Category Archives: Harry Potter

Jake’s List of 10 Movies for 2016

2016 is here, and that means we have a whole new year’s worth of movies to look forward to. 2015 was all about The Force Awakens. What will be the big hit for 2016? So far it looks like Captain America: Civil War may be the king of the year, but it has plenty of competition. This is my list of 10 movies I am looking forward to in the upcoming year. It’s not a comprehensive list, because there are a ton of really cool movies coming out this year. My list may not be the same as yours, but these are the 10 movies I am looking forward to. They are listed in order of when they are coming out.

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10 Geeky Ways to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

(I’m writing my Christmas post now because my next post is most likely to be my reaction to The Force Awakens)

This is a bit of my OCD talking: I’m a skeptic when it comes to mixing sci-fi and fantasy with Christmas.  I was raised in a family where the religious side of Christmas was always observed, and I’ve continued that in my adult life.  Mixing Christmas with Disney princesses or superheroes or so forth can make me a little uncomfortable.  Holiday specials featuring these characters can get a little on the cheesy side so I tend to avoid those.  Storm troopers in Santa hats?  I’ll have to tell you no.  If we’re talking fan art, I might be a little more receptive.  Yes, I believe that Christmas is “magical,” but I don’t like to mix it with other people’s definitions of that magic.  Christmas should be about Christmas! I’m not a total purist, I’m just really picky.

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Being Geeky and Gifted

I want to talk about scifif/fantasy and disability.  Unlike Jake, who wrote a great article on this topic, I want to focus specifically on the disabilities that aren’t usually seen on the outside–mental illness and social/emotional disorders.  And also, unlike Jake, I’m coming from the perspective of someone who has it.

When I was in eighth grade, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  And when I was a college sophomore, I went through a period of severe depression and found out that I also had OCD.  I have always been labeled as a creative, intelligent person, and I am an unabashed geek.  A lot of the friends that I had in high school and college (mostly college) fall into the same category.  In my own struggles with depression and OCD, I’ve found out that some of those same friends have struggled with some form of mental illness, mostly depression but also ADD. And maybe there’s stuff we don’t talk about.

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Fitting in Your Hogwarts House

Gryffindor. Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw. Slytherin. Every Harry Potter fan has to face this question sooner or later: if you went to Hogwarts, which house would you belong in?
Knowing which house you’re in is one thing. But knowing what it means to belong to that house is another. As the Harry Potter generation grew up, joined Pottermore, and got involved in the online fandom, house identity became a huge thing. It was a way to play out Hogwarts in real life: you identified with people in the same house and acted according to your house values. It’s fun to sort celebrities and even characters in other fandoms into Hogwarts houses. And then the Potterheads realized something: house identity wasn’t limited to the descriptions in the books.

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The Rest of Harry Potter

About a month and a half ago, I did a Sunday Night Flicks about watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneIt was fun to watch with the kids for the first time and to see how much they got into it. My oldest in particular really enjoyed it a lot. He enjoyed it so much, that over the next little while we were watching nothing but Harry Potter. He wanted to finish all of the films, and he wanted to do it as quickly as possible. The other kids enjoyed the first one, but they were not so quick to want to watch the rest. They had lost interest by the end of Sorcerer’s Stone, and when we suggested that we watch the next one the next day, they politely (insert sarcasm here) said, “No thank you.” Johnny didn’t mind. That meant he had the family room all to himself. Well, not really. He had the family room all to himself, plus me. Johnny doesn’t like to do anything alone, so there was no way he was going to watch these movies downstairs, all by himself. For my part, it meant I could sit down and watch 7 more 2 hour movies, and not feel guilty because I was bonding with my son.

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So, here’s the kicker: About two films into our Harry Potter adventure, it really wasn’t about sitting down to watch a film for a couple of hours. It really became about bonding with my son. Watching the films with him, I saw the excitement and magic I experienced when I first read the books. Johnny can’t just sit and watch something. He has to talk about what he is watching and he has to ask questions. He especially likes to ask questions about what is happening and what is going to happen. He can’t stand not knowing what is going to happen. About halfway through the 4th movie, he started asking me who was going to win, Harry or Voldemort. I chuckled each time and told him he would have to wait. He hated that answer. He wanted to know right now. I think he was genuinely concerned that Harry may not win, and I don’t think he wanted to watch it to the end if that was the case.

There is so much there that was just like me when I was a kid. Heck, it’s just like me now. I can’t stand not knowing what is going to happen. Sometimes, when I get a new book, it takes every bit of my will power to not look at the ending. I totally understand this is not the suggested course of action. I enjoy the book or movie much more if I don’t know what’s going to happen, but sometimes, it is just so hard to wait. I think a big reason why is because I am a happy ending kind of guy. I don’t like it when the hero loses or they die or whatever. I like good to conquer evil. That’s my preference. I don’t want to care about these characters just to have them lose or die in the end. I remember how I felt when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, and you get to the part where Frodo gets stung by Shilob, and Tolkien let’s you think he is dead. I almost threw the book down and stopped reading then and there. What was the point if the main character was going to die? Of course, he didn’t die. He lived, all the hobbits lived, and I was happy. I felt the same way when I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Harry died. I mean, he was really dead for a minute. He got better, though, and we got our happy ending after all. Watching Johnny stress about what was going to happen brought back all those memories, and it was pretty cool.

The other thing that was a lot of fun was watching Johnny just obsess about something. He is officially a Potterhead. He knows all the characters and the story and everything. After he was done watching the films, he begged us to take him out on Pottermore. I don’t know how he learned about it, probably from some YouTube video, but he wanted to go so bad. So we went out there, and he couldn’t wait to be sorted. Unfortunately, in his mind, he was sorted into Hufflepuff. He decided that only happened because he used his proper name, John, instead of his real name (in his mind), Johnny. He tried it again, this time trying to guess which answers would put him in Gryffindor. He was reasoning was pretty sound, like when the question was “What are you afraid of?,” he selected being alone, “because,” he said,”Harry, Ron, and Hermione were always together, so they must be afraid to be alone.” All this figuring on his part did lead him to a different result than the time before. It still wasn’t Gryffindor. Instead, he ended up in Ravenclaw, which makes sense, since he got there by trying to outsmart the test.

At the end of the day, I went into this experience as a big Harry Potter fan. I came out of it with a better appreciation for my son, and he for me. We got closer to each other than we were before. For me, I always enjoyed Harry Potter. I always liked the story, but I also felt like I was just a little too old to be obsessed with, and too much of a not teenage girl. The reality is, now, Harry potter will always be a little more meaningful for me because I got closer to my son. It will always be the first fandom we really shared with each other. Now, he we are, just waiting for our new Harry Potter Funko Pop characters to come from Amazon, and to see what Harry Potter related guests will be announced for the upcoming Salt Lake Comic Con, wands at the ready.

Sunday Night Flicks: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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It’s summer time, which means the kids will not be going to bed as early as they normally would, which means it will be easier to get in some good Sunday Night Flicks. This last week we decided to start the eight film journey covering the adventures of Harry Potter and his friends. I have been wanting to share these stories with my kids for a long time, and my oldest finally showed a little bit of interest after playing the Harry Potter Lego games. We started where everyone should start such a journey; at the beginning.

It was pretty interesting to go back to the beginning of this saga. It had been quite a while since I had watched either of the first two Harry Potter films, and it was kind of strange to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione so young, and know what was lying ahead for them. The three of them seem wide-eyed through out this movie, like they are just as amazed and astonished by this wizarding as we were. In this film, and the next installment, Chris Columbus begins to bring to life the hidden magical world that David Yates would later perfect starting with Order of the Phoenix.

The Sorcerer’s Stone for me, is fun because we see Harry Potter come to life for the first time. These characters I had always imagined in my head were there, on the screen. I wasn’t sold on Daniel Radcliffe as Harry at first, but he grew into the role, and it would be hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Rupert Grint, on the other hand, was brilliant from the start, as was Emma Watson. I remember being somewhat disappointed with this film when I saw it for the first time, which was at home on DVD since it came out while I was spending two years in Germany. It is still probably my least favorite of all the films.

Watching it for the first time with my little ones changed my perspective a little bit. I got to experience the magic again but through my kids’ eyes. The only thing I could compare it with is when we took our kids to Disneyland for the first time. I had always loved Disneyland, but seeing them experience for the first time brought the magic to life in a whole new way. That’s kind of how this felt. My son was so excited about the movie, that he wanted us to immediately put in the second film. We are making him wait until at least next week.

Overall, this film was ok. As much as I enjoyed watching the kids enjoy this movie, I couldn’t get past how much I disliked this compared to the other movies. The child actors aren’t great right away, and their chemistry is good, but still awkward, not like it is by the end of the films. That makes sense, since by the eighth movie they had all grown up together. I guess for me it is like watching the first season of Seinfeld. You can tell it has a lot of potential, but it’s not there yet. However, the world the film is set in is fantastic and rich in detail.

The fun factor is what really counts here. The kids love this Harry Potter movie, and in a lot of ways, it feels like a kids’ movie, kind of like how the first book feels more like a children’s book. I had no problem with all of my kids sitting down to watch this movie, but I am not sure how I feel about some of the younger ones watching the films as they go on. They may have to head off to bed before we watch Order of the Phoenix.

I guess, in the end, watching this with my kids, I had a lot of mixed feelings. In some ways, it was still hard to get through this whole movie and to look past the acting in some cases, knowing it would get better. In other ways, it was a lot of fun to experience Harry’s first trip to Diagon Alley with my little ones. It was like they were there, in Diagon Alley, with Harry and Hagrid. Maybe that experience made me appreciate this film on a new level.

What about you? What did you think about this first installment of the Harry Potter films? Where does this one rank compared to the others? Let me know in the comments.

Why Do We Still Love Harry Potter?

The summer after I graduated high school I was working at a local book store. It was like a geek’s paradise for a couple of reasons. One reason was definitely being surrounded by all the books all the time. The bigger reason, though, was being surrounded by other geeks.  Thankfully, the crew I worked with was full of geeks just like, and it was awesome. It was during this time that I was introduced to Harry Potter for the first time. During the time I worked there, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released, and it was mayhem. Everyone and their dog was looking for this book, and we got it in in large numbers, and still couldn’t keep it on the shelves. I personally did not see what all the fuss was about. It was just some stupid kids’ book, and I had no interest in it. Please keep in mind at this point in my story, that I was like 18, which makes me a dumb kid, who also thought he was pretty cool.  Too cool for some dumb old kids book.

This is where my geeky coworkers come in. Many of them gave me a really hard time about Harry Potter.  They all told me how good it was and that I needed to give it a shot and that it was more than worth my time. I resisted for a while, but eventually I caved to the peer pressure.  These guys were all very well read and were all into the same things I was, so maybe there was something to this whole Harry Potter thing. I bought the first book, in paperback, because the hardback books were expensive and I wasn’t ready to commit that much. Two days later, I returned to work and purchased the first book again in hardback, along with the second, third, and fourth. In just two days, my whole outlook on Harry Potter and his wizarding world had completely changed. It had been a long time since I had read something that caught my attention like these books did, and they are some of the rare books that I have read multiple times.

What impressed me even more was the effect these books had on the young people. I had a sister who didn’t really enjoy reading all that much, until she read Harry Potter, and then she couldn’t get enough of reading. Not just Harry Potter, but any books. Harry Potter took a young pre-teen girl who had nothing to do with books, and turned her into a bookworm. I’m not sure what the name of that spell is, but it’s real. I saw it happening with kids everywhere, and we still see the effects today. Youth fiction is dominated by fantasy, and everyone seems to be trying to recapture that Harry Potter magic. And it wasn’t just young people, although getting young people to be excited about reading is really a big deal. It had interesting effects on grown people. When my wife and I married, she had never been into any kind of fantasy books. At all. It took me a while, but I finally convinced her to give Harry Potter a try. She was hooked.  She devoured the books. So much so, that we contemplated buying two copies of Deathly Hallows so we wouldn’t have to take turns. That was magic.

But why Harry Potter? What made the books so amazing and so “magical?” That’s a really good question, and someone could probably do a whole semester worth of college work on why. I won’t go into that kind of depth, but for whatever reason, I have been thinking a lot about it lately. So many things come and are massive and huge and amazing, and then they are gone and forgotten until the surface again as an answer to some trivia game question. Sometimes, rarely, that doesn’t happen. What happens instead is that something sticks around and doesn’t go away. When I first encountered Harry Potter, I thought it would be like all the other somethings that just fade away. I thought it would be popular for a while, and then die out and we would all forget about it. That didn’t happen. We are still talking about Harry Potter today, whether it’s the books or the films, Harry is still a big deal. What made these stories so different? I had four things I came up with. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but these are four reasons that Harry had endured, in my opinion any way.

The Story

This may seem like an obvious one. Of course Harry had a great story. I have read enough books out there, and enough young adult fiction, to know that we should never take a good story for granted. What Harry does well is following the Hero’s Journey, which a lot of stories nowadays don’t do well. If I had been even remotely familiar with a Hero’s Journey when I read Harry Potter, I would not have been as shocked when Dumbledore died. It seems that the mentor always dies in these types of stories. Harry Potter follows this model of a hero’s journey to a T. He gets pulled out of the norm right away, he gets sent on this Journey, he learns from his mentor, who dies then he has to take on the villain alone (that’s all very simplified). It is a tale as old as time, and it is told and retold, and really if you are reading any kind of speculative fiction, if they are not telling this story, it probably stinks. The way, though, that Rowling tells this story is amazing. Through out all 7 books you are hoping that Harry will win in the end, that good will triumph over evil, but there are points in every book where you begin to wonder if it will happen, if it can happen.

The twists were fantastic and kept you guessing, and then Rowling did something amazing, that many authors have forgotten about. She gave us, the readers, exactly what we wanted. Good did win over evil. Harry lived and grew up and was happy. This is an art that seems to be lost in a lot of fiction these days. Somehow, so many modern writers have bought into this myth that to make the story more real, it has to be more tragic.  The hero can’t live, or if they live, their life now stinks. Rowling didn’t do that. Yes, there was tragedy and sadness along the way, but in the end, it was happy. That was our reward for sticking with it to the end.

The Characters

The characters in Harry Potter were almost always perfectly written. There wasn’t a single core character that didn’t make you feel exactly how you were supposed to feel about them. In the books, I really detested Draco Malfoy. He was a rotten human being. That’s how he was written and that’s how I felt about him. Sirius was the uncle I always wanted, even though he was only in the books for a short amount of time. Ron was the best friend everyone needs (like Samwise in Lord of the Rings) and Hermione was the girl I wanted to marry (so I did when I met my wife who is like a real life Hermione), and the girl I want each of my daughters to grow up to be. Harry was a great hero. He wasn’t perfect (let’s be honest, there were times in Order of the Phoenix  when I wanted to smack the kid), but who is perfect as a teenager? In fact, for me, one of the endearing qualities of the characters in the books is that none of them were perfect, but they were all real.  That’s why it always stung when one of them died. Sometimes it stung a lot, and sometimes I thought it was stupid that they had to die, but at the end, those deaths helped me remember what Harry and Hermione and Ron were fighting for and why they had to win.

The World

One of the things that drew me in as a reader of Harry Potter was the world. The idea that there was this whole magical world hiding in plain sight was just incredible. Then the amount of detail that went into all of it, just sucked you in and never let go. It all seemed so feasible. Somehow, I felt like if there was a magical world that was hidden from muggle eyes, this is what it would be like. It was so comprehensive, and that adds to the staying power of a story. If the environment is believable, if you can picture the world, then you’ll want to revisit it again and again. Those are the kinds of worlds that fandoms are built on. The kinds of worlds that theme parks can be modeled after. When I read Harry Potter, it always makes me want to be part of that world. It always makes me sad that I can’t be.

Timelessness

In order for a story to stand the test of time, it has to feel timeless. Although, the timeframe for Harry Potter has been described and documented by Rowling, the story itself could take place in any time. There is nothing in the story to date it too much. No cell phones or TV’s or references to real current affairs. You don’t realize how important this is until you read a story that does have this kind of stuff in it. It is immediately dated, and after just a few years it feels incredibly out of date. Harry Potter will never feel this way. There is nothing in it to tie it directly to a certain time, so anyone down the road could pick up the books and begin reading and feel like it could all be happening now. That will definitely aid the story in enduring through a long time. That’s hard to do in a modern story, but Rowling achieves it.

More that just the dating, the story of the battle between good and evil, love conquering hate and fear, that story itself is timeless. It needs to told and retold to every generation of children, until we live in a world where love has conquered hate. Until that time, though, we will have stories like Harry Potter that will endure, helping us get there.