Recent Comments

Lisa Schmidt

Yes, yes!  Thank you for bringing up phenomenology, Drew.  I didn’t want to bring it in, but it is kind of the background to my post.  It is the embodied nature of the butterbeer experience that fascinates me.  However powerful imagination can be (and it is very powerful), it is not embodied in the same way as actually making something with your hands and eating/drinking it.  I actually think that a lot of fan activities have this element to them, yet so much of the writing I see about fandom is only concerned with the playing with ideas/narrative/concepts/characters, all of these things that seem to happen only in imagination.

Lisa Schmidt

Thank you for you comment, Vincent!  I can’t say that I know of any Bott’s Beans recipes. 

I agree with you about the possibility for unlicensed and licensed creativity…and I also tend to think that Chef Jayson, whoever he is working for, is also a kind of fan.  You could draw all sorts of parallels between the "food/cooking" situation and games.  Does the end product live up to the professional standards of the chef/designer?  And who sets those standards anyway?  Maybe I want to design some butterbeer with beer and butter in it, and maybe my tastebuds are just weird enough that I think that tastes good. (And maybe it would taste good.  Beer is a kind of bread, after all.  Anyhow…)  Not official, but interesting and creative.  

Christopher Bell

Vincent wrote: "Here, as in fan-fiction, an immersive unlicensed exploration is very possible."

It is, but then it isn’t, and that’s the part I find vaguely sad about Chef Jayson’s creation. 

Up until now, fans have been able to fully participate in this "immersive exploration" (an excellent phrase) without limits or walls or boundaries. Butterbeer could taste like almost anything. A chocolate frog could be milk or dark or white or something in between. A Bertie Botts’ Bean could taste like strawberry jam, but not the kind you buy from Smuckers’ - the kind my grandmother used to make in Mason jars in the basement. 

But now, here’s Chef Jayson, and because his version of Butterbeer is sold at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, suddenly, it -is- what Butterbeer tastes like. It’s the "official" taste of Butterbeer. And once I taste it for the first time, whatever delicious flavor lived in my head before I drank it is obliterated forever. I can -try- to get it back, but it will have been fundamentally compromised by my "real world" experience. In that, I disagree with Kelly that the taste doesn’t really matter. I believe it matters a great deal. 

In a way, I am intentionally destroying my imagination to some extent by forcing it into the shoe box of reality. It’s, realistically, exactly what happened when the films began to release. Whatever Hermione lived in my head before I saw the movie is gone. I can’t picture anyone else but Emma Watson when I think of Hermione now. I try sometimes, but it doesn’t work. I keep coming back to her. 

Harkening back to Kelly’s piece day one of this theme week, it’s its own kind of death - a bittersweet one, for certain.  

Kelly Stringer

Full immersion is something a lot of Potter fans seek. Long before butterbeer was served up at WWOHP, fans were concoting their own versions and sharing the recipes with each other.

Creating a real version of a fictional beverage - or partaking of franchise-sanctioned offerings like Every Flavor Beans - is simply another way of making the Potter world come alive. An edible dimension was added to the equation, joining costuming and fanficiton and Quidditch matches played on converted soccer pitches. Every new creation helped to extend the Potter experience beyond mere reading of the source material. Similar reactions are commonly created by any novel or series that sparks a following: Lord of the Rings fans teaching themselves Quenya? Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy readers who won’t leave home without a towel? These fans want the richest experience they can create, and what’s richer than a story you can taste?

As you point out, every fan has his or her own idea as to what, exactly, Potter foods should taste like. But instead of trying to find the perfect flavor ("What is the closest thing I can find to this?"), they are trying to create it, to actively bring this fictional item into being. And, truthfully, the flavor is less important than the experience itself: having something that makes the story come to life, that makes it a real, tangible, edible thing.

Throw a butterbeer or a flagon of pumpkin juice at a meal and suddenly it’s more than just a meal: it’s magical. And, after all, isn’t that what Harry Potter is all about?

Something I think is interesting about the whole immersion phenomenon is the ways in which it interacts with the development of the fandom. In what ways does it transform the Potter experience? With the books finished and the films quickly following suit, this kind of immersive fandom culture might become more prevalent as fans look for ways to keep the magic alive. And in that context: in what ways does immersion become the experience?

Excellent post.

Drew Ayers

What I find so compelling about the example you detail in your post, Lisa, is that it serves as a great illustration of how media can give actual embodiment to virtualities.  The phenomenological experience of reading/watching Harry Potter is, to be sure, an actual bodily experience.  However, much of this experience also takes place within the realm of the virtual, in that butterbeer isn’t actually going down your gullet.  Yes, we can sense what this butterbeer might feel like as it enters our body, but this is still largely the product of imagination and virtual experience.  The material creation of literal butterbeer makes actual this virtuality and provides embodiment to imagination.  As I can attest to while reading this post, I now have a great desire to experience the real effects of butterbeer on my body.

I also think you’re quite right in calling this a transmedia experience, in that it extends and supplements the canonical narratives of the books/films.  (Though I also find it interesting that Chef Jayson makes a point of emphasizing that Rowling approved and loved his recipe.  He still seeks (on behalf of the fans, perhaps) the approval of the "master" of the narrative).  Food-as-narrative is a really unique way to think of things.  Thanks for such a compelling post.

Vincent Gonzalez

Thanks for bringing these edible transmediations to our attention. This is especially interesting to me as a case where the tools available for licensed and unlicensed creativity, though still quite different, are equally likely to produce a compelling continuation of the story. I can’t help but compare them to fan games. Because these  tend to use inexpensive engines, or rely on modifications of existing video games , they sometimes far exceed the cleverness of EA’s games, but never quite meet their graphical standards, nor making serious game design decisions.

Food, though! Here, as in fan-fiction, an immersive unlicensed exploration is very possible. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I will try to make some fan designed butterbeer as soon as possible. Do you know of any fan-recipes for Bott’s Beans? I was sad to see one recipe blog just give up.

Wizarding World by un.sospiro @flickr
Vincent Gonzalez

You are absolutely right, this literature is didactic, but we miss a great deal if we assume that its incredibly vast public is learning a consistent set of messages from it. Between Tom Morris’ reading that discovers how to be a great CEO and Luke Bell’s reading that discovers how to be a great monk, we cannot know how many distinct visions the franchise’s morality are possible. The question, then, is how diverse communities come of age through the specific "Harry Potters" they share.

I bring this up because while friendliness is a likely take-away from the series, there are also possibilities in the text for readings which might produce young people who totally resent standing in line at a corporate themepark. These are, among other things, potentially books about young people banding together for radical social justice activism. Universal does not have Disney’s famouly poor record of labor practices (and their janitors won a meaningful victory this year), but there is certainly another readership whose friendship would be just as internally cohesive, but which we cannot locate in line for the theme rides.

[Correction: My earlier edition of this comment made the silly mistake of placing the theme-world at Disney rather than Universal.]

Sirius Black
Christopher Bell

 For sure, Rowling could have pushed harder. Could she have had Fred Weasley drop dead on the Quidditch pitch of a massive embolism? She certainly could have, but I’m not sure that would have been any more poignant or thought-provoking. There is some measure of realism that cannot (and, I might argue, should not) be captured by prose narrative. That is to say that, though neither "random" nor "meaningless" in a denotative fashion, the deaths of minor heroes like Fred and Hedwig are what we might call "random enough." 

Even the death of Old Yeller isn’t "meaningless" in the context of the story. In point of fact, Yeller dies a hero - he has fought off the rabid wolf, and while he has to be put down, his death is in service to his own bravery. It is part and parcel of the narrative. 

The problem with, as you say, an unambiguous presentation of reality is that those things rarely make narrative sense. There is a certain amount of creative leeway one has to afford an author in order for the plot line to continue to make sense. There’s a reason why only a certain segment of the population was into David Lynch. For most people, things have to have coherent narrative connection. 

(Although, again, I agree that Rowling could have pushed harder. I mean, if you want to get really close to the kind of meaningless death in children’s literature you are referring to, Bridge to Terabithia pretty much traumatized an entire year of my childhood…)

Sirius Black
Vincent Gonzalez

While I agree that there is a real bravery in Rowling’s willingness to present the death of minor characters, and that this is a bold move given the state of contemporary children’s literature, we should be cautious not to overstate her achievement, or understate what is possible in children’s media. Yes, she could have spoonfed more, but she could have pushed harder too.

The deaths of Fred and Hedwig are certainly peripherary to the plot, but neither of them actually presents the possibility of meaningless death. If we accept the list of deaths on Wikipedia , Luna’s mother, Rowena Ravenclaw, and the loose ends of the Black family tree may have died meaningless deaths, but all of that is backstory. Once Harry goes to Hogwarts, every death is caused by the central conflict somehow, and is thus meaningful in a way that we should not mistake for an unambiguously presentation of human reality. It would be very different if the books actually offered the grotesque possibility of death by accident, disease, or even death caused any conflict or injustice outside of the series’ central struggle.

You are right to call these deaths "collateral damage," because that phrase is a military technology that gives death teleological orientation, making it as meaningful as the struggle that justifies the expenditure. The deaths of Fred and Hedwig are those of minor heroes made meaningful by a war of absolute significance. Martyrs. We are allowed to mourn how arbitrary these deaths are only for a moment before they are swept into moral schema of the novels. To situate all death within a great conflict of this sort might be a form of honesty, but it is the honesty Barthes calls "Operation Margarine:"

"To instill into the Established Order the complacent portrayal of its drawbacks has nowadays become a paradoxical but incontrovertible means of exalting it."

Don’t get me wrong, the books do make children talk about death, and that is important work, but we should not mistake this presentation of death for honest meaninglessness. These deaths are thrilling, but they are moralized in a way that TV news makes quite familiar. For confrontation with meaningless death children would do better to read Old Yeller or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

Wizarding World by un.sospiro @flickr
Drew Ayers

Mary, thanks for giving us such a joyful contrast to yesterday’s topic of death.  While the Harry Potter series does deal with some very adult topics - death, betrayal, jealously, among others - the world of Harry Potter has also given many of its readers/viewers a profound experience of unabashed joy.  The unity of the crowd’s wave in your video perfectly expresses this joy.  Amidst the crowds and heat, people were careful not to forget the central message of the series: kindness and friendship are necessary to survive in a sometimes challenging world.

You also touch on the power of the series to expand beyond the borders of the text and provide a real life model of behavior (for both children and adults).  Your example of this from your experience in line is quite compelling, and it’s nice to hear stories about people actually being kind to each other.  I’d even wager that the Slytherins in the crowd couldn’t help but be kind to each other.  Like you, I’m going to give Harry credit for that.