PDay Minus Eight: Friday 13 July, Enlightening 2007

Potter Week, the Eight Days before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at midnight 21 July 2007 (“PDay”), will be celebrated at Hogwarts Professor with a daily dose of final thoughts from the HogPro All-Pros and my Seven Predictions from the Five Keys explained in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader.

Let me start, though, with my notes from last Friday, PDay minus Eight, and the first Harry Potter Camp for Families, Enlightening 2007. If you couldn’t care less about my adventures there, hold your horses; in a few hours, I’ll have finished my Saturday predictions for posting!

Friday the 13th began (like all days in the Temple) at Sundown Thursday as the Enlightening 2007 Campers rode the Knight Buses, cleverly disguised as school buses, from Philadelphia to King of Prussia for the viewing of the Order of the Phoenix movie on an IMAX screen. I was supposed to moderate a panel Friday morning on the movie so the Enlightening folk invited to come to the IMAX show, five minutes from my home, and, because they had bought out the house that night, they invited my whole famn damily to the show.

Enlightening 2007 immediately shot to the top of the greatest-thing-daddy-was-ever-involved-in list. Thursday was the Feast of St. Peter and Paul and we were going to the Harry Potter movie in an IMAX theatre! Major, major thrills. Dad had read the last fifteen chapters of Brian Jacques’ High Rhulain Wednesday night so we were still on a Redwall high, but this promised to be the best Feast of the Apostles ever.

And the children were right! It was a blast! Seeing them reach out to touch the Thestrals when the movie went 3-D was especially fun… I’ll be posting something about the movie tomorrow if I can get Janet Batchler’s permission (if she hasn’t already posted the excellent notes and questions she sent me for the panel on her blog, Quoth the Maven! [She has!]), though I’m pretty sure you’ve read a better review than anything I could say over at Travis Prinzi’s Sword of Gryffindor.

I spent the rest of that night and most of the next morning preparing my PowerPoint slides for my featured talk. My thought was that by putting my notes on a screen I could move through the 45 minute lecture I gave at Sonorus 2007 in less time and be able to add the “reading with family” notes I’d prepared for the Family Camp in Philadelphia. My quick run-through the slides before racing out to the Schuykill Expressway and my date at the University of Pennsylvania seemed to confirm that thought. Ho!

There was, of course, a traffic jam on the Schuylkill and no parking anywhere near the Penn Student Center so I was half out of my mind when I finally found a space on the roof of the Penn Medical Center Parking Garage. I grabbed my laptop and book bag and ran the several blocks to Houston Hall convinced I was late for a conference that was being held only 15 miles from where I lived. The Enlightening staff, more than gracious, took me to the third floor right away where a panel was already in full discussion… George Beahm and Tim Kirk welcomed me and made no mention of the fact that I was late. In fact, they invited me to jump right in and begin answering questions. I was overwhelmed by George’s and Tim’s kindness in not embarrassing me further than I already was and I stumbled through some comments.

Oh, but it gets worse.

Five or ten minutes into the discussion, George starts to close the conversation and introduce the next panel. “No way,” I thought; “I couldn’t have been forty or fifty minutes late…”

I wasn’t.

I’d arrived ten minutes early, burst into the panel introducing aspects of Harry Potter Fandom to the uninitiated in the context of children’s literature, and sat right in as if I was “the show.” Can you say, “moronic git”? (I knew you could.) I’ll always be thankful to George and Tim for not saying that, before or after our panels together, and for making it seem as if they’d been expecting me and were delighted to see me rush the dais.

Then it turns out I wasn’t the moderator of the film discussion panel (phew!), a duty which was handled very well by a man on the Enlightening Staff who kept us on track and all talking with plenty of input and questions from the audience. I had met George Beahm briefly at Lumos but had never heard him speak. Between his comments about the inevitable shortcomings and the remarkable virtues of the film as celluloid story-telling and Tim Kirk’s answers to audience questions about the artistry of the movie (with an aside about Ray Bradbury’s experiences writing the screenplay for John Huston’s Moby Dick that I have to follow-up on), I was delighted to be third-string and relatively quiet. I disagreed with George a couple of times pro forma and talked from Janet Batchler’s notes about the screenwriter’s decision to make Phoenix an expository drama on the theme of loyalty but mostly I listened with the audience to the challenging stuff from my fellow talking-heads. [What do I know about movies?]

The audience at Enlightening 2007, as you’d expect at a Harry Potter Family Camp, was different than Nimbus, Lumos, or Sonorus. They were very serious readers, like the other conferences, all of whom knew the six books in print better than I ever will. They weren’t, however, as a rule to which there were obvious exceptions, consumed by Fandom topics and, ahem, side-shows, like ‘shipping, fan-fiction, and the relative worth of The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet. They were parents, for the most part, and they all seemed to be engaged with the six Harry Potter novels simultaneously as serious readers and as moms and dads of children who love Harry (and are learning to love reading because of their relationship with him). As a father of seven Harry Hallowers myself, talking with this group was a lot of fun.

If I understand their website, Enlightening 2007 is the brainchild of Victoria Breeden, the founder and engine driving “Bonding Over Books” or just “BOB.” BOB’s mission is “is to create fun and educational events that allow families to explore together the world of a popular book or author. At our “family camps” you can enjoy games and activities together as a family while participating in classes divided into age groups, all of which focus on a particular book or author loved by kids and adults alike.” Enlightening was the first venture of BOB and the UPenn Graduate School of Education; “Harry Potter” was a natural topic and in future years they hope to explore C. S. Lewis, Austen, and Shakespeare.

If you haven’t perused their several scheduling tracks (kids, tweens, teens, and adults), I really encourage families to check it out. There was no one “just hanging out” when I was there. Everyone seemed fully engaged and very excited and happy about what they were doing. One young woman, Amanda, told me her family had come from St. Louis, Missouri, and she was having a blast. This is a great idea for a family adventure and summer vacation, especially being in the Center City of Philadelphia, where you can skip out at lunch and take in Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. If they don’t invite me back as a speaker for the next BOB camp, I’ll probably come with my unschoolers and enjoy the other side of the podium.

Back to my day there. Let’s call it, “Friday the 13th: PDay Minus Eight.”

After the movie panel, I had lunch with a man and woman thinking about sponsoring a Harry Potter get-together of some kind in Florida. That was a hoot for me because their three handsome boys were in the children’s programming that ran on parallel but somewhat different tracks from the adult stuff. They would check in with mom and dad and march off to another part of Houston Hall. As much as I enjoyed talking with and getting to know them, I really enjoyed watching another family of happy children and parents checking in with each other and catching up with their days.

I made sure I was not too early or late for my afternoon talk, Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys Our Families Can Use To Help Us Understand Why We Love These Books, held in the upstairs auditorium of Houston Hall, the UPenn Student Center. The hall was something of a throw-back to me because it was done in the Neo-Gothic style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that will always “take me back” to the classrooms and buildings at the University of Chicago. Incredibly, a young woman struck up a conversation with me and she was a Chicagoan. We both marveled at the similarities between Houston and Ida Noyes Hall, the Student Center of the UC. From the large rounded, wooden stairways to the faux-medieval arch supports and dark wall paneling, we both thought we were back in Hyde Park.

Or the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Houston Hall UPenn, was a great spot for a Harry Potter conference: Magical, Mod-Medieval, and filled with earnest students.

I started my talk full of confidence that I could finish in fifty minutes and maybe even early enough to take a few questions. When I got to the end of my talk, I received more than generous applause and hurried to get out of the way of the “We are Wizards” documentary film crew that were scheduled to talk in that hall after me. Josh Koury, film wizard, had introduced himself and asked if he could film my talk and do an interview afterwards. He came up to me as I was scrambling to get out of his way, told me there was no hurry, and confirmed a time later for our interview. As I was leaving the room for the “Chat with John” scheduled in the basement cafeteria after my talk, I learned I had gone way over my time.


I solemnly swear to practice and time my PowerPoint talks hereafter at least three times before launching them. Really. I will. [Is there anything ruder than a speaker who “runs over”? Maybe, but I’m struggling to think of one.]

Anyway, I ran downstairs with my computer and books in tow and found a group of thirty adult readers from upstairs with a lot of questions about the Five Keys, the whacko speculative theories I use to illustrate the Keys (yes, Stoppered Death, Scar-O-Scope, and a heavy dose of the Rubedo possibilities…), and about Rowling in the context of English literature and family life. The crowd grew as the question-and-answer conversation went on until we filled our part of the cafeteria with some overflow and my voice was absolutely shot. We had a great time as they tried to pick apart my theories with canon and common sensical objections and I tried to make a case. Every time they seemed to be won over, of course, I would remind them that these theories were ridiculously over-complicated and almost certainly wrong. Which left us all shaking our heads and laughing. The questions about an author’s intention, about the meaning of “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” and reading with children were some of the best public give-and-take since, well, Sonorus 2007 and my days eating “sliders” (greasy double cheeseburgers) in the C-Shop and Hutchinson Commons.

I was whupped after about four and a half hours of lecturing and “chatting” but the group only broke up when it was time to meet up with the children. Before everyone left, I autographed and sold all the books I’d been able to carry with me and asked everyone to keep in touch with me via HogPro. If you’re reading this and were there, I hope you’ll say “hi!” in the comments box below! If you didn’t get the book you wanted, write me at john @zossima. com.

I sat down then with Josh Koury, the wonderfully polite young man making the “We are Wizards” documentary film about Harry Potter fandom pre-Deathly Hallows and coughed my way through fifteen to twenty minutes of questions about what used to be known as “The Controversy.” I forget when I’m wearing my “Great Books” and “Literary Alchemy” hats that a whole bunch of people, maybe most people who have ever read what I write, think of me as the Christian Apologist for Joanne Rowling’s “dangerous books.” I shifted my gears, consequently, back into 2004, “Wrestling With Abanes,” and tried not to sound tired and dismissive, which, I’m sad to say, is becoming my habit when asked about the Harry Haters and their objections. I hope Josh got something from our talk that he could use (and that he doesn’t reveal my failings forever in the documentary!).

I went home, collapsed, and woke up in time to watch a DVD (“The Bourne Identity”) with my 17 year old daughter, Sarah, the most serious reader in my clan. [She’s re-reading Emma to get ready for Deathly Hallows.] Saturday I got up late, cut the lawn, and drove to my dad’s place in Fogelsville where my family is living this summer. I came up with my plan for Potter Week on the drive up Pennsylvania’s “Northeast Extension.”

Here is what I hope to do in the seven days remaining until PDAy:

(1) Post one prediction every day with explanations about how this speculation illumines one or more of the Five Keys that help us unlock the depth and meaning of Ms. Rowling’s books;

(2) Post my PowerPoint slides on this weBlog or on the Zossima Press site (if Josh Koury can get me an audio file of the actual talk — or video? — I’ll try and put that up, too); and

(3) Post most everything that HogPro readership sends me that they have written that they want to get off their chests or out into the open before PDay, when every “It ended just like I thought it had to!” will be met with a skeptical, “Oh, sssuurree you did….” The gates are open for Guest Essays, folks. It doesn’t have to be quite up to the Sally Palmer standard, but, if I have do too much editing, you’ll understand if I don’t get to it before PDay.

I’ll open the week with three predictions of “can’t miss items” and one from my Enlightening 2007 talk last Friday. I hope y’all will check in daily and offer your thoughts on my best-guesses (without taking the exercise too seriously, please!). The Interlibrum is almost over — and I don’t think I’ve been this excited and filled with expectation since the week before my wedding. I’m delighted to have so many good friends to share the week with!

Thank you, BOB friends, for my day at Enlightening 2007! This “Family Reading Camp” idea is a “wow” and a winner. I can hardly wait to learn what next year’s topic/author will be!


  1. John, this was the first time we met and how that friendship has grown over the years. I was the moderator you mentioned that kept you all on track. I was also the Dumbledore for the main hall feast on opening night, and it was the first time I brought out the Harry Potter jeopardy game.

    What a great family event that I spent with my father and two of my daughters.

    Miss you buddy!

  2. The feeling is mutual, O Submariner!

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