Monthly Archives: January 2015

It All Starts with a Good Idea

I’ve just returned from a visit to London, the land of winding cobblestone streets, tea and biscuits, and dimly lit, creaky-staired pubs with twelve different lagers on tap. It is a place of centuries old, half-bombed out churches standing alongside modern glass facades and Wi-Fi-enabled phone booths. It is the home of outdoor markets that bustle even in the dead of winter, of bangers and mash and beans on toast.

Oh, and Harry Potter, of course.

I’ve read the Harry Potter books and watched the films more times than I can count. I’ve quoted the wise Professor Dumbledore on multiple occasions, and have referenced both Patronuses and Dementors in casual conversation. Without question, I am a fan.

I couldn't help myself.

Looking over my shoulder for nosy Muggles.

But while I was well aware of the global phenomenon that is Harry Potter, the scale of the thing didn’t really hit me until I visited Harry Potterland, which is housed in an enormous warehouse-type structure just outside of London and is actually called The Making of Harry Potter.

I spent nearly four hours on the self-guided tour, which featured full-scale sets from the films, original costumes, literally thousands of props, behind the scenes footage of how certain special effects were achieved, and a gallery of magical creatures ranging from Acromantulas (giant spiders) to Thestrals (scaly winged horses), not to mention what may be the largest gift shop of its kind. While the collection was impressive beyond my expectations, the thing that struck me the most were the quotes from the author herself, J.K. Rowling, well-placed throughout the museum. Her name was all over that place.

Most writers are thrilled to be published at all, and those whose books are turned into movies are probably grateful to get a Based on the novel by credit. Writers are not film stars, or the lead singer in the band. They are not talk show hosts, or YouTube sensations. Writers are not often in the public eye, but exist behind the scenes, and spend most of their time alone with their laptops, surrounded by dirty coffee cups.

But J.K. Rowling has not only made a household name for herself, she has built an empire. She managed to not only have her books published, but to negotiate her way into the production of the films, of the museum, video games, amusement park rides, fan websites, and billions of dollars worth of merchandising. She is either a genius or mind-blowingly lucky, and probably both.

The first book was published in 1995, and the first film was released in 2001. In 2014, Forbes estimated the Harry Potter brand to be worth over $15 billion, and J.K. Rowling’s personal fortune at over $1 billion. And to think, this all started 20 years ago when Rowling had a good idea for a character whilst on a train ride to London.

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Experience is in the Eye of the Beholder

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, a co-worker and I regularly bemoaned the difficulty of both giving and receiving gifts. My mom had been grilling me about what to get for my sister, my sister wanted to know what to get for our dad, and the whole family had been bugging me for my own Christmas list. Try as I might, I couldn’t come up with any thing that any of us needed.

“Once you’re an adult,” my co-worker said, “you don’t really need anything.”

Her point was twofold: first, if you’re in a reasonably stable job, you can probably afford to buy yourself a new pair of pajamas or wool socks. Second, the last thing most of us need are more, well…things.

Case in point: I gave up on trying to buy gifts for my dad years ago. Instead, I give him something to do: tickets to the theater, a gift certificate for a new restaurant. The man is 74 years old and comfortably retired. He doesn’t need a new sweater or DVD player. What he needs – in fact what most of us need – is less tangible. We need new experiences.

Our experiences shape our lives. They inform who we are and how we look at the world.

Our things rip or break or simply become obsolete. Ultimately, they must be replaced.

"Look, Kids! Parliament! Big Ben!"

“Look, Kids! Parliament! Big Ben!”

As a writer, I know intuitively that I must experience life to write about it.* And that this experience can come in many forms: hiking a lonely mountain trail, falling in love, traveling to a foreign land… And this is what persuaded me to seize the opportunity to join some friends on a jaunt to London next week despite the hefty price tag. I have never been one to casually part with large sums of money, and the current exchange rate isn’t helping making a case. And I had been thinking about replacing my 15-year-old cathode-ray tube television with a slick new flat screen, if only to get my friends to stop making fun of my “TV museum”. But what’s a new television compared to a week in London with two of my favorite people in the world? After all, I reasoned, it will be a great experience and I can write about it.

Or perhaps this is merely a thinly veiled justification to take a somewhat spontaneous and decidedly expensive vacation.

Either way, London Ho!

As for next Christmas, I’ve already planted the seed to skip the gift exchange all together and instead pool our money for a shared experience: A fancy dinner, a night at the theater, or a day at the aquarium. I have just under 12 months to make my case. Maybe I’ll write about that too.


*In fact, I wrote a whole blog post on this very subject last March: Hurts So Good.


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