“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.”
When the Harry Potter books first came out, I was among the first people at Book of Wonder in New York City to buy a copy. There was already a bit of a buzz about the book and from what I read, the set-up sounded right up my alley.
I sat right down and started reading. As often what happens, my imagination of what the story would be takes over the story I am reading. I read a third of the book and then set it aside. I thought it to be a collection of worn-out characters, plot twists and settings. As I read it, I thought the book was much ado about nothing, a manufactured bit of fluff.
Before long, I put the book away on a shelf and forgot all about it. Book after book in the series came out. With each title, the excitement grew and the more attention the books recieved. I watched from afar, thinking that the readers should go back to read “the real thing”, such as THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING or A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA. When I asked about the books, I always replied that I found the Harry Potter books to be highly marketed second-rate rehashes of classic books.
I really had no idea what I was talking about. I can admit that now. I humbly apologize to all. Forgive me. I was jealous.
In the summer of 2005, bored out of my mind with my full-time corporate job, knowing that a new Harry Potter book (HARRY POTTER & THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE) was due any day, I pulled the first Harry Potter book off the shelf and tossed it in my backpack and started reading it on my daily commute.
Something had changed. It might have been me that changed. I was drawn into the world immediately. I sped through the first book in a few days, sometimes reading at my desk. Stopping at a bookstore on the way home, I bought the next book. I read it, sinking deeper and deeper into the world of Hogwarts and the fascinating cast of characters. I tore through the books. I was not alone, the subway cars were full of us: grown-ups with our noses buried the heavy books, getting jostled and shoved about. It was a magical time. We were on a ride side by side, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart.
I was hooked. I caught up right away and found myself a-twitter in anticipation of the next book. I discussed the book whenever I met someone who also had read the books. I scolded anyone who had not read them. “Hurry up, get to it! What are you waiting for?” I would ask them.
I had joined a magical fraternity of enchanted and entranced readers. I often thought that if I was young when these books came out, I am certain I would have dressed like Harry Potter. In many ways, I was Harry Potter as a kid without knowing it.
The books gave me a place to go to. A place that hovered between my imagination and the printed page. A place that swirled around me despite my horrid workplace, crowded subways and streets or my tiny studio apartment on 16th Street. I belonged somewhere else and I knew where it was, at long last.
I moved to Los Angeles in the spring of 2014 and soon after I learned that they were planning on building a “Harry Potter Village” (as I call it) at Universal Studios. I could not believe my great fortune. I followed the progress of the construction work to make certain that it was still on track and keeping in mind the dates it would open. I saw billboards advertising the opening of the park. I spent a lot of time behind the wheel in LA traffic, imagining what it would be like. I almost could not imagine that it would be anything more than a little row of shops. Some faux facades of old buildings. Cobble stone streets. Maybe a little rollercoaster on broomsticks or a whirling quidditch ride. I wanted it to be really incredible was not certain what to expect.
This past month, I finally made a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It had been open for several months and I had heard some promising reviews. When I arrived the place was already alive with crowds of young people dressed in their Hogwarts robes. Somehow, they had built Hogsmeade. There were streets lined with authentic shops complete with snow-covered rooftops. (Keep in mind this is Los Angeles and the temperature was in the 80s.) Nevertheless, there was a chill in the air. We quickly dashed around getting a lay of the land. I was very impressed. I touched the walls to feel how solid they were. Everything felt real, worn, old, permanent. It felt like a real destination. Aside from the lilliputian version of Hogwarts high atop a hill, I had a very good feeling for the place. The attention to detail was impressive. Things were thought out carefully and it looked as if a lavish amount of sensitivity was given to constructing this miniature world.
There were rides and they were beautifully designed. We stood in a 45-minute line to ride the main magical, breathtaking flight ride (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey). The queue meandered through Hogwarts. Technology was able to pull of some rather fascinating magical effects. The air was lively with our excitement. I tried to take pictures but like visiting any city or place, you really had to be there. The thrill was a feeling of being there. Of arriving. At last. We ate lunch at The Three Broomsticks. It was not a bad meal. The butterbeer was a delicious frosty treat. I wanted to buy a wand or school sweater, but did not do so on this trip.
J. K. Rowling sat down years ago and dreamed this world up. It existed somewhere between the printed page and her imagination. She must have believed in it, felt it, because she perserved to get it down on the page and find a publisher. She knew it by heart and did not let it end up in a forgotten folder on a shelf in her home somewhere. She saw something that others did not. She wanted to share it with us.
She made it happen.
As I strolled through her world, I wondered what she thought of seeing it made of wood, stone and brick, inhabited by characters and readers… and even aspiring writers like me. Did she like it? Was it anything like she imagined? Did she stroll through and notice mistakes and flaws? Or, did she stroll through like the rest of us and return to a place of dreams and imagination?
As an author, I came away with a few realizations for fellow writers that I would like to share here.
First, we must know the place our stories take place so well that we can wander through them. Stories are full of detailed and unique places. We must pay close attention to getting the details down.
We must get lost in our worlds and let the stories find our way out.
Secondly, we must believe in our imagined worlds more than anyone else. It is up to us to stay true to our creations. They might just become a theme park one day.
The way to find our way is by believing it exists.
Lastly, we must share our world with others. You never know who will visit them and find what the visitors are searching for. Out there somewhere, someone will stumble into our worlds and touch a wall to feel if it is real, solid, permanent. Someone will believe that it is a place to explore.
We may create a place that will one day, inspire others to imagine cities, town, kingdoms, wizarding schools or lost worlds.
Make your settings orginal. Make them your own. Believe in them. Build them with all the love in your heart.
“I would like to be remembered as someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.”
~J. K. Rowling