Harry Potter and the Legion of Loyal Fans

A series of seven books written by Scotland native JK Rowling captured the hearts and minds of countless people the world over. Very few books published in recent memory have even come close to the success of the Harry Potter series. The world fell in love with magic and children fell in love with reading once again. The Harry Potter fandom is one of the largest and most passionate and there are many good reasons why.

One of the main takeaways for me can be summed up in my high school’s motto: Caritas omnia vincit, love conquers all. It’s love that saves Harry from Voldemort’s killing curse at the very beginning. Lilly Potter’s final act of self-sacrifice sealed a powerful magical protection into Harry’s blood that shielded him from Voldemort’s curse causing it to bounce back at him and rip what was left of his mangled soul from his body. The lack of love in the life of Tom Riddle ultimately drove him to become Lord Voldemort.  Voldemort’s mother died giving birth to him, so he never knew her love. His grief turned to anger and that anger led him to spend his life finding ways to become stronger than death itself by using Horcruxes. Later in life, Voldemort’s father rejected him and it led to one of his first violent outbursts. He killed his father, his father’s wife, and his own half-brother.

Hogwarts
I didn’t get my owl when I was 11, but I still made it to Hogwarts

Harry Potter also teaches us that no matter who you are, where you come from, and how good at magic you may be, life involves some pretty tough choices. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry begs the Sorting Hat not to place him in Slytherin House. At first we think it’s because every single dark wizard that joined Voldemort came from that house, but as we watch Harry grow throughout the series it becomes obvious that the Slytherin obsession with ambition and achieving ones ends regardless of the means didn’t represent Harry’s values at all. That’s a tough choice to make at age 11 when all you want to do is fit in. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we watch Harry, Ron, and Hermione have their share of troubles with the opposite sex. Their choice in love interests didn’t always work out for them. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince we watch Draco struggle to choose between his family’s loyalty to Voldemort and what he knew in his heart was right. That’s a lot to ask of a 16 year old boy. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry had to choose to either allow the people closest to him to continue to fight for him or to face Voldemort on his own and in the end he chose to die rather than have anyone else die for him at the age of 17.

three broomsticks
If you’re going to The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, I highly recommend the butter beer

If there’s one thing everyone can relate to in Harry Potter, it’s his struggle with Professor Umbridge. There’s actually a lively debate among Potterheads about who hate we more: Voldemort the main villain, or Delores Umbridge, an ancillary villain who makes her first appearance in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Professor Umbridge gives Harry no end to trouble by punishing him unfairly. She gives the entire student body of Hogwarts, the faculty, and the staff a hard time. Think back on your life and I’m sure you can find your very own Professor Umbridge. She could be that self-important climber at work that undermines you every chance she gets and claims your ideas as her own, a teacher who treated you unfairly and gave you a hard way to go for no reason, a bully at school who chose you as her target just because she could, or that manager or supervisor who constantly criticized your work and refused to grant even the simplest of requests.

Another great lesson Harry Potter gives us is that kindness costs you absolutely nothing. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry performs an act of kindness by slipping one of his socks to Dobby the house elf, freeing him from the abusive ownership of the Malfoys. That act of kindness cost him nothing, save for exactly one sock and Dobby later repaid that act of kindness by helping to free Harry, Ron, Hermione,  and others from the Malfoys and Bellatrix Lestrange.

Xmas Hogwarts
The Lego Hogwarts, Knight Bus, and The Burrow under my tree because Dickens villages are for normal people

Harry’s story also shows us that when we come together, anything is possible. The four Houses of Hogwarts had their differences that ran deeper than Quidditch rivalries. The four founders of Hogwarts all valued different attributes in the students that they chose to teach. Godric Gryffindor valued courage, Rowena Ravenclaw valued cleverness, Salazar Slytherin valued pure blood, and Helga Hufflepuff valued anyone who wanted to learn. It wasn’t until all four Houses put their differences aside and came together with the common goal of destroying Voldemort once and for all that they actually achieved that goal. The Sorting Hat called it in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Harry Potter has universal appeal. We all experience the magic of love and kindness, make tough choices, deal with our own versions of Professor Umbridge, and we all know how magical it is when people come together. We all want to believe there’s still some magic in the world. In Game of Thrones, Maester Aemon told Jon Snow to kill the boy so the man can be born. I’m sure there are plenty of people in my life who would tell me to kill the girl so the woman can be born, but to me the girl is everything. The girl is proof that I haven’t let life’s cold, harsh reality harden me. I’m sure the same can be said for many of my fellow Potterheads. Therefore I say believe in magic, Muggles!

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South Street City Grill 11/19 Naples, FL

I visited my mom in Florida last week and while I was there I decided to take the opportunity to perform at an open mic. I did 5 minutes and despite the noise at the bar, I got solid laughs so I’m taking that as a win for me. I got laughs outside my home state from an audience that wasn’t as receptive as the crowds I’ve performed in front of before. A guy even approached me afterwards and said he’d been thinking about doing stand-up for some time. I told him to go for it. If you spend a lot of time thinking or talking about it, you might never do it and life’s too short for that nonsense. Step outside your comfort zone if you want to be where the magic happens.

Role-playing Nice with Polyhedral Dice

When you picture a group seated around a table playing Dungeons and Dragons, what kind of people do you see? If you’re like most people, you see a group of sweaty males sporting pocket protectors and poor social skills who live in their parents’ basement. I can tell you from my experience with role-playing games that this stereotype is exactly that; just a stereotype and one I’d like to an end to.

Look! Not one but two women in the gaming group!
Look! Not one but two women in the gaming group!
I played Cyberpunk with a group of people, yes people meaning not just guys. As a female I can tell you that we also enjoy RPGs. The members of my group all either had degrees or were in the process of completing them. The same was true of both groups that I played Dungeons and Dragons with. All of the people I played Vampire: the Masquerade and Vampire: the Requiem with had degrees and were gainfully employed. People in all of the groups I’ve played in have their own place, don’t suffer from any sort of over-perspiration disorder, and there wasn’t a single pocket protector to be found.

It may come as a surprise to some people that those of us who play roleplaying games are productive members of society. I have a friend who participated in live action roleplaying games (LARP) who serves our country in the US Navy. Wil Wheaton, an actor, blogger, and supporter of charitable causes is also an avid gamer. Vin Diesel, yes THE Vin Diesel aka the star of XXX, Fast and the Furious, Pitch Black, and Chronicles of Riddick to name a few, is also a gamer with D&D being one of his favorites and he is Groot. So if that’s the case why is there such a stigma around RPGs and the people who play them?

Will Wheaton and Chris Hardwick
Will Wheaton and Chris Hardwick
Because the media. Most people like to believe pretty much everything they see on TV, in the movies, or on the Internet. Tabletop and live action gamers have long been portrayed as socially awkward, quintessential nerds and so the stereotype was born and continues. There’s also the fact that people fear what they don’t understand. Certain outspoken ministers of various faiths condemn gaming as  nothing more than polytheism, blasphemy, and devil-worship. Because of the fantasy aspect of it, there’s also a perception that adults who play are immature or should be considered weird or socially undesirable. As a result of these negative stereotypes, many people have the wrong idea about RPGs and the people who play them.

Vin Diesel playing D&D. He is Groot
Vin Diesel playing D&D. He is Groot
Having been involved in several different gaming groups, I can assure you that absolutely no polytheism was practiced, there was no blasphemy, and no pentagrams were painted on the floor with the blood of a freshly slaughtered goat. It was just a group of people sitting around a table with pencils, paper, a layout map of the current scene in the center of the table with minis to show where each player was, some snacks, drinks, and polyhedral dice. Having been raised Catholic I can also assure you that at no point did I feel that my faith was being insulted, tested, or compromised in any way. Seriously people, it’s just a game. As for being an adult and spending time pretending to be someone else, I will quote the Fourth Doctor, “There’s no point in being an adult if you can’t be childish sometimes.” Look, everyday life can be incredibly boring. Tabletop RPGs are a way to take a break from it which is perfectly healthy. People play RPGs for the same reason we take vacations: you get to escape the stress and worry for a while.

But what if I have kids who want to play tabletop RPGs?

Let them! As long as the game is age-appropriate there is absolutely nothing wrong with your child being into RPGs. They’re great for giving an outlet for their creativity. You create a character from the ground up using nothing but a piece of paper, a pencil, and some stats. You get to create a backstory and immerse yourself in a fantasy world for a while. Gaming also teaches the importance of fair play, and gets them away from phones, computers, and video games to interact with others. Gaming also helps instill empathy by teaching how to think and act as someone else. If you pretend to be someone else for a while, you’ll be amazed to find how much easier it is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. If they decide they want to run their own campaign, great! Running a game teaches leadership skills, judgement, and discretion. There are much worse ways they could be spending a Friday night.

But isn’t getting into RPGs is expensive?

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Not really. The books can be found on Amazon pretty cheap or you could borrow from a friend. The dice aren’t all that costly and you can find them at any gaming store or hobby shop. It’s also a common tradition, at least among my circle of friends that your first Game Master (or GM) gets you your first set of dice to welcome you to the group and to gaming. Character sheets for most games are available online as a free download you can print out. Pencils are cheap. Minis can get pricey but you don’t really need them. The most important thing you need is imagination and that’s absolutely free. If your child does get really gung-ho into gaming at the very least you can be assured that if they’re spending their allowance on gaming stuff, they’re not spending it on anything bad like booze, cigarettes, or drugs.

RPGs are a perfectly acceptable way to spend one’s time. There are even families who get together every week for an RPG campaign as a fun way to bond. So enough with the stigma already! If you want to game, go grab some friends and some dice and have fun! Rest in peace, stereotype.

Take 5 Gourmet Robbinsville, NJ 11/13

Once again Kurt Zimmerman put together a great show and I’m thrilled that I was part of it. Steve Schwartz hosted and Tim Eli, Jared Ellman, Kurt, Mark Staudemaier all killed. Our headliner Simply Dee was superb. I always learn something at these shows and I took away some great ideas that I can’t wait to apply to my own act.

And yet my heart is heavy. Five minutes before the show I learned of the attack on Paris. I’m so sorry for the victims and their families but there’s hope. This tragedy led to people opening their homes to others in need of a safe place. There is sadness but whenever we see the worst of what people have to offer we also see the best.

I’m sure some would question how I can be funny at a time like this. I’ll reply with a quote from Game of Thrones. “Laughter is poison to fear.” If the individuals responsible want us to be afraid then to me the only appropriate response is laughter and last night we caused laughter. So, take that fear.

Playing the Game of Thrones

I mentioned in My Love Affair with The Doctor that I enjoy sharing the things I love with people.  I’m a fan of Game of Thrones and we tend to get excited when we spot one of our own. The first question I get is usually, “The books or the show?” My answer is both because I feel that by choosing one or the other you’re cheating yourself.

For those who only watch the show and feel hip for doing so, sorry but you’re a bit tardy to the party. The books have been around since 1996 and are wildly popular among fans of the science fiction/fantasy genre. I get that they’re long and not everyone is comfortable with investing the time to read them, but you might think about it if you want to understand why Cersei Lannister hates the Starks so much and get some idea of just where the hell Bran and Rickon Stark are. Seriously show watchers, you haven’t seen them in an entire season, Gendry has been rowing from Dragonstone since season 2, and where’s Nymeria the direworlf? Aren’t you curious? You may have also heard about the controversy over Lady Stoneheart being omitted from the show and while I get the reasoning behind that decision, it’s still a pretty badass part of the story and well worth the read.

Brace yourselves. The Winds of Winter is coming…eventually
Brace yourselves. The Winds of Winter is coming…eventually

For those who only read the books and think you know what’s going to happen on the show, sorry but nope! During the tail end of Season 2 into Season 3, the show began to take a slightly different path from the books and has reached a point where the show is starting to become its own canon. Though the larger, overarching plot of the series will remain the same per author George RR Martin and his contract with HBO, reading the books is no longer a guarantee that you’re going to know what happens next season, next episode, or even in the next five minutes. That’s Martin’s evil genius at work. The show is definitely worth the watch. It tugs heartstrings and pushes the envelope of television propriety even for HBO. The visuals are outrageously good. SPOILER ALERT: The scene where Drogon made his triumphant return was epic in the books, but seeing it in the show took it to a whole new level. The cast, direction, and the writing staff bring characters from the pages of the series to life in a way that you don’t get to experience if you only read the books.

Reading the books and watching the show will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the wonderful world of Game of Thrones. The World of Ice and Fire is great if you read the books and want to get deeper into the history of Westeros. There are also companion graphic novels and Telltale Games came out with a series of video games featuring voiceovers from the cast of the show and they’re worth the download. However, both the books and the show are an emotional roller coaster and it would be wise to know what you’re getting into. As Cersei Lannister once said to Ned Stark, “If you’re going to play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” There’s your warning label, folks. This is not for the faint of heart.

Have a favorite character at your own risk. The theme of Game of Thrones is summed up in two words: Valar Morghulis, which translated from the High Valyrian means All Men Must Die. Yes, there are entire languages that were created solely for the series just like in Tolkien’s masterpieces. Just like in any medieval fantasy universe there are the highborn rich and the lowborn poor.  Regardless of your surname, the amount of gold in your pockets, the number of dragons and/or direwolves you may have, and the size and location of your castle only one thing is certain: death. No one is safe.

Mr. Martin, if she dies, I will riot, sir!
Mr. Martin, if she dies, I will riot, sir!

You will care way more about these fictional characters than can be considered reasonable or psychologically healthy. Both the books and the show present the characters in a way that draws you in and causes you to make an emotional investment. You have the heroes that you cheer with in victory and cry with in defeat and then you have villains that you love to hate so much that you laugh heartily upon reading or watching their death scenes. SPOILER ALERT: I laughed to the point of tears when I read the final phrase of Tywin Lannister’s death scene: “In the end Tywin Lannister did not shit gold.” George RR Martin is delightfully cheeky. SPOILER ALERT: When I watched the show I rewound and watched Viserys and Joffrey’s death scenes three or four times and had a minor moral crisis over how much I enjoyed watching those two asshats die.

The way Martin writes his death scenes will make you nuts. There are several scenes in the books that read as if a character has died, but then you find them still alive a couple chapters later. Finding out if a character is actually dead can be a 100-page or more endeavor and it’s absolutely maddening; maddening but brilliant. What better way to make sure people read the whole book and stay engaged while doing so than to write all death scenes or near-death scenes as cliffhangers?

George RR Martin: sick and brilliant man
George RR Martin: sick and brilliant man

Fully immersing yourself in Martin’s world is well worth the price of tissues and wine. You could argue that by guaranteeing that no one is safe and writing in a way that elicits an emotional investment the author is playing a sick game with us. (insert picture of George RR Martin. Caption: Sick, brilliant man.) Despite being a sick man, Martin is brilliant. He’s also from New Jersey which means there may be hope for me yet. Well played, George. Well played indeed.