Harry Potter and the Escape from Literature, uh, Gringotts

As the summer opening of the expanded Wizarding World Theme Park approaches, with its attendant Leaky Con convention, my inbox receives email on an almost daily basis from Universal Studios and the enthusiastic minions in service to the Leaky Cauldron empire. Regular readers of this site know from the several posts I have made on this subject that my misgivings about the direction of Harry Potter fandom, the reality we live in rather than a destination we may someday reach, center on this fandom being, not of imaginative experience to be had in literature, but of temporal sense experience that can be had in cinema, rock music concerts, and amusement parks.

The former requires effort, concentration, and intelligence beyond the skills of reading letters on a page — and it has a corresponding effect on the brain, believe it or not, to the one had by a person actually experiencing the event. The self-transcending sense experience of a movie, roller coaster, or dancing to loud, rhythmic music in a crowd, in contrast, requires no effort beyond showing up, a lack of concentration or interior awareness, and less intelligence than any of the participants want to admit. With a corresponding effect of an overdose rather than a guided transformation within what Updike called “the continuous dream” of story.

Today I received this ‘Sneak Peek’ at the new ride in Orlando, ‘Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.’ I’ve ridden the old ride at the first park that takes the paying customer on a virtual broom flight alongside Harry. I expect this is much the same experience, which is to say, nothing like the world  we entered with our hearts inside the books and everything like the dis-enchanted world of the Warmer Brothers screen adaptations. Only with a three-dimensional spin you won’t get in theaters so losing your lunch and Butter Beer are real possibilities.

Your thoughts? I’m reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains and suspect that those who have read it will know what I’m after here. Our brains are being literally re-wired and re-configured via neuroplasticity and intellectual technology to accept the video, cinema experience as the greater reality of the Hogwarts Saga. I suspect, given the technological nature of our times and the online quality of everything to do with Harry Potter today that this was inevitable. Alas!


  1. I was hoping it would be a high-octane roller coaster, similar to how it was in the movie. If it’s just the same as the Hogwarts ride, they’ve ruined my looking forward to it as a roller coaster enthusiast. They have definitely ruined my looking forward to it as a Potterhead by adding Bellatrix and Voldemort to the storyline. Waiting for the West Coast iteration gets easier the more previews I see…

  2. I don’t know. My public school fourth grade students enjoy movies, but they consistently acknolwedge that the book is always better. And they read voraciously. And personally, I enjoy both.

  3. Chris Calderon says

    Mr. Granger,

    I have essentially the same concerns as you regarding the ability of any given audience to grow from a reading experience, as opposed to just scanning words on a page. The difference for me comes from asking this question: If someone doesn’t get anything out of the most well-written, three dimensional story, and yet still calls his or herself a fan of said story, then why? What is it they find enjoyable? What are they getting out of it?

    My own thinking has two related sides to it. The first centers more around Tolkien’s use of the word escape (lower case), and the other (non-Mythopoeic) meaning of that word. Tolkien uses the word Escape in the spiritual sense of Recovery from “Death in Life”. I’d argue that a lot (no telling how many, really) of today’s audiences use fiction as a means of escape totally different from, and at odds with, Tolkien’s use of that word. This is escape in the sense that was, at least it used to be, looked down upon by everyone; namely escapism.

    For me, it has less to do with brain chemistry (phantasmagorical at best) than it does questions of motivation (perhaps unexamined) on the part of the audience. My own thinking (based in part on personal experience) is that it’s possible some audience members are using fiction as a means of escaping from real life as opposed to using a book as a receptacle of “bottled knowledge” that can be used to help guide someone through life. “If” such an idea is true, it begs the question, why would someone use books in that manner? The answer, as best I’ve been able to figure it is, there are too many people out there with too many bad life experiences; people neglected, abused, or overly pampered (think Dudley Dursley) so much to the point that the idea of escaping from real life, even if only the pages of a book, will sound (to their ears, at least) like water in the desert, especially if it means they don’t have to be themselves anymore, inasmuch as they probably don’t really like themselves.

    The second related part to all this are those who genuinely like books as art, yet who have never been given an opportunity of “learning” such techniques as “close reading” and the like. This other half of the coin is more simple and less tragic than the problem of escapism, however it is also no less problematic, as there can be bad consequences for never teaching a man to fish, so to speak. Unfortunately, as of this moment, learning, at least in public schools, seems to be out and politics seems to be in (as always). I think this country’s been on the run from politics ever since 76.

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