Twenty years ago this coming June, J.K. Rowling published the debut novel in her Harry Potter series, and the world of literary fantasy changed forever. In the two decades since, I've read and re-read all the books, watched and purchased the films, attended the grand openings of three Wizarding World attractions, and consumed approximately 728 cups of delicious Butterbeer – which, at the newly boosted price of $6.99 apiece, could have covered a used car.
At this point, I'd be forgiven for feeling a bit burnt out on the Boy Who Lived. But after a week in which the Death Eaters seem to have taken control of D.C., the idea of returning to a universe in which people of all colors – be they Gryffindor red, Hufflepuff yellow, Ravenclaw blue, even Slytherin green – can band together and successfully resist a xenophobic autocrat seems not merely appealingly escapist, but absolutely essential.
Message of inclusion
Thankfully, Universal Orlando's 2017 Celebration of Harry Potter arrived just in time to provide some much-needed inspiration. At the exact same moment on Friday evening that outrage was erupting around the world over President Orange's exclusionary executive order, fans of Rowling's saga were sending an opposing message of inclusion by peaceably assembling at Universal Studios Florida's Music Plaza, as the three-day event's opening-night ceremony climaxed in a blizzard of magical confetti.
I'm sure most of the robe-clad attendees waving their wands in the frigid air that night didn't have Potter's political subtext at the forefronts of their minds, but it certainly didn't escape the film stars in attendance. Returning actors Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Warwick Davis (Flitwick/Griphook) were joined this year by Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), who quickly claimed the "best unvarnished interviewee" crown formerly held by Evanna "Luna Lovegood" Lynch.
When I asked during a private media Q&A how his villainous character would respond to America's new chief executive, Isaacs quipped, "I think Lucius would have been all for him. He would have put on a white pillowcase and charged up the hill behind him."
Isaacs went on to connect Rowling's themes with International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27), elaborating that Malfoy was "a very recognizable racist and eugenicist who's acting out of fear, and thinking that the past was a better time. ... You don't need to look too far without making cheap points to find politicians standing on those platforms. Those issues are never more relevant than today."
Why only one weekend?
It's tempting to cynically dismiss the commercialism of last weekend's event, with attendees waiting hours to enter soundstages showcasing corporate partners (Scholastic, Warner Bros., Pottermore, et al.) and purchase exclusive souvenirs; $70 limited edition wands sold out swiftly. But if anything, Universal is probably leaving money on the table by confining their annual Potter confab to a single weekend, limiting the sales of VIP packages and including most of the events with regular admission. By contrast, Disney's Hollywood Studios has revived their formerly free Star Wars Weekends as an extra-cost event, selling $129 tickets to the after-hours party before confirming which cast members are attending. Last weekend's attendance at Universal would at least seem to justify expanding the Celebration to multiple weekends.
Hopefully before the next Celebration comes around, Universal will have begun performances of the long-rumored but yet-unconfirmed nighttime show on Hogwarts Castle. Trees around the structure were recently slashed, presumably to clear the way for video projections. I had hoped Universal would officially announce it (or a Hogsmeade holiday entertainment like they have at Universal Studios Japan) during the Celebration, but the lack of Orlando updates can be forgiven, considering the resort had just set two big grand openings only days before. Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon debuts April 6, followed by the Volcano Bay water park's grand opening May 25. For a sneak peek, you can now visit Fallon's "Tonight Shop" and buy a $40 pack of "Thank You Notes" notecards; sadly, the $90 adult-sized "Hashtag the Panda" suits are already out of stock.
I've been in and out of various fandom cults for most of my life – from Jedi junkie and Trekker to otaku and Rocky Horror performer – and have found magic-obsessed Muggles to be more welcoming and socially aware than most. Whether they're graciously posing in their immaculate cosplay creations (some of which, Warwick Davis admitted, were "better than the ones we had") or organizing an impromptu tribute to actor John Hurt outside Ollivanders wand shop on the day after his passing, Potter fans remain one clan I don't mind being crammed into a theme park with.