One last random post before I get back to editing, I promise. Two weeks ago the wife and I went to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood and I thought I’d document the experience here. I mean, it’s sort of tangentially related to me and my books, right? Well, I’m writing off this experience as research for my upcoming book on worldbuilding, so as far as my taxes are concerned, yes.
I should probably start off by saying I’m not a huge fan of Harry Potter. Which is not me saying I dislike it by any means – I’ve watched the movies probably a dozen times each and really enjoy them. That said, the series came out after I was already an adult, and I never had any desire to go and read a children’s series (as opposed to watching children’s movies, which I apparently adore). So that is to say I entirely missed this boat and the material doesn’t really resound with me.
However, I can certainly see why it does with the younger generations and realize if I had grown up with it, Harry Potter would have that same sacred spot in my heart where Star Wars and The Simpsons reside (we’ll get to that later). But my wife is a fan of Harry Potter, and this trip was a present for her for crossing one of those decade birthdays. Which is the only reason I could possibly justify the expense of the thing. So, with that in mind, here we go…
First thing’s first, we did our research and learned we NEEDED to get our wands immediately so as to do all the interactive spells all around the miniature Hogsmead. We also learned you should bypass the actual Ollivanders’ experience and just go next door to buy your wand without having to stand in line (I HATE lines). So as to figure out what type of wands we should get, we took the quizzes on Pottermore.
And let me tell you, I was a bit disappointed by the results.
I mean, I had a strong suspicion that this would happen, but there’s something somewhat demeaning in taking your house quiz and being sorted into Hufflepuff when your wife gets the infinitely cooler Ravenclaw. As houses go, Hufflepuff isn’t even the black sheep (Slitheren, obviously); it’s the forgotten middle kid that relatives always forget the birthday of. Because it’s so damn forgettable. And perhaps it’s toxic masculinity rearing its ugly head that makes me object to both the soft-sounding Huffle and the Puff in the name.
It also didn’t help that I got a cedar wand that was specifically described as “swishy.” Are you trying to insinuate something, Pottermore?
So, of course, they don’t carry cedar wands at the wand store, meaning I took that insulting quiz for nothing. But they brought out all the “similar wood” wands and let me try them out to find which one “feels right.” I chose oak, which in retrospect is totally the most norm-core styled wand when compared to the flair of my wife’s hazel. And, judging by my entire wardrobe of plain black, grey, and blue shirts, it was the right choice.
We then went and tried out the wands by casting the ten spells all around the miniature Hogsmead. Despite my cynical nature, they were pretty cool, and there’s something legitimately enchanting about waving a wand and causing an effect. Although the staff had to show us how, which came down to making smaller motions. You know, the type of motions a child, not a middle-aged adult, would make…
Our spellcasting and exploration out of the way, we headed to check out the Hogwarts ride, which my coworker told me was so good he went on twice back-to-back. The wait time was supposedly 45 minutes, which was a boldfaced lie. Unless they meant it was 45 minutes to get to the next line. Which was only to wait until the next line. And then the next. Which gets you an eight-minute ride after an hour and a half of waiting.
All grousing aside, it was a lot of fun and a great use of interactive media. You get to see the sights while you wait, which included a lady (not pictured) pounding Stella Atois cans wearing a shirt stating “I hope your day is as great as my ass.” And they use their space in Hogwarts well, allowing you to peer at all sorts of fun curios while you wait. Too bad my phone ain’t great for gathering evidence of it.
And the ride was pretty fun, although I don’t think I would ever wait more than 30 minutes for it again. Maybe. We chased the experience down with some $8.50 chilled butterbeer, which was legitimately delicious. A few more flicks of the wand and a traipse through the candy/ toy store, and we figured we were pretty much done.
Then, because my wife is a saint, we stepped into The Simpsons realm for my sake. Regular readers will know I can't go a single post without a Simpson’s reference, but despite my love for the early seasons that I can still quote by memory, I haven’t watched the show in probably fifteen years. It, like Star Wars, has ridden all my good will into the ground over the last few decades, and I view it more like a shambling corpse of something I truly once loved that belongs on The Walking Dead (which was also at Universal Studios).
That said, there was something magical about walking into Springfield, then into the Kwiki Mart. And I laughed out loud when I found the Bort name tag. Even 20+ years later, that joke still cracks me up, and so I had to buy it. Because, much like many of the adults I saw wandering around the Harry Potter corner without any kids, buying a piece of something you loved in your childhood is probably the closest you’re going to come to ever getting your childhood back. For that brief moment you’re living again in that innocent age and acquiring all the things you begged your parents for but never got because it was too expensive. Which might explain why they price everything so high at these parks: Only adults can afford the things children really want in the same sense you always see old men driving the sexy sports cars they desired in their youth. But slightly less depressing (but only slightly).
So why do I have this post tagged in Worldbuilding and not an Odes or perhaps a Random? Well, I thought a lot about worldbuilding as I was traipsing through the faux Hogsmead/ Hogwarts. Even though it’s not my favorite, Harry Potter stands beside LOTR (which I also don’t really care for), Star Wars (used to love), and Game of Thrones in my pantheon of “best” worldbuilding. Feel free to argue as to the quality of said worldbuilding compared to some other series out there (and I will), but one cannot deny that audiences are in love with these worlds. So much so that HP and Star Wars have their own amusement parks where fans can literally walk around in that world, and LOTR and GoT filming locations are well known tourist destinations.
People honestly love these worlds as much as they do the characters and stories that inhabit them. And this, to me, is also part of the secret to their success. This is why they’ve become part of the culture; the fantastical worlds themselves. They touch something inside of us and inspire imagination. Suddenly we’re wondering what house we would be sorted in, or what color our lightsaber would be. We wonder what our family words would be, or what magical race we would become.
Which leaves me wondering if perhaps the best worldbuilding is simply forming a framework for audiences to express themselves with.