Harry Potter camp and worldbuilding 101

My son recently attended Harry Potter camp. He got a Hogwarts acceptance letter. He IMG_1886.jpgwas told to bring a broom and a companion animal. Alas, we had no Crookshanks, so Nimbus here would have to do. (His sister owns a giant stuffed owl but was not lending Owlie out for camp purposes.)

After all the campers were sorted into houses, they spent the week playing Quidditch, making wands and trying to figure out who was secretly cursing the campers and counselors. It turned out to be the headmaster, possessed by an evil spirit, which could be driven out by a coordinated water gun attack. (I’m not actually sure this was originally part of the plot for the week. The headmaster said something about the kids taking the lead.)

On the camp’s last day, we Muggle parents were invited in to judge as each house acted out a story from “The Tales of Beedle the Bard.” The house that got the most applause — Gryffindor, in this case — also won the House Cup. My son was one disappointed Slytherin, but at least his house won Quidditch.

I was secretly delighted all week by how much the kids got into the spirit of things. Many campers showed up wearing their own robes and carrying official Nimbus 2000 brooms. There were earnest discussions about how some Slytherins are good and Gryffindors can be kind of mean sometimes.

I love the books too — me and every other adult I spoke to who said, “Hey, *I* want to go to Harry Potter camp!” — and I’ve always been a little sad that I didn’t get to grow up with the books the way younger kids did. But now I’m getting to watch my own kids grow up with them, and that’s fun. We just finished reading “Sorcerer’s Stone” together and have launched into “Chamber of Secrets,” and the kids keep trying to read ahead when they think I’m not looking. Or my son sneaks peeks at “Cursed Child” on my bedside table. I warned him he’s got six other books to get through first. (Side note: I did not hate “Cursed Child” as much as the entire Internet apparently does. Yes, one scene seems out of character for Harry. Yes, the plot wobbles a little. But some scenes work very well, and I love Scorpius, and that’s good enough for me.) The downside is that the kids spent weeks playing Peeves: grabbing people by the nose and yelling, “Got your konk!” So I’m probably going to have a couple of Dobby wannabes pretty soon.

 

 

What writer-me keeps thinking is that the books are a wonderful example of world-building. Readers (of all ages, clearly) want to go to Diagon Alley, they want to visit Hogwarts, they want to hang around and explore all the little details. Part of why the books work so well is because the setting is so inventive and interesting. And it speaks to their long-term appeal that kids today, who weren’t born yet when J.K. Rowling first became a literary phenomenon, are reading them with the same passion as the kids who went to those original midnight release parties. So this is the thing to strive for, as a writer: not to accomplish what Rowling did — because that seems unlikely — but to put as much loving detail into your creation as she did, to make the story really come alive. At least that’s what I’m striving for.

Side note: It’s possible to succeed too well. I got the kids boxes of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans for fun, and they won’t touch them. They’re afraid of eating an earwax bean.

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