My Harry chronicles
By Mike Danahey firstname.lastname@example.org July 13, 2011 8:10PM
Courier-News writer Mike Danahey tries to blend in, sort of, with his surroundings at the Renaissance Faire in Bristol, Wis., July 9, 2011. | Mike Danahey~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 29, 2011 12:42AM
I headed north just out of Illinois last weekend to get material for a new photo-based social media guessing game I’m launching called “Bristol Renaissance Faire or Just Another Summer Day in Wisconsin?”
Actually, I made the quest to the Elizabethan fest because I figured it would be the perfect place to find Harry Potter-philes. Plus, I love turkey drumsticks, corset shops and public floggings. Also, it gave me an excuse to wear my new kilt for an afternoon (and out shopping afterward in the hopes of making the People of Walmart website).
The Potter phenomenon reaches its zenith this week with the final movie installment of the books that made J.K. Rowling the Steve Jobs of fantasy fiction.
After falling asleep during a screening of “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Snores,” I never paid much attention to the flicks — but for the fact some Lutherans in East Dundee I know weren’t supposed to take their kids to see them, lest they decide to leave the church to become sorcerers.
That amused me, as Disney pictures never made me want to be a princess. I swear.
The Ren Faire looks like it could be a set for one of the Potter movies, with its post-modern mishmash of mythology — including wannabe trolls, witches talking on mobile phones, warlocks, Beefeaters, other assorted English types and the shirtless fat guys in jeans milling about.
I assume the latter were soccer fans. But for those potential hooligans, American Anglophiles romanticize just about anything British: knights of old, Dickens, Dr. Who, colonialism, potato famines, Benny Hill, even the music of Coldplay. It’s sort of how some conservative Republicans feel about the 1950s here in the USA.
But back to the boy wizard. Claire Yearman of Elgin agreed there is an overlap between Harry’s Hogwarts school world and the Wisconsin woodland per the character types inhabiting both lands of make-believe.
Yearman — whose late, great aunt, Marie, served on the Elgin City Council — commutes up to Bristol every weekend through Labor Day to play the naughty pirate Katherine Daroy, Captain of Raptor in the Faire’s fight cast, which stages 16 battles every Saturday and Sunday. (On weekdays, the budding actress works in an office in Naperville.)
“I don’t die, but I get beaten,” Yearman said of her combative weekend job. That could be said of Harry Potter, too, as the lad fights the forces of evil to the bitter, IMAX 3-D end.
Yearman thinks the Potter craze has appeal similar to the Ren Faire’s in that both give adults a chance to play at being a kid again.
“The books and movies have relatable characters,” Yearman said. “J.K. Rowling created a fun world, and fans don’t want that world to end.”
For Dan Marcotte of Bolingbrook, such a world has become a big part of his career. Marcotte is the faire’s music director and performs on lute as Dan the Bard. He has a master’s degree from Florida State University in historical musicology; plays in an Irish trad band; performs at area libraries, thanks to grants from the Illinois Arts and Humanities Councils; and teaches music to the kids at St. Scholastica in Woodridge, where his wife is the church’s music director.
“When I see kids carrying Potter books in class, I know they are going through a life-changing experience right there,” Marcotte said.
According to the liner notes for his album, “Manticores and Owlbears,” his own medieval epiphany came at the age of 10, when he was introduced to music and the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, “and every free moment through all his years was spent furthering one or other of these beloved pursuits.”
Marcotte’s song collection would fit in well on any Potter fan’s iPod, with its tunes about gnomes, spells and a big bird called a hippogriff. I know the latter is in the Potter films because I finally decided to catch up on them in advance of the finale.
Along with the fantasy, what Marcotte sees at the heart of Harry Potter’s appeal is that the tales ultimately are about the bonds of friendship and what buddies can do when they band together — which in the story’s arc means beating back bad guys instead of throwing back butter beers.
That “friends for life” thing might be the books’ biggest fantasy of all. How many of us are lucky enough to still have real pals from grade school — not the Facebook kind, but ones you can call in case of emergency?
We weave in and out of others’ lives. Biology and marriage be damned, we invent our families along the way, then reinvent our clans again when we lose a job, get transferred to another town, or just plain feel like it.
Whether you grew up to be an accountant from Plainfield or a dentist in East Dundee, life gets complicated, frustrating and boring — frequently at the same time.
You head to a Harry Potter movie, crack open a book, or visit Wisconsin to mingle with pretend paupers and princes, and you get a taste of adventure — and maybe a garlic pickle on a stick.
The dull disappears for a bit. You can photograph the fun on your smartphone for Facebook. Of course, computer-generated wizards can’t use electronics or the Web. Or so I learned.
All I really know is I can’t wait to tell kids I’m Lord Voldemort XXL at the midnight showing. I was born that way.