I am back in Oklahoma City after a beautiful but quite chilly week in St. Andrews, Scotland. I was invited to give a Keynote Presentation to the Brand of Fictional Magic: Reading Harry Potter as Literature conference at Scotland’s oldest university — in its 600th year! — and the people there were so kind that it took three stewards to wedge my swollen head into the Aerobus cabin for the long flight home.
I’ll be writing up stories and thoughts from and consequent to that remarkable meeting of minds for some time, I’m sure, but today I wanted to talk about another conference this summer, one that I’m dreading and cannot wait to attend: HPEF’s Ascendio 2012 at Orlando’s Universal Studios Theme Park with its Wizarding World of Harry Potter, 12-15 July. The reason I don’t want to go and wouldn’t miss it for the world? Why I have realized in a summer of great conferences and fan gatherings this is the one fan gathering in 2012 I know I will always remember and regret — and why I hope very much to see you there?
Because it is HPEF’s last hurrah and that is something for us all here at HogwartsProfessor to celebrate and mourn in almost equal measure.
HPEF or ‘Harry Potter Educational Fan-on’ has been putting on ‘wow’ gatherings for serious readers of the Hogwarts Saga since Nimbus 2003, which was at the other amusement park in Orlando. It’s been a rare year since then that the HPEF show wasn’t the annual highlight in Potter fandom. The only year, in fact, that I can think of when this wasn’t the case was last year when they chose not to have one.
I love the HPEF Fan Conventions for a handful of reasons, most notably:
The Unapologetic Nerdiness: HPEF I think grew out out of the more cerebral online and in person meet-ups like ‘Harry Potter for Grown-Ups’ and NYC’s ‘The Group that Shall Not Be Named.’ They’ve expanded their offerings from lecture after lecture with a few breaks for film and fun to the full panopoly of Quidditch, Wizard Rock, Fan Fiction, Fan Film, even full stage and orchestra Opera on top of the best talks but it’s always been about the talks from the start.
I thought of HPEF’s gatherings more than once in Scotland because I doubt very much the quality and sheer numbers of scholars gathered there, especially the ones from the US, would have been possible except for the decade of similar gatherings, albeit at venues without any of the majesty of St. Andrews, at which scholars like Liberty’s David Baggett, Lawrence’s Edmund Kern, KSU’s Philip Nel and Karin Westman, and Pepperdine’s James Thomas met to discuss Harry’s adventures without irony, at depth, and in all seriousness.
The Friendships: My oldest relationships in Harry Potter Fandom spring from the stints I did at Barnes and Noble University Online in 2002 and HPEF’s Nimbus 2003 — and I’ve met most of the friends I’ve made here and elsewhere online at HPEF events these last ten years. I had corresponded frequently and at length with Travis Prinzi for five years before meeting him and his wife in Toronto at the HPEF gathering there in the wake of Deathly Hallows’ publication in 2007. I met James Thomas and his youngest daughter at Prophecy 2007 as well.
Ann-Laurel Nickel, Penny Linsenmayer, Steve Vander Ark, and Linda McCabe, friends to this day, I met at or in the run-up to Nimbus 2003. David and Toni Gras, Paul Dato and his sister Gloria, Lisa Bunker, Andrew Slack, Rev. George Naylor, Denise Roper and mom, Eeyore Pat and daughter, the gang from Wisconsin — really, such a large number of the friendships I have enjoyed these last ten years have been started or fostered at HPEF events, my life would be significantly less rich without them.
The Professional Debt: The talk I gave on literary alchemy at Nimbus 2003 was, in hindsight, almost certainly the most important one I’ve ever given. Not only was it well received (one reporter wrote that I was “carried out of the room like a rock star”), but it started the word of mouth push among the gathered serious readers that the Christian content of the books (a) was significant, (b) didn’t involve a denominational or devotional altar call, and (c) represented significant traditional artistry and meaning on the artist’s part.
The movies were the death knell of the Potter Panic, I think, but the public acceptance of Rowling as a writer who was much more than a woman on the dole who got lucky may have started there. It certainly generated contra-meme media pieces like this one from Terry Mattingly of the Scripps-Howard News Service.
I met him at Nimbus 2003 and suddenly I was a significant voice and face of the literate Rowling readers and admirers. I don’t think it’s too much to say, “No HPEF, no Hogwarts Professor.”
I have spoken with Gwendolyn Grace and Heidi Tandy of HPEF and I understand why they’re going out on a bang with this year’s program and moving on to new things. And I’m really looking forward to Ascendio’s special guests — Lev Grossman, Victoria Roth, others — and catching up with “the old crowd” from previous gatherings. Not to mention the full slate of extra-curriculars they have planned to raise the bar for conferences one last time — this promises to be the best show in a string of great shows.
I’ll be writing in the remaining weeks about those events and people, what I’ll be talking about there, and why I hope you’ll be joining me in Orlando. Register here. But today I just wanted to say it’s not going to be the same; knowing it will be the end will make this something like a graduation — you wonder if you’ll ever see many of these friends again and you wouldn’t, couldn’t miss it, however melancholy the shading on the celebration of all that’s gone before.
I’ll be thanking the many volunteers and HPEF staffers I know I’ll recognize at Ascendio 2012 for all they’ve done for this fandom (and the fandoms-come-lately that have benefited from the ground-breaking work they did back in the day) and for me as a writer, blogger, and speaker. This post in my opening salvo in those thanks as we get ready for the glorious end of the beginning of Potter Fandom; please share some of your HPEF memories in the comment boxes below, especially if you’re coming for the Grand Finale coming right up!