is suddenly the talk of the Harry Potter world. It launched last Thursday in the US and UK, and it has been released to many other countries since. Hundreds of thousands of players are walking around the “real world,” looking at their phones to see the “hidden world” of Harry Potter, magically concealed from the Muggles around us. If you see someone staring at their phone and flailing it around weirdly, they’re likely playing HPWU and trying to find magic traces.

This is Niantic’s third GPS-based, secret world release. It all began with Ingress in 2013. I’ve been playing Ingress since it hit iOS in 2014, so if you’re in my area, a decent number of Ingress “portals” (which are now HPWU Inns, Greenhouses, and Fortresses) were submitted by me or friends of mine in my local Ingress community. (Join the Resistance!)

The second such game was, of course, Pokemon Go (PoGo), which was released with what seemed to be far more build-up and fanfare than HPWU. My wife and I were in Boston when PoGo was released, and crowds were gathered all over, walking through parks and staring at their phones, capturing little monsters. (I tried PoGo for a short time and got bored; Ingress is better.)

HPWU draws, however, on the deep cultural history and love of Harry Potter, and will therefore likely be every bit as popular as PoGo and may last longer as a game. Is HPWU a genuine addition to the Potterverse? Or is this marketing gone crazy?

Perhaps the answer is: A little bit of both.

The Magic of Dopamine: The part of me that is cautious about too much “screen time” recognizes that HPWU capitalizes, much like the most successful social media platforms, on the little dopamine hits produced by successes in the game. We know how technology works on our brain, drawing us into near-addiction as we seek our “likes,” our rewards, our little successes. HPWU is chock full of these, and this makes it easy to keep opening the app and playing, even while sitting at home where there are no Inns, Greenhouses, or Fortresses. The game knows how to market itself, and it certainly doesn’t let you get far without the temptation to give Niantic your Gringotts savings to level up quickly.

The Magic of Story: On the other hand, the game pulls us into the Wizarding World, not just in a visual/technical way, but physically. Our bodies simply must move around to play this game. No one can sit sedentary, clicking a controller connected to a TV screen. And as you walk around collecting potion ingredients, releasing “foundables” from chaotic spells, and battling the dark arts, you are also a participant in an unfolding story. You can choose to help the Ministry as an Auror, a Magizoologist, or a Professor (I’m a professor!), but you’re really a detective. In classic Harry Potter fashion, a mystery is unfolding as the game progresses. You get advice and guidance from Harry and Hermione, as well as some new characters. The initia, “official” story about Grim and Penelope certainly isn’t what really happened, and we’ve been trained enough by the Potter stories to far to be looking for the misdirection.

The Magic of Community: The reason I prefer Ingress to PoGo is the heavy emphasis on team play in Ingress. You really need a cohesive team with a strong local strategy to consistently win each Ingress cycle. I know PoGo has its own communities, but it’s a different feel overall than the teamwork of Ingress. HPWU is yet another type of team play, particularly as it relates to Fortresses. To try to sum this up succinctly: You can’t get through the more difficult places unless you team up with other witches and wizards. My wife and I had dinner at a location with two Inns and a Greenhouse tonight, and then we walked a nearby park with multiple Fortresses as well. We faced the dark arts together and came out stronger.

This experience is “virtual” to some extent, and the cautious part of me is staying alert to the “magic of dopamine” and too much screen time. Nevertheless, I am enjoying the experience of playing the game with Ingress friends, and the idea of walking around a magical world that is hidden under the surface of our own world is as Potter-esque as it gets.

Guest Post: The Reason behind the Flood of Harry Potter Themed Weddings

A Guest Post from David Martin!

As we enter June, the traditional month for weddings, let’s take a moment to consider Harry Potter themed weddings and what their popularity may indicate.

First of all, Harry Potter themed weddings are really popular.  To get an idea of their popularity, try the following search into Google: “Harry Potter themed wedding” (Please note that the quote marks are necessary so that we get only hits that use exactly those four words in exactly that order.) 

I did that search just now and got 657,000 hits.  That’s a lot.  I’ve been impressed by some of the hits.  Here are a few of my favorites:

So, why are such weddings so popular?  A few reasons are obvious. 

  • Most of the people getting married just now are part of the Harry Potter generation.  They were raised on Harry Potter books and films. 
  • Further, in some of these cases, a shared love of the Harry Potter books was one of the things that drew the couple together in their courtship.  (See examples 1, 2, and 3 above.) 
  • Also, though it is easy to miss while we’re looking at things such as the hero’s journey and ring structure, there are several good love stories in the Harry Potter novels: Hermione and Ron, Ginny and Harry, Bill and Fleur, and the failed love of Snape and Lily. 
  • Finally, a wedding, especially a reception, is a party.  We always bring to a party the things we love: friends, cake, wine, music, and perhaps reminders of our favorite books.

But I suspect that there is another deeper, unspoken and perhaps unrecognized reason beyond these obvious reasons, that may apply for some couples.  If we review examples 1 through 6 above, there is something missing: In none of these weddings was the officiant a clergy person.  (True, the officiant in example #3 calls herself “Reverend D” but a quick look at her website shows that the only license she has is from the city of New York as a wedding officiant.)  None of these weddings was done in a church, a synagogue, or a temple.  In particular:

  • In example #1, the couple had a civil wedding.
  • In example #2, the officiant was a friend.
  • In example #3, as just noted, the officiant was an NYC wedding officiant.
  • In example #4, the couple had what they called “a humanistic wedding.”
  • In example #5, I can find no mention of an officiant, even after searching through other news stories about this wedding.
  • In example #6, the officiant was a friend of the bride.

These couples appear not to be particularly religious or to be currently affiliated with a house of worship. (Yes, I chose these examples deliberately to make a point.  There are also Harry Potter themed weddings that are in a church and where the officiant is a clergyman.  See, for example, https://honeyteller.com/my-christian-harry-potter-wedding-an-introduction/ .)

If we look at how couples use themes from Harry Potter in their ceremonies, it’s not all chocolate frogs and flying letters.  These couples are serious.  Some couples clasp hands, and then, while the officiant holds a wand over their joined hands, the couple makes an unbreakable vow. 

For some couples, in response to the officiant’s traditional wedding question that begins with “Will you have this woman/man to be your wife/husband, to live …” they answer not with the traditional “I will” but with the single, potent word “Always.”  And sometimes at the end the officiant declares the couple “bonded for life.”  These are serious weddings.

I believe what we have here is an example of John Granger’s Eliade hypothesis, as captured in the quote from Mircea Eliade: “Reading [in a secular culture] serves a mythological function.”  I believe that these couples involve Harry Potter in their weddings because they sense that they are involved in something sacred, something mythological, and, not being actively involved with a traditional religion, the Harry Potter novels are their strongest experience with the transcendent.

I’m a member of a church on a main highway in a “nice” suburb of Philadelphia.  We regularly get inquiries from people who ask about using our church for weddings and funerals.  Also, sometimes, about baptisms.  Those seem to be the three ties which are the last to break as people pull away from the church: baptisms, weddings, and funerals.  When confronting the wonder of new life, the ecstasy of love, and the mystery of death, people sense that they are dealing with the numinous.  Then they sometimes want the support of faith.  So in the context of what I have written above, this raises an obvious question: Are people involving Harry Potter in those other big events, birth and death?  Actually, they are.

The use of Harry Potter to celebrate new life is easiest to document.  Just search for “Harry Potter”   “birth announcement” (Again, for best results, place the quote marks as shown.)  When I did that search just now I got 5,380,000 hits.  There are more millions of hits if we change that search slightly and look for “pregnancy announcement” or “baby shower.”  Clearly many people are involving Harry Potter in the celebration of the birth of a child.

Funerals are a very different matter.  People don’t often have “themed” funerals.  Yet, remarkably, I found three funerals that are described exactly that way: Harry Potter themed funerals.

More often, however, Harry Potter shows up in connection with funerals indirectly.  The web site Legacy.com collects obituary notices from many different newspapers.  Doing this Google search “Harry Potter” site:Legacy.com searches Legacy.com for all occurrences of the words “Harry Potter.”  Doing that search just now, I got 3,800 hits.  The obituaries found by this search report, for example, that the deceased loved the Harry Potter novels, or that perhaps the deceased took the grandchildren to one of the Harry Potter theme parks.  Apparently someone thought that this was an important thing to have recorded about the deceased.  I also suspect that some of the well-known quotes about death from the Harry Potter novels (e.g., “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us?”) show up in a lot of eulogies. 

Just children’s books?  Not really.  But we knew that already.

We human beings are intrinsically religious creatures, with a spiritual nature that will, sooner or later, express itself.  May we have the imagination to recognize it when it appears.

[All pictures used in this post can be found with many others at ’30 Awesome Harry Potter Wedding Ideas’ at WeddingoMania.com.]

 

Cormoran and Robin: Echoes of Homer’s Odysseus and Penelope (2) Joanne Gray

Part 1 of this Guest Post from Joanne Gray can be read here: Cormoran and Robin: Echoes of Homer’s Odysseus and Penelope?

Part 2 Of Echoes In Homer’s Odyssey: Possible Echoes In Odyssey Books 17-24 to Strike Books 5, 6, 7

Anteros by Alfred Gilbert, 1893; from the Shaftesbury Memorial in Piccadilly Circus. Mistakenly called the Statue of Eros. [1]

On the night that Robin and Matthew became engaged, (March 28, 2010) Matthew chose the Statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus as the right place to ask Robin to marry him. On the surface, the choice seemed very appropriate, but in reality he was actually proposing to her at the statue, not of Eros (Cupid), but of his lesser-known brother, Anteros.

The public has given the statue the name of Eros—the god of love—because we celebrate Eros/Cupid; the cherub who shoots the arrow that ignites the passion for love as the true symbol for lovers. It’s true that Eros is behind the myth of initiating the first wonderful sparks of infatuation. It is less well known that it is actually his brother Anteros who grows those sparks into a long-lasting reciprocal flame of shared love: actual real love which lies beyond the chaotic and highly charged emotions set-off by Eros.

The irony is that Anteros was the god that Matthew and Robin really needed since it was the couple’s inability to grow their initial early infatuation into a more mature and lasting love that doomed their relationship.

The lack of this reciprocal love between them (and also between Cormoran and Charlotte) doomed both their relationships. Both Matthew and Charlotte’s need for Robin and Cormoran to give up their own essential autonomy in order to conform their desires to fit Matthew and Charlotte’s needs (if there was ever to be any peace between them) ultimately doomed both of their relationships.

The Strike series has set Cormoran and Robin up as a couple who would very much reach the Anteros level of true love—having love reciprocated… and returned in full to their partner.

Homer includes two famous couples in The Odyssey Book 3, Helen and Menelaus; Agamemnon and Clytemnestra—2 Spartan brothers married to 2 Spartan sisters. Both couples portray unfaithful marriages and Homer used them as counterweights to the faithful relationship and marriage of Odysseus and Penelope.

It isn’t possible at this point to know how the upcoming books of the Strike series—especially Book 5, Book 6 and Book 7—might contain echoes from Homer’s Odyssey, but with Robin’s upcoming divorce from Matthew, it seems we will at least have a real possibility of seeing some echoes to a very important part of the final Odyssey Books (17-23) regarding Penelope’s suitors. [Read more…]

Cormoran and Robin: Echoes of Homer’s Odysseus and Penelope? (Joanne Gray)

A Guest Post from Joanne Gray

When I first looked into a possible Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ link to J. K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series over a year ago, I didn’t see enough to fit what I thought really fit the criteria of providing echoes between the two works. But that changed while reading John Vlahos’ article, “Homer’s ‘Odyssey’: Penelope and the Case for Early Recognition,” when I began to notice that in presenting his case, he was using Homer’s own words to show the poem’s main couple, Odysseus and Penelope, as “two-of-a-kind and a well-matched pair…possessing a special understanding which Homer described as homophrosyne, meaning of “one accord, one mind.” (p. 12)

The more I read, the more I was reminded of J. K. Rowling’s two main characters, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. I felt I had finally found a way into the connection between the two works and I began to search the ‘Odyssey’ to hopefully find those elusive echoes between the two.

Just as Odysseus and Penelope are at the heart of Homer’s Odyssey, his epic story of a soldier’s journey home from war and his need to get home to his wife Penelope, I was reminded of the interview J. K. Rowling gave about her Cormoran Strike series and her remark about the greater plot running through it: “The larger plot is about these two characters [Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott] and what happens to them personally” and “the dynamic between them is, I think, the thing that keeps people reading. It’s certainly the thing that keeps me writing.”

Kostas Myrsiades, Professor Emeritus of Comparative and Greek Literature, edited the special ‘College Literature’ issue that also contains his poem (printed in part below) which captures this deep understanding between Odysseus and Penelope that exits at a level without the need for words…

True revolutions

are ignited by consenting minds

erupting spontaneously

whenever eye meets eye

as when Penelope before the beggar

caught Odysseus’s eye …

Their gazes touched once again
and both Odysseus and Penelope
knew. (Kostas Myrsiades, 1993)

Both couples in the Odyssey and Strike series are equal in their intellects and joined to their partner in an uncanny ability to wordlessly convey meaning between each other. Just as in “Lethal White,” [Ch. 62, pg. 551] between Cormoran and Robin:

“He glanced at her. Robin had had occasion before now to deplore how easily he seemed to read her thoughts.”

Rowling shows the intuit connection earlier between Cormoran and Robin in ‘Lethal White’ (p. 25)

“Neither of them could tell who had made the first move, or whether they acted in unison. They were holding each other tightly before they knew what happened…The feel of her was both new and familiar, as though he had held her a long time ago, as though he had missed it without knowing it for years.”

There are so many more of these moments scattered throughout the four Strike books. Here is a list of the (so far) echoes between Homer’s Odyssey and J. K. Rowling’s Strike mysteries in character and story:

[Read more…]

‘The Astrological Key to Harry Potter’ Will Sprague’s ‘Planet Potter’ Analysis

Will Sprague in his first guest post at HogwartsProfessor in 2011 argued that the first three books of the Hogwarts saga are a reverse alchemical process. This deft combination of literary alchemy and ring composition as literary analysis was a neat piece of work (it had been done by the Rev Joe Packer, we learned later, in 2007 but no one in the Potter Punditry community was aware of that work). I begged Will to let me publish his notes on the astrological symbolism and structure of the series, which he believes is not alchemical but very much akin to C. S. Lewis’ artistry in The Chronicles of Narnia. He titles these notes ‘Planet Potter’ in acknowledgment of Michael Ward’s work as CSL exegete in his Planet Narnia.

The correspondences he mentions in Erin Sweeney’s Harry Potter for Nerds essay, ‘Cracking the Planetary Code: Harry Potter, Alchemy and the Seven Book Series as a Whole,’ are based on the books being in alchemical sequence as laid out by Titus Burckhardt in his magisterial Alchemy. Erin assigns Saturn to Philosopher’s Stone, Jupiter to Chamber of Secrets, Moon to Prisoner of Azkaban, Venus to Half-Blood Prince, Mars to Deathly Hallows, and the Sun to Order of the Phoenix. Will disagrees on five of the seven correspondences. (My apologies for the several formatting glitches; WordPress will not accept MS Word formatting of great complication….)

I will be writing later this week, after I finish my Tarot posts, on why I now think this discussion is worth having whereas before I found even the possibility of Rowling writing astrological novels a stretch too far for me. Until then, enjoy these notes from Will Sprague and check out Erin Sweeney’s chapter in Harry Potter for Nerds for her astrological arguments!

Planet Potter by Will Sprague

Alongside Ring Composition and Literary Alchemy, it seems hard to believe that a full third layer of literary structure would present itself, but I think that the evidence is strong enough that I can confidently argue that each book of the Harry Potter saga aligns with one of the seven planets of medieval cosmology.

I am making the argument more from the preponderance of the evidence than from the ability for these planetary alignments to fit into a preconceived alchemical structure. This is an alternative to the Harry Potter for Nerds chapter entitled “Cracking the Planetary Code: Harry Potter, Alchemy and the Seven Book Series as a Whole.” I think that the use of the planets is more akin to Lewis’ use as laid out in Planet Narnia rather than an alchemical use as argued for in that piece. Forgive the rambling and disorganized nature of the below notes for each book.

Philosopher’s Stone -> Mars/Ares

  1. Quirinus Quirrell’s first name is a title of the god Mars (Mars Quirinus)
  2. Quirrell acts like a coward (the opposite of martial valor or courage, the primary attribute of Mars)
  3. Mars is the “red” planet, and this is a “Red” book
  4. “Mars is bright tonight” is repeated three times by the centaurs to Hagrid
  5. Harry asks for Mars candy bar from the trolley lady, but they have none
  6. Gryffindor wins the house cup because of the Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville’s courage. In fact, Ron even rides a horse and is willing to die for his friends to move on. The decisive victory points, go to a special sort of courage, to stand up to one’s friends and not just one’s enemies.
  7. Hugely important plot-elements occur in the Forbidden Forest (Mars is the god of the forests)

[Read more…]