Podcast of the Black Swan: Episode 5

When we last left our heroes, they had been broadcasting from a quasi-functional blackbox in a hotel room in Orlando, fondly reminiscing about the now-defunct “Jaws”  attraction at Universal Studios, Florida, and only occasionally interrupted by the blackbox’s previous contents.  Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, the hotel room was infiltrated by a group of surly pirates who promptly attacked with their advanced technologies and rendered our heroes unconscious.  For the full low-down, check out our last episode here!

Today, the adventure continues with the exciting new installment of our Podcast mini-series: “How We Spent our Winter Vacation”.  Click here to check it out.

As always, many thanks to the ever-talented Matt Rosvally and once again thanks to the voice talents of Billy Maloy.


Sometimes I am Wise… Sometimes

Ah the beginning of the semester.  New books, new pens, new notebooks… well… the idea of new notebooks and pens.  I gave up actual note-taking several years ago in lieu of its much more green digital cousin netbook note-taking and have only looked back on the first few days of the semester when I miss purchasing new spiral-bounds.

My favorite part of a new semester is the excuse to procure new books.  Lots of new books.  New books in spades.  New books in battalions.  New books in numbers that are certain to make me cry as I progress through the semester and actually have to read all these glorious shiny tomes.

Every semester, as I hunt for the textbooks which I legitimately need, I also manage to sneak in a little present to myself.  Often times, this present consists of more books.  Occasionally I will deviate from the tradition and treat myself to something other than books.  The only rule about the present is it must be procurable at the place where I purchase said books (school bookstore, amazon.com, half.com, or abebooks.com …this is not really a limiting factor as you can procure just about anything from amazon these days).  It’s a way to make myself feel loved and cared for as the semester continues.  It’s also a reminder to myself that, while school will always be the first priority, I should take some time out now and again to reconnect with the rest of the world.

This semester, spurred by my recent trip to Hogwarts (…I’ve been ruined for

pretty sure I drank ALL the butterbeer

all sugary drinks ever by the wonderful crack-laced butterbeer), I decided that it was time.  I invested in boxed sets of all the Harry Potter movies.

“Now self.”  I said, as I almost-guiltily hit the amazon checkout.  “You may be purchasing these films, but just because they are a wonderful part of your adolescence does not mean that you can use them as an excuse to not do your reading.  You are purchasing these films as a leisure activity to be enjoyed when all of your homework is done.”

“Yes, self, I understand.”

“Because if you’re just going to stick them in to watch before you do your real work, I’m going to have to put them back right now.  These can’t be distractions from the important things in life.”

“Of course not, self!  I will be good!  I will be the picture of discipline!  I will go to the gym and not eat carbs and my reading will always be done by a reasonable hour.  You know, I may even pile another bit of reading onto my weekly reading goal – comps is coming up, after all!”

“Good job, self.  If you can promise to do these things, then I will purchase you this golden piece of your childhood.”

“I love you, self.”

“I love you too, self.”

…flash forward to today.  A giant box has appeared on my doorstep chock full of amazony goodness.  Lo, thought I, it must be a great many of those textbooks I ordered!  Excellent!  I can get started on the reading for class on Thursday!  There is one play which I still require to be completely prepared for that first course and, as everyone knows, first impressions are so very important!

I opened the box, hands trembling with excitement.  This was it.  The thing that would complete my preparations for the second semester of my PhD.  I unfolded the lid, my breath bated in anticipation.

I tore aside the billing statement and glanced to the contents of the box.  To my delight, my Harry Potter movies were waiting cheerfully on top… along with one (count it) one of my textbooks.

One?  But I ordered everything on the same day!  Ah, but some of it was through half.com… and some of it was used through amazon sellers… and some of it through the school bookstore…. And… oh bother.  Of course luck would have it that the play I need to read for Thursday is not that one golden book entombed with the DVDs.  That would have just been too easy.


It really does look like that.

So now they’re sitting on my shelf… taunting me as I write this.  I do have a bunch of research to do, and some deadlines to meet, and other reading to do… but it’s been so long since I’ve seen my friends at Hogwarts.  Maybe just a quick fix?  If I write a paper on it, then it’s considered “research”, right?

…maybe I should just learn to listen to my better judgment.  At least sometimes.  She usually  has some valid points to make even if they’re couched in stupid grown-up logic.

The Potternomenon

Over the weekend, I engaged with my brand spankin’ new housemates (hi, Boston!) in the cultural phenomenon currently sweeping that nation that has members of my generation weepy-eyed and reminiscing.

I saw the last Harry Potter movie.

It’s no secret that Rowling’s series has made an immense impression upon the culture of the times.  I am of the generation who grew up with Harry Potter and, now that it’s “over”, are facing down a blank Potter-less existence punctuated by random bouts of nostalgia triggered by wands and quasi-Latin.

I think the question on everyone’s mind is “where do we go from here?”.  What do we do with our Potter-less existence?  How do we keep on living with no new book or movie to look forward to?

But this is not a new feeling for Potter fans.  Flash back to the summer of 2007.  I was in Conservatory at Shakespeare & Company (the first round).  Despite the fact that the book was released mid-week for us (we only had one day off, Monday; thereby Thursday counted as “mid-week”), despite the fact that we had rehearsed and trained for twelve hours that day, despite the fact that the next day was another twelve-hour marathon of soul-searching, a small die-hard contingent of us still marched ourselves to the only bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts and waited on line at midnight for the release.

I remember thinking at the time “this is it”.  Then I read the book.  As I turned that final page, teary-eyed (yea, I’m a girl, so what?), I remember thinking the same thing.  “This is it.”

So as I sat in the theatre, I couldn’t help but wonder if this really was it.  And if it was, why did I care so much?

The sheer impact that this series has had on our culture is fascinating.  In a world of e-publishing and instant gratification everything, we are facing down a generation of young adults whose lives were significantly affected by a series of books.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  And, perhaps most importantly, is it possible that this may happen again?

My thoughts on Pottermania are several fold:

1) Harry Potter is a brilliant adaptation of Campbell’s Hero Cycle which succeeds in evoking classical tales and appropriating them into its own innovative mythos.

fantastic chart of the Hero Cycle

2) Harry Potter occurs in a world of urban fantasy which, in my opinion, is the most engaging genre of fantasy.  Urban fantasy invites us to imagine that the fantastic is all around us, just beyond the borders of our perception.  It invites the reader to look deeper at her surroundings and invent the links between magic and reality.  This genre has always appealed to the unsatisfied creative soul, the series’ primary demographic.  Moreover, the world at large has embraced the Potter possibilities (likely in an effort to capitalize upon the series’ popularity, but okay, we’ll overlook the rampant show of consumerism).  If you go to King’s Cross Station in London, you can visit platform 9 ¾.  Qudditch has become a popular-enough sport on college campuses that it warrants its

Visiting Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross London

own international organization.  Believing hard enough in the illusion has fostered its own sense of reality and this is outrageously appealing to those who, like Harry, feel that they simply don’t belong in this world.

3) The series’ hook is one which latches into a fundamental aspect of its target demographic.  Recall all the way back to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  Harry, as a “normal person”, simply doesn’t fit in.  His family doesn’t understand him, the other kids tease him, and his life (on the whole) pretty much sucks.  Suddenly he is taken away from all of this into a world where he fits in, where he is normal, and where he’s a celebrity.  Isn’t this every misfit child’s dream?  The belief that there is “somewhere else” more betterer than here (be it Hogwarts, Oz, or Wonderland) propels the angsty pre-teen through a jungle of hormone-induced nightmares.  Harry Potter is a lifeline for misunderstood geeks, a veritable treasure-trove of “get me through my day”.  This feeling of companionship fosters Pottermania and encourages fanatical devotion to the escapist fantasy.

As to the potential for this occurring again, I am honestly not entire certain that it can.  I mean, we all know that there are books which have similarly captured pre-teen imaginations in the past ten years (ahem Twilight cough sputter), but who can say anything about the longevity of such fans?  Harry Potter is a series which I believe will be read generation to generation because of the important life lessons it teaches (if you have any doubt about that, just check out this week’s post secrets).  Twilight, not so much.

Who can say when someone will tap into this sort of cosmic vein?  Throughout history, there have always been artists who manage it… and some, for whatever reason, don’t.  We don’t have fifty million Marlowe festivals across the Globe, but we do perform Shakespeare at every possible opportunity.  Will someone eventually be the cosmic muse for Potter-scale fandom?  Probably.  I certainly hope so.  I am dubious at best, however, that my kids will be able to grow up with future-Potter like I did with past-Potter.

But you know what?  That’s okay.  It’s one of the most beautiful things about true art.  It’s lovely, it touches you, it shapes you, then it’s gone.  The fleetingness of the moment is what makes it so heart-wrenchingly wonderful.  We can’t re-create it, we can only live it.