Thursday, August 18, 2016

Manufactured magic: What happened after "all was well"

When the last Harry Potter movie was released in 2011, a lot of people assumed the Harry Potter fandom would finally start to settle down. Of course, those of us who live and breathe the books knew better; no way was the lack of new material going to temper our passion.

And we were right. Potterheads are as dedicated as ever. We still go to conventions. We still read and discuss the books. And the original Harry Potter generation is already introducing this incredible story to their kids. (I'm resigning myself to the fact that my kids will probably hate Harry Potter just because I love it, because rotten kids tend to get their just reward when they pass on their genes. My only hope is that I came around to Lord of the Rings eventually, and Chris Pine managed what my parents earnestly tried but could not do—get me to enjoy a Star Trek movie.)

In fact, it turns out that we weren't done getting new Harry Potter material. In just five years, we got Pottermore, tons of information on the Harry Potter world and even some on the North American wizarding school, a promise for at least three movies about New Scamander of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them fame, and a play. JKR invited us further into the world she created (although Potterheads prefer to say "discovered") with her sorting and wand selection quizzes, and even gave us "live" updates on the Quidditch Final in 2014 (spoiler: Krum won). And that's not even getting into theme parks, merchandise, and endless amounts of fan-created content. It doesn't take a business genius to see the money-making opportunities in Harry Potter, so of course people with marketing teams got involved to "give the people what they want."

We drank it all up, and kept demanding more. I'm as guilty of this as anyone.

But after reading Cursed Child (stop reading if you want to avoid spoilers) and getting a sense for how my fellow Potterheads feel about this new branch of "canon," I finally started to see what's happening to the franchise. It's just what the Harry Potter grinches have been predicting for years—continuing a story that has a solid conclusion would only dilute it until it is no longer recognizable. It took Voldemort and Bellatrix having a daughter and Harry being afraid of pigeons for me to see it. JKR's voice, which is what made Harry Potter most special, is slowly being phased out.

The amount of pressure JKR has experienced because of Harry Potter has got to be tremendous. Someone without her talent and sense of humor would probably have had a mental breakdown by now. Passionate fans aren't a whole lot different from gluttonous beasts, and no matter how much information she feeds us, we're never going to be completely satisfied. And those trying to capitalize on Harry Potter's guaranteed money-making powers are even more persistent than fans who just want to know what Moaning Myrtle's middle name is. Warner Brothers and other corporations are going to take the Harry Potter cash cow and keep running with it, whether JKR is on board or not. So she got involved with the Fantastic Beasts trilogy, and signed off on the play. Because she loves Harry Potter too and wants to do right by her fans. And no artist wants to see her creation tarnished by someone else.

But it's clear that her heart isn't into it. Not like it was 10 years ago.

We have no one but ourselves to blame. We wanted more, and we kept getting it—now we're to the point where a writer who is not JKR thought he could get away with having the "canon" Harry Potter say something like, "You don't understand, because you don't have kids" to Professor McGonagall (in an alternative universe, sure, but alternate universes don't belong in Harry Potter anyway).

As I've talked about on this blog many times, I love getting anything Harry Potter related, and I'm not ready to telegraph a "cease and desist" order to JKR. And while the charm, wonder, and—gosh, I'll just say it—magic of the original seven books will always be there, the franchise as it currently stands feels manufactured. Like Squibs trying to imitate the world they can't truly be a part of. Perhaps it's time to start tapping on the brakes. Or—imagine this—let JKR take back her control, even if it means we never get another word on Harry Potter.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

9 years later: Reading a new Harry Potter book for the first time

For those of you who cautiously clicked through, don't worry; there won't be spoilers here. Not really.

Ya'll know my thoughts on the so-called 8th Harry Potter story. I would much rather have a novel we can all enjoy than a play only a few can experience.

But when the script went on sale for pre-order, of course I ordered a copy—a new piece of Harry's world was waiting to be discovered, and ignoring it simply wasn't an option.

I was a little annoyed when I realized that July 31 was a Sunday, which meant I'd have to wait an extra day to read the book. Uncle Vernon won that round.

But still, it wasn't too big of a problem. It was like that Christmas before I was a true Harry Potter fan and chose to read my Nancy Drew books before I read books 2 and 3 of the Harry Potter series. I'd get to it eventually.

Which is why I was a little surprised that when I sat down with the book I got a little emotional. The dust jacket has the same texture as my other Harry Potter books. The book design is the same. It felt like a Harry Potter book, and it dawned on me that I was reading a new Harry Potter book for the first time in nine years. No, it wouldn't be quite the same, but it was new Harry Potter canon nonetheless—that's not something you can just brush aside.

In traditional Harry Potter fashion, I stayed up too late finishing it, and then had to sit down and jot down some of my thoughts before attempting to sleep. Therapy for Harry Potter withdrawals won't be required this time because the script isn't on that level of literary magic, nor did I expect it to be, but, come on. It's Harry Potter. Of course I have thoughts.

(If you're one of those who considers impressions spoilers, I would advise that you stop reading now.)

Did I enjoy it? Yes, more than I thought I would (though it's definitely got problems). Do I think it would make a good play? Absolutely, and I'd love to see it. The writers managed to convince me that a play would be a fun way to tell this story, more so than a movie would be, even. But I stand by what I've said for years—there's no better medium for Harry Potter than a novel written by J.K. Rowling. It's no contest. Reading the script was a bit like watching it through a foggy window—you grasp enough to know what's going on, but you don't truly experience it.

Did it feel like Harry Potter? Well, sort of. Tone-wise, it felt most like Sorcerer's Stone; lighthearted with some dark moments. But mostly it felt like fan fiction to me, and that's because of the plot, not the format. However, it was delightful seeing the trio, Ginny, and Draco as adults. Some of the lines made me laugh out loud. Some made my heart twinge a bit.

It wasn't the type of experience that made me a devoted Potterhead for life, but it was still a continuation of a story I love so much. And that's enough. Just knowing that Harry and co. are still out there, dealing with parental struggles and magical problems while we stalk them with the best of our Muggle capabilities, is comforting. JKR didn't have to let us into their lives again, but she did, and honestly, I'm grateful for whatever I can get.

Now, I wanted to do some kind of recap of my reactions to the play, so I took some notes as I went along.

Again, there aren't any blatant spoilers, but depending on how well you know me and Harry Potter, you may be able to guess what some of my vague exclamations mean. I doubt it, though.

Be ye warned.

pg. 17: WHAT.
pg. 29: JKR, do you really want to go down that road again?
pg. 48: Oh no!
pg. 52: This is starting to sound like that Harry Potter Musical on YouTube.
pg. 55: Now this is the kind of magical backstory I was hoping for.
pg. 59. Wait, did I read that right? ::Pauses:: Actually, that's not surprising.
pg. 67: Oh, Ron. Nobody can lighten the mood like you can.
pg. 78: Okay, this scene would be hilarious to watch.
pg. 81: Don't touch those books!
pg. 82: I told you not to touch those books. What would Grandpa Weasley say?
pg. 91: This better not mean what I think it means.
pg. 106: WHAT? It actually worked?
pg. 115: Oh, Harry. Dumbledore was right about you.
pg. 118: Gosh dang it, look what you did to Ron!
pg. 122: Ugh, Harry, stop being such a jerk.
pg. 125: See, this is why Hermione needs Ron.
pg. 135: Harry cooks?
pg. 136: Who would have thought that Draco and Ginny would have something in common?
pg. 144: Always. Sniff.
pg. 160: Okay, I know that wasn't supposed to be funny, but I can't stop laughing.
pg. 183: Did _____ seriously just crack a joke?
pg. 187: Stop trying to make me like _____.
pg. 195: I mean it.
pg. 223: This play is worth it for the Ron and Hermione scenes alone.
pg. 224: I hope canceling on the goblins doesn't come back to bite you.
pg. 249: Awwwwwww.
pg. 258: Awwwwwww. ::fake cries::
pg. 273: Yay! Ron gets to go with them this time!
pg. 274: Draco learned that from Voldemort, I'll bet.
pg. 277: #TeamBookGinny
pg. 280: This just got really weird.
pg. 287: I KNEW IT!
pg. 298: Finally! I've been waiting for _____ to show up.
pg. 306: Hmm. That's new.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What the doctor ordered

As someone with near perfect health, I don't have a lot of experience being a patient. The most traumatic healthcare experience I've had is getting my wisdom teeth removed. Pretty routine procedure.

But after kicking off what has been the worst summer—sleep wise—of my life, I finally did what I should have done years and years ago: went to a sleep doctor. It introduced me to a world of ridiculously high co-pays, repetitive questions about my sleep habits, and trips to the hospital to get blood tests done. All stuff that was new in an almost eerie way, although a part of me enjoyed finding out what the inside life of a patient was like.

Unsurprisingly, the doctor ordered a sleep test as well, which is just another way of saying, "We're going to charge you a buttload of money so you can have the worst night of sleep in your life." Still, I was kind of looking forward to it, partly because I was curious what it would be like, and partly because I was willing to do just about anything to get to the bottom of why I can't sleep like a normal person.

I showed up at the clinic just before dark, feeling like a homeless person as I stood there in my pajamas, clutching two pillows (never underestimate the importance of good pillows), waiting for someone to let me in. The lab tech took me to the same room I had my initial consultation in, where I saw this waiting for me:

The lab tech spent the next 45 minutes wiring me up. That's about 40 wires connected to my body, mostly on my head, with two on each leg, some on my shoulders/collarbone, a couple straps across my waist and chest, a clamp thing on my left pointer finger, and two breathing tube things in my nose (which would have been a disaster if my allergies decided to come play).

I was a sight to see—wires hooked up everywhere, no makeup on, my hair a frizzy mass of unruly curls because they made me wash it beforehand and I wasn't allowed to put any product in it.

Yes, I took a picture, and no, you can't see it. Basically, I looked something like this:

Only instead of the skeleton, just imagine that there are little white squares glued all over my face.

If I wasn't already exhausted from the frustrating 4.5 hours of sleep I got the night before, not to mention months of sleep deprivation, I might have laughed hysterically at the thought that this was the best solution medical professionals have come up with for monitoring someone's sleep. (Oh, and I'm pretty sure there was also a video camera in my room. Creepy.)

Just picture it: a group of sleep experts sitting at a conference room table in their lab coats, laughing evilly as they map out a formula for the perfect worst night of sleep.

  • Strange environment—check.
  • Cheap bed with a thin blanket that barely covers it—check.
  • Wire the patient up so that in addition to having foreign objects taped all over the place they'll also be paranoid that they'll get tangled up in their sleep—check.
  • Sporadic noises throughout the night—check.
  • Turn the thermostat down so patient will never be quite warm enough—check.
  • Prohibit bathroom breaks/don't tell patient where the bathroom is—check.

(To be fair, my lab tech was a very nice guy, and he did ask me if the temperature was okay, I just underestimated how little coverage that stupid blanket would provide.)

All things considered, I don't think it was the worst night of sleep of my life, but it would make the top 5 if I were weird enough to track that kind of thing. The wires weren't as uncomfortable and distracting as I thought they would be, and I actually slept okay once I managed to fall asleep. Which took a good three hours, even after two doses of melatonin and all of my other tricks to stimulate sleep.

After 3–4 hours of sleep, I was awoken and finally got to get rid of all those wires. Which left goops of this jelly glue stuff all over my face and caked into my hair. Luckily, it wasn't hard to wash out, but this is another one of those situations where I envied bald men everywhere.

Now all I have to do is wait and see what the results are. That and finish up what's turning out to be my busiest week of the year. And wait for the sleep-loss headache to escalate.

Am I laughing or crying?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I am Thunderbird, hear me roar

I've been a little on the outs with J.K. Rowling lately because she made The Cursed Child a play instead of a book. But her awesome sense of humor and continued dedication to the wizarding world make it hard to stay mad at her. And today she gave Potterheads a treat I wasn't expecting—a Sorting for Ilvermorny, the American Hogwarts!

First of all, go read the history of Ilvermorny. It's great. Some things I found especially interesting:
  • The school was founded by a descendent of Slytherin and a Muggle (okay, fine, No-Maj)
  • Students don't get a wand until they get to school, and they're not allowed to take wands home until they come of age (17, just like in the UK)
  • Ilvermorny has four houses, all named after magical creatures
  • Enchanted carvings representing each house select the students they want in their house. If more than one carving claims a student, the student decides which house to join.
  • Slytherin's wand was buried for reasons, and within a year a snakewood tree had grown in its place, which has powerful medicinal properties. I love this part: "This tree seemed testament to the fact that Slytherin's wand, like his scattered descendants, encompassed both noble and ignoble. The very best of him seemed to have migrated to America."

Seriously, read the whole thing. It's a delight.

Now, about the houses. I was a little worried they'd be copycats of the Hogwarts houses, especially since Isolt, one of the founders, based much of the school on what she had heard about Hogwarts while living in Ireland (she later escaped from her crazy-evil aunt aboard the Mayflower). But the houses don't match up—the best comparison I can come up with is that America has two Gryffindor houses, a Ravenclaw/Slytherin combo, and a sort-of Hufflepuff. Still, that's not really an accurate description, so just leave the Hogwarts houses in the UK and the Ilvermorny houses in the US.

A quick introduction to the magical creatures the houses are named after:
  • Horned Serpent—a "great horned river serpent with a jewel set into its forehead"
  • Pukwudgie—"a short, grey-faced, large-eared creature"
  • Thunderbird—a creature that "can create storms as it flies"
  • Wampus—"a magical, panther-like creature that is fast, strong and almost impossible to kill"

And there's also this tidbit:
It is sometimes said of the Ilvermorny houses that they represent the whole witch or wizard: the mind is represented by Horned Serpent; the body, Wampus; the heart, Pukwudgie and the soul, Thunderbird. Others say that Horned Serpent favours scholars, Wampus, warriors, Pukwudgie, healers and Thunderbird, adventurers. 

I originally thought I would be a Horned Serpent; it sounds like a melding of Ravenclaw and Slytherin, which is what I've often considered myself to be. But at the end of my sorting, it was the Thunderbird that flapped its wings.

You don't need to convince me further—I love this house already. Sure, I love books and cleverness, but adventures? Those are essential to having an interesting existence. And while I value knowledge and learning above most other things, I think a person is truly defined by their individuality and beliefs rather than by what they know. I'm a proud Ravenclaw for life, but I'm liking more and more that Ilvermorny sees me as more of a soulful adventurer; I'd rather have that on my headstone than "intellectual."

Now, it's your turn! Where does the American Hogwarts sort you?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

When your days are three hours longer

This week I've been putting one of my most useful college skills to good use: forcing my brain to work without luxuries like sleep. My sleep volume has been on a slow, steady decline since March, and it's to the point now that sometimes falling asleep before 2:00 a.m. is just impossible.

It's incredibly frustrating, especially if you succumb to the temptation to keep checking the clock. (You're just torturing yourself, Pal.) I often wish that since I'm forced to stay awake that I at least had a cool reason for it, like I'm fighting a forest fire or doing something really fun and nerdy or coming up with brilliant solutions to the world's problems. But no, it's always just "I'm not tired," even if I've employed all of my tricks to stimulate sleep.

But insomnia has some nice advantages, once you stop trying to fight it. For instance, how many times have you wished you had more hours in the day? Even if it was just for some much-needed relaxation?

Insomnia can make that dream come true.

As a kid, I loved staying up late. The thrill of skirting the rules—even if they were just boring bedtime rules—made any activity more fun at night, whether it was playing cards, watching a movie, or jumping on the trampoline. The risk that your dad (on your mom's orders, of course) would come down the stairs and scare you half to death with his exasperated, sleepy threats was worth it because it added just a little extra flavor to your fun. (Though I do feel guilty now about depriving my parents of sleep—sorry guys! I'm sure I'll get my just reward some day.)

And that childlike excitement hasn't left me entirely—I still love the occasional late weeknight movie and marathon reading session. While all the bozos around me are effortlessly snoozing away, I'm having fun, and there's something wonderfully satisfying about enjoying the extra night hours only you were given.

The fun comes with a cost, of course, but I've always appreciated fun more when it wasn't free.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

I like random thoughts

It's been a long time since I did a good ol' brain-dumping list post. For my own amusement, I thought I'd see if I can still do it.

  • I graduated from high school 10 years ago this week. Oddly, that doesn't make me feel as old as knowing that I graduated from college almost six years ago. I'm much more in tune with my college self, and it's strange that she's so far away. (I know, most of you are laughing at me for thinking six years is a long time to be out of college. Shut up.)
  • I'm on pace to read 100 books this year. While I've always fantasized doing that, I don't think I'll push myself too hard to hit that number. I might end up hating reading if I do.
  • I am far more excited about the new Beauty and the Beast movie and the Gilmore Girls revival than I am about any of the Harry Potter stuff coming up this year. If J.K. Rowling were writing an actual novel—not a play-printed-in-book-form-to-inspire-clickbait-and-confuse-people—I may have caused my own death via excitement by now. I obviously enjoy anything Harry Potter related, from books to movies to theme parks to online discussions to JKR-approved spin-offs, but nothing comes close to the exquisite delight of reading an actual Harry Potter book.
  • Somehow, Harry Potter always finds a way into these types of posts.
  • I tried to give The Office another try a few months ago, and only made it two episodes in. I think I could appreciate the show now, but I just CANNOT stand Michael Scott. I want him killed. I don't think the good things about the show are enough to compensate for my dislike of that character (the actor annoys me, too).
  • For years I've been trying to convince Mother Nature to not allow rain and/or thunderstorms on Tuesdays (softball days), but she continues to ignore me. If you can't tell, I'm in need of something fun outside of books and TV.
  • Yesterday (Wednesday), my first thought was, "At least today is Thursday." Even the warm donut dripping in chocolate frosting I got upon arriving at work wasn't enough to help me recover fully from my devastation knowing that the week wasn't even halfway over yet.
  • I've noticed that when people come to talk to me at my cubicle, I almost always reach for my water bottle for a drink. I guess it's a coping mechanism for dealing with unexpected social encounters. Which reminds me of a Gilmore Girls quote! "Are you sure you don't want some tea? It tends to make situations like these less awkward. There's things to hold and stir." Something like that. 
  • The term "manic pixie dream girl" keeps popping up in the podcasts I listen to.
  • This borderline jacket weather is really getting on my nerves.
  • Fake Coach K agreed to play a game in Provo? That's not a safe place, dude.

And, I'm out, folks. Have a nice day.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dream Diary: Part 9

Hibernation season is officially over—bye for now, blissful sleep; welcome back, entertaining dreams.

My new career
Angela Carter, freelance dinosaur catcher. Specializes in raptors. Dinosaurs will be delivered in pieces or just plain dead. Makes a popular wedding gift.

Meeting Jimmer
My family is at a tournament BYU game, and we run into Jimmer. My mom not at all subtly asks Jimmer if he has any single brothers or friends. I'm only bringing this up because this would totally happen in real life.

A series of Benadryl-powered dreams
World War III has started, and I spend all night on the lam with three strangers in a 1940s car; Kimberly invites Gaston home for Christmas in hopes that he will woo me, and let me tell you it works; I buy a new pair of earrings and, naturally, swallow one of them, and it impales my throat; a former roommate asks me to watch her baby for a few days while she and her husband go to Paris to get a new one.