There are all sorts of reviews of the new “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at Universal Studios in Orlando. I hope this gives you a different take on the experience of the place.
I would get teary-eyed when I thought about going to the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I wasn’t sure why because I am not a kid getting to see in person the Hogwarts that I dreamed of: that offer of making the fantastic into something real doesn’t have a lot of appeal for me. I am sure I wasn’t near tears because I feared that Universal would ruin the Harry Potter world for me (although that fear has come true). I truly feared breaking down in sobs when I entered the gates of Hogsmead and indeed that happened to me and lots of other people (a woman, a stranger, confessed this to us in a shop and I observed other people crying). Why? Before I review the actual experience of encountering this new theme park, I think this teariness needs to be explained.
It wasn’t until a few days later, at the Harry Potter fan culture conference called Infinitus 2010 that someone said something (unrelated to crying at the park) that helped me make sense of it. The answer was in Edgar Allan Poe’s essay, “The Poetic Principle.” Essentially Poe asks why we weep when we contemplate something beautiful. His answer was that the “most pure, the most elevating, and the most intense” pleasure comes from encountering something that is sublime, something that is awe-inspiring. The tears, says Poe, come from our “petulant, impatient sorrow” at knowing that we only get brief and rare glimpses of such beautiful things. We are frustrated in our search for them, and when we find them we don’t want them stolen.
My tears, both before and at the gates of Hogsmeade were, I am afraid, a sorrowful fear and then a sad recognition that this was not one of those moments of beauty or awe. The beauty and awe were already well placed in the books written by J. K. Rowling and I am sure that the Wizarding World can never inspire awe like they do. Those were not tears, then, of encountering awe but maybe tears of relief that the awe was still safely tucked into the pages of those amazing books.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not a snob who says the “original” story is the only legitimate or valuable one. My writings here are all a celebration of pop culture, of reworking and playing with mass media images and imaginative universes. So I will explain what I think is right with the Wizarding World (or Harry Potter World as everyone seems to call it) and I will explain what I think is wrong, very wrong, with it. See PARTS 2, 3, and 4.