Harry Potter: Mi Placer Culposo

I have a new guilty pleasure–or should I say, un nuevo placer culposo. It masquerades as a virtue, which is why I feel guilty. I’m pretty far gone, but public confession may yet save me, so I’ll give it a try.

I, a middle-aged woman with much better things to do, have been binge-reading Harry Potter Book Six…for the fourth time. In Spanish. So I get to call it Spanish practice and feel good about myself.

But really, I’m just binge-reading Harry Potter because…shh…I love it.

Of course that’s not my only form of Spanish study. I have a couple of textbooks, a DVD, and a group of friends with the same earnest desire to converse without undue embarrassment with the many Spanish-speaking folks in our little community. We meet regularly to go over our exercises and hold stilted conversations. I love my little practice group, but the Harry Potter idea –I have no desire to share that with anyone.

Just give me Harry Potter Y El Misterio del Principe (all the titles are different), my Google Translate, and pen + paper, and I can lie on the couch for HOURS, reading aloud to myself as though I were my own ten year-old.

Oh, homework time? Yay!

Oh, homework time? Yay!

Why Book Six? Well…heh…I figured I’ve re-read Books One through Five so VERY often that they wouldn’t prove enough of a challenge, being engraved in my brain and all. And I gave myself a binge-read of Book Seven (in English) for Christmas.

Hi, my name is Gretchen, and I’m a Potterhead. (¿Soy una Pottercabeza?)

The bad news is, I love this “practice” so much, it’s pushed aside most of my other reading. And at my few-pages-per-hour pace, I’m falling a bit behind my own reading list.

Also, my Spanish muttering is keeping my Mate awake.

The good news–I’m learning a TON of vocabulary! Now if I can just find someone in town who wants to discuss varitas magias (magic wands)…

Y ahora, discúlpeme, pero tengo que practicar.





Messing With Dementors: Harry Potter Fans Win Demand For Fair Trade Chocolate Products

Potterheads know: nothing helps you recover from a brush with Dementors faster than a big hunk of dark chocolate. But most conventional chocolate sold these days passes through the hands of slaves in West Africa (especially Ivory Coast and Ghana)–many of those slaves children. That kind of misery only makes Dementors stronger.

But some Harry Potter fans combine a Gryffindorian fortitude with political savvy worthy of a Ravensclaw, and they have forced the Warner Bros. Company to switch to selling slavery-free, fair trade chocolate at all their Harry Potter venues.

On January 13, Yes! Magazine posted this story under the headline,

400,000 Harry Potter Fans—and J.K. Rowling—Just Won a Deal to Get Child Labor Out of Chocolate

Today, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., producer of eight Harry Potter films (with three spin-offs in the works), has announced plans to source Harry Potter-related chocolate products, like the magic frogs inspired by the books, from certified Fair Trade or 100 percent UTZ Certified cocoa.

The announcement comes after a four-year campaign by the fan activist group the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), anti-slavery activists, and evenHarry Potter author J.K. Rowling herself, to convince the studio to stop buying cocoa from a company called Behr’s Chocolate, which has a poor record on human rights and child labor.

After years of pressure, Warner Bros. announced that by the end of 2015, “and sooner when possible,” all Harry Potter chocolate products sold at Warner Bros. outlets or their licensed partners will be ethically sourced.

The success is just the latest for the HPA, a group that mobilizes fans to follow the lead of their fictional hero and enact change in the world.



I LOVE it. As the article goes on to say, Harry Potter “stood up for vulnerable people who needed looking out for. For years, the HPA [Harry Potter Alliance] has helped fans focus that moral lens on the violence and abuses of their own world, big and small. In 2010, they raised more than $120,000 to send relief planes to Haiti after the earthquake. They have also collected more than 200,000 books to stock libraries around the world, and called out extreme economic inequality. For legions of followers inspired by Harry’s integrity, buying cocoa produced in exploitation and slapping a Harry Potter label on it was intolerable.”

Here’s what you see when you go to the Harry Potter Alliance homepage:


The Harry Potter Alliance turns fans into heroes. We’re changing the world by making activism accessible through the power of story. Since 2005, we’ve engaged millions of fans through our work for equality, human rights, and literacy.


This Harry Potter fan says, well done. And thanks for the inspiration. And keep it up.

And for the rest of you, Potterheads or not…pass it on, okay? This is a wonderful story, but it could be the beginning of something much larger.

Potterheads (Not) Anonymous–Not Even (Completely) Embarrassed

Hi, I’m Gretchen and I’m a Potterhead. It’s been four years, two months, and five days since I last re-read Book Seven…but I’ve been thinking about a fourth re-read lately.

On Facebook today, the “Trending” story didn’t help any: J.K. Rowling has written a short story about grown-up Harry, Ron and Hermione at a Hogwarts reunion! (!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

My quickened pulse and heightened breathing tells me I need help. But I don’t want it. I love being a Potterhead.

“It’s a BOOK, you dodo. What is so all-fired addictive?”

Of course it’s the adventure, the humor, the pretty-darn-good-writing-that-got-better-from-Book-One-with-its-limited-verb-usage-that-turned-into-practically-poetic-stretches-by-Book-Seven (“OK, OK, English teacher, we get it.”). Even more, it’s the astounding depth of the plotting, with tiny details from Book One surfacing as epiphanies in Book Seven. But mostly, it’s the perfectly flawed characters, and the way their flaws clash and mesh, creating their own sub-drama.

I think most of us Potterheads can relate to these reasons. Throw in a little escapism, maybe some Anglophilia, or a deeply-held childhood longing for magical powers–that’s us. But I have one, singular reason for my own Potterheadity that no one else can claim:

My son IS Harry Potter.

Well, at least Harry as played by Daniel Radcliffe. Like Daniel, Mac’s eyes are blue, not green as Harry’s are described. But the unruly black hair, the round glasses, the solemn face, the skinny frame–check.

It wasn’t just his family who saw the resemblance. Someone in a passing car once yelled to Mac, “Hey! Where’s your broom?”

It helped that Mac was exactly the same age as Harry, as the movies came out, one by one. Mac was 11 when “The Sorcerer’s Stone” debuted, with 11 year-old Harry first discovering his wizard identity. I WISH I had a digital version of a photo I have, which shows Mac in a Hogwarts gold-and-burgundy scarf, standing in front of a poster of Daniel Radcliff wearing same. They look as twinned as Fred and George Weasley. Unfortunately, though, I did not own a digital camera then, and I don’t own a scanner.

Two Halloweens in a row, Mac’s “costume” was a bathrobe, a chopstick, and a piece of tape on his glasses.

Around age 17, Mac grew, and stretched, and so became, in my opinion, more what Harry really looked like than how he was depicted by Mr. Radcliffe, whose height remained stubbornly fixed, and whose body, to compensate, became rather blocky. Not unattractive, but not well suited for late-teen Harry, who was always supposed to be on the skinny side.

I did start taking digi-photos in 2007, when Mac was 17, and you can still see some of the resemblance:

Mac 1

 By the time the final movies were made, Mac was in college, no longer turning heads at quite the same rate. But I still liked thinking that he looked more like the “real” Harry.


So call me sentimental. Call me a mom who can’t quite let go. (Can you name me a mom who can?) I love Harry because he’s Harry–but I also love him because he reminds me of my own kid, and all those delicious hours we spent together, reading Harry’s story aloud, discussing plot twists, arguing over clues. We grew up as a family together, Mac and his brother Casey (who does NOT look like Ron, and is much too friendly to be Malfoy) and Harry and I. (My husband was good about it, but never got bit by the Potter bug.)


 How about you? Any movie parallels in your life which give added meaning? Did your brother look like Westly in The Princess Bride? Did your mom look like Princess Leia? Share!



The Proof is in the Putting-it-out-there: When “Writer” Becomes “Author”

I’m waiting for my proofs to arrive. If that makes no sense to you, don’t worry–three months ago it meant nothing to me either.

Proofs? Thought I left those behind in geometry class.

Turns out proofs are the kinda-sorta first draft of printing. I guess this term works for photography as well. You get your picture taken, you check out the proofs, you choose the ones you like, and those proofs get printed.

In the next couple of days, I’ll receive my book, The Flying Burgowski, in the mail. I’ll comb through it, looking for any piece of missing punctuation or indents or chapters cut off in the middle of the page or….ANYthing wrong that needs to be fixed before my baby is ready for her debut before the reading public.

My baby!

My baby!

To while away the nervous hours until my proofs arrive, my brain keeps running loops around the word “proof.”

“The proof is in the pudding.” Now my brain imagines a scene at Hogwarts:

(Courtesy Flikr Creative Commons)

(Courtesy Flikr Creative Commons)

Wonderful-sounding aphorism, but what does it mean? Yes, you with your hand up? Miss Granger? 

It’s actually a misstatement. The real saying is, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” It means, the dessert may look pretty, but you can’t really tell how good it is until you eat it.

Ten points to Gryffindor. Yes. And how does this aphorism apply to the present case? … [sigh] … Yes, Miss Granger?

Your book may look wonderful, but you will only know how good it is once people read it.

Another ten points.

Thank you, Brain, for this amusing illustration. What’s that? You want to talk about another meaning of the word “proof”? Fine. Go ahead.

“Proof” means you have proven something. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the proof has been laid before you! I rest my case.”

So what’s being “proven” here?

That I am no longer just a writer; I’m an author now.

Come again? What’s the diff?

Think about it. If you’re a painter, you paint. If someone asks you what you are and you say “Painter,” the next question is never, “Oh? And have you sold any paintings lately?” No, people want to know what medium you paint in, or do you do landscapes or portraits, or how you learned to paint. But when you tell someone you’re a writer, the next question is inevitably, “Oh? Are you published?”

So…aha. A writer writes. An author is a published writer? Is that what you’re saying, Brain?

I think that’s what I’m saying. But what do I know? I’m just a brain.

So, what do you guys think? Do you agree with my brain? Do you think writers are thought of differently than other artists? My brain and I are very interested in your answers.

Dumbledore to the Rescue!

It’s Grad Season.

Forgive me if I don’t get all choked up at the sound of Pomp & Circumstance. I am truly happy for everyone who has recently gone through or is about to go through this hallowed ceremony. For you it MEANS SOMETHING. For me, well…as a former teacher, let’s just say, including my own and those of family, I’ve probably sat through at least 35 graduation ceremonies in my time.

That’s at least 35 graduation speeches. Actually, more like 135, since every grad ceremony I’ve ever attended included AT LEAST three speeches.

So when my husband and I prepared to attend our older son’s graduation from college last weekend, I was looking forward to feeling proud, I was looking forward to having our far-flung family back together, and I was looking forward to the hugs and the post-grad dinner.

I was NOT looking forward to the speeches. This is what I expected:

"You're special. But you're not THAT special."
“You’re special. But you’re not THAT special.” (courtesty Pinterest, sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net)
Instead, this is what we got: Dean Bruce Tiffany, of the U.C. Santa Barbara College of Creative Studies (bless its creative little heart), dressed up as Dumbledore to give his speech.

"A few words, if I may..."

Having grabbed our attention, Dean Tiffany/Dumbledore then proceeded to give a speech saying the opposite of most grad speeches. Instead of “You are part of the blah blah blah generation, and your mandate is thus to blah blah blah,” he told our son and his classmates how none of them had ever existed before and never would again. Each was, indeed, special. And because it was a guy who dared to wear a wizard hat saying it–I believed him. This was the effect:

(courtesty Pinterest, sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net)

(courtesty Pinterest, sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net)

See, “quirky” is just another word for “individual.” As in, You ARE one. There has never been, and will never be, another You. I see you. I respect you. You ROCK.

And that got me thinking. What can I do in my life to “quirk up” something humdrum and make someone feel special as a result? My husband used to make “flower arrangements” out of pieces of fruit when our boys were little. My bakery colleague Diana makes people cards with their own faces cartooned. My other colleague Ty likes to make baguettes that look like sea snakes.

What about you? What do you do to “quirk up” boring old routines for people in your life? Share! I love hearing from y’all!

Is Harry Potter Immortal?

untitledThe heroine of my novel has a thing for Harry Potter. So do a lot of us; we’re not ashamed.

That’s why I was a bit taken aback when one of my writing group members asked, when critiquing a chapter, whether I was “dating” my book with all the Harry Potter references. “Will future readers even know what you’re talking about?” she wondered.

My response: “Well, of course! Well, I should think so. Well, jeez. Well…”

I decided to try a little perspective, projecting myself

into the future. Kids now know all about the characters in Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, right? And those books were written long before I was born! (Not saying how long.)

But. Those books were made into movies within the last decade. The Harry Potter series was Hollywooded so fast, it’s already done. No new blockbusters will appear in thirty years to sweep new generations into Hogwarts Castle.

And Star Wars? Since there’s no original book involved, each generation can inherit its own new

What, no dementors? (courtesy Author Lynn Kelley, WANAcommons)

What, no dementors? (courtesy Author Lynn Kelley, WANAcommons)

crop of movies, to savor (young Luke Skywalker’s big baby blues!) and/or ridicule (Jar Jar Binks).

Which brings me back to my friend’s question:

Will kids still read or watch Harry Potter in 2057, 50 years after JK Rowling gave us The Deathly Hallows?

“Why WOULDN’T they?” my heroine would demand. “Who could ask for a better combination of imagination, adventure, good v. evil, coming-of-age, suspense and humor in a story?” I would add. “Not to mention all that free fake Latin you get to learn.”

A few clicks on the web shows we have plenty of company in this thought. For a taste, try http://www.mugglenet.com/

It contains recipes for Butterbeer, and tabs like “Alohamora Forum,” featuring such discussions as “Could a Patronus Be a Dementor?” 

And for the truly adventurous, steamy stories about Snape and Hermione. Seriously. There are some FANS out there.

But I couldn’t help noticing that, while the number of posts about Books One through Three totalled, 5,709, posts on Books Four through Seven totalled exactly…zero.

Maybe everyone was too busy reading about Snape and Hermione to bother checking in about the Deathly Hallows.Maybe my friend is right!

Of course, you can still weigh in on “What Would Your Animagus Be?” on Flikr: http://www.flickr.com/groups/harrypotter/discuss/72157622224595703/

But for how long???

Star Wars, meanwhile, is the gift that keeps on giving. Gotta love this tagline, “Your Daily Dose of Star Wars” on http://www.theforce.net/

So…doesn’t anyone need a daily dose of Potter?

I could just ask, “What do you think?” But I have a question that gets more to the heart of the matter, I think.

Who’s the most heroic hero: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, or Frodo? And tell me exactly WHY you know you’re right.

I’m hoping your answers will tell me if Harry is truly immortal.