Packing the Trunk: A Hogwarts Professor Heads to Universal

My kids have never forgiven me for getting to attend Leaky-Con 2014’s private “Open at the Close” party at Universal Orlando:  a night in the two Harry Potter Parks and all the free butter beer you could drink.  So, after some more complex vacation plans fell through, we are heading out tomorrow for a 5 day Universal Adventure.

Honestly, I am afraid 5 days in one theme park may be a bit much, even for a Potter Pundit such as myself. Yes, it is an impressive place, built to make you believe you are truly entering the wizarding world.  But will the experience be spoiled for me, since I got my first taste in a limited-size crowd of fellow Potter fans? I will admit considerable wariness about daytime heat, huge crowds and lengthy lines.

The big news at Universal this year is Hagrid’s Motorcycle Adventure, billed as the world’s first story coster.  While the ride has great reviews, with stories of 5 plus hour waits and regular, unplanned down times. I am not sure I will make the effort. Hopefully, 5 days in the park will result in some insider tips to navigate the system. I also hope to experience some of the rides, particularly Escape from Gringotts, that a pinched nerve in my neck stopped me from doing in 2014.

I already know a few tidbits from my earlier experience:  frozen butterbeer is better than regular, Florean’s ice cream is not to be missed, and the Three Brothers and Celestina Warbeck shows are definitely worth seeing. I absolutely want to see the Ollivander wand demo, but am still debating whether it is worth $50 to get the interactive version for myself. I also don’t know if the Ravenclaw merchandise  will meet my standards; I tend to be a purist when it comes to blue and bronze.  

Thanks to the years of Potter Punditing, I have different witchcraft and wizarding-themed t-shirts to wear every day of the week, including those from Misti-Con, the Generic Magic Festival and, of course, my local favorite, the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival.  (How is it I’ve never managed to come back from Chestnut Hill with a shirt?)  There are plenty of other attractions at Universal, so I will not be spending every moment in the Wizarding World. But hopefully I’ll be blogging some experiences along the way and be able to share some tips on the ups and downs of the Harry theme park, as well as the rest of the experience.

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.

The ‘Lethal White’ Pillar Post

Readers and film goers come to for challenging discussion of popular literature and especially the novels of J. K. Rowling. There are Harry Potter fan sites which are much more popular than this one, but there are none that I know of that take Rowling and her work as seriously as we do or offer the insights about the artistry and meaning in play in the novels, screenplays, even the longer Twitter sequences she writes.

We may also be the only website that offers extensive, in depth, and fun commentary on and speculation about Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mysteries. There’s so much good material in our archives, in fact, on each of the four books we have from Robert Galbraith that the Serious Striker needs a guide or catalog for easy reference.

Hence the Pillar Post project. If you look on the left sidebar of the HogwartsProfessor homepage, you’ll see a list there of subject categories beneath which links are hiding a panoply of posts within that category. All the Strike novels’ Pillar Post listings, for example, are to be found by clicking on INDIVIDUAL ROWLING WORKS, posts about literary alchemy and ring composition are under KEYS FOR INTERPRETATION, and Hunger Games, Twilight, and Divergent discussion in AUTHORS NOT J.K. ROWLING.

I’ve really only just started this cataloging work; forgive me if the Pillar Post you want or need isn’t done yet. The ‘Literary Alchemy’ pillar only has urls sorted into categories, but The Hunger Games collection is done (just in time for discussion about the prequel) and, as of late last night, the Lethal White set is finished as well. (I shouldn’t say the Pillar Posts are “done” or “finished” because they will need to be updated, but the first gathering and cataloging is ‘up.’)

If I say so myself, the Lethal White Pillar Post is the equivalent of a very, very good published guidebook to the fourth Cormoran Strike novel. There are more than eighty entries that cover subjects as varied as the Cratylic names, literary alchemy and mythic context, and the novel’s ring composition, not to mention discussion of the science in the book, the historical Rattenbury for whom the mad terrier is named (Peeves!), and the literary allusions and influences (Rosmersholm!).

It has writing from Louise Freeman, Beatrice Groves, Joanne Gray, M. Evan Willis, Elizabeth Baird-Hardy, and others as well as myself, and frankly, it doesn’t get better than that crowd of Serious Strikers.

Did I mention the echoes of Goblet of Fire and Cuckoo’s Calling in Lethal White? All the links to those posts are in one spot on this page, too.

Check it out if you have a moment — and, if you have two moments, let me know what you think by writing a note in the comment box below! Let me know, too, if you’d like to volunteer to help gather together the urls for one of these Pillar Posts yourself; I could sure use a hand in completing this project.

Cormoran Strike Pillar Post: Strike5 Speculation and Predictions

We do not have a title yet for the fifth Cormoran Strike mystery but speculation about and predictions of its plot points, its possible parallels with Order of the Phoenix and Career of Evil, and its place in the narrative arc of the series are well underway at HogwartsProfessor. Check out these three posts:

More of this musing and conjecture can be found in the comment box threads under the Lethal White posts that explore the echoes linking Strike4 and Goblet of Fire. See the Lethal White Pillar Post for those links.

This opening salvo of a Pillar Post will be updated in the months and one hopes not-too-many years separating us from the publication of Strike5. You can always check on it by clicking on the ‘Individual Rowling Works’ in the Pillar Post sidebar on the left of the site’s homepage and then the Strike5 entry there.


Hunger Games: The Pillar Post

The One Stop location for Hunger Games posts at HogwartsProfessor is now up. You can find it by scrolling down the ‘Pillar Posts’ listing in the left margin of the site’s home page and clicking on ‘Authors Not J. K. Rowling (Hunger Games, Etc.)’ and then ‘Suzanne Collins — Hunger Games’ on that page. Or just head straight there via this link! (For more on the purpose of and how to use ‘Pillar Posts’ see “The ‘Why’ and ‘How To’ of HogwartsProfessor Pillar Posts.”)

The timing of this post is no coincidence, of course, but due to the news that Collins is writing a prequel to the best-selling trilogy. (See ‘Let the Hunger Games Begin — Again!’ for that story.) There are close to one hundred Hunger Games articles listed in this Pillar Post so settle in for a fun catch-up of the best discussion available anywhere on the books and film adaptations.

Here is a taste of the very best to encourage you to check out the whole listing: