geek life

Return of the King: I got my Middle Earth Groove Back

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about how I’d started re-reading Lord of the Rings for the first time in close to a decade. I’d gotten burned out on them, and the ubiquitous nature of things related to the movies (which, to be clear, I love dearly, but maintain they are their own entities, though that’s probably another post for another day).

At any rate, because life is busy and because it’s been nicer outside, it took me two months to read through the whole trilogy. I’m not sorry about that, either. It gave me the time to rediscover things about the story, things I’d forgotten or maybe never noticed in the first place (hey, those are some dense books and the more you learn about Middle Earth lore, the more you find in the novels). And the best part of the whole trilogy? Return of the King.

Why? Because I had forgotten nearly all of it. Oh, I definitely remember what happens in the book, and I remember certain aspects distinctly, but the details (and entire interactions with characters) and humor (yes! there is humor!) and the beautiful way Tolkien switches from the colloquial conversations and observations of the hobbits to the epic style (and I use “epic” in the literary sense here) is just wonderful.

I know it’s old and I know some people think it’s boring, but I really love these stories. They are classics for a reason. And I’m glad I was able to finally finish them (again) and make them fresh in my mind in a way they haven’t been in years.

Thanks, Professor.

End note: In the spirit of this, and after how much I enjoyed these books, I’m going to give Harry Potter a go to see if I can get a fresh reading on it. I’ve read it much more recently, but it’s also been shifted in my mind to be mostly movie imagery, so I’m hoping I can go back and recapture my own imagination’s version of Harry and Ron and Hermione and the rest. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Commentary, geek life

Theories and Queries: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Two weeks ago, the Wizarding World of the Harry Potter Fandom was set abuzz by the news that JK Rowling is penning a new screenplay based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The book itself was published in 2001, written by Rowling to benefit the Comic Relief Charity. It is “written” by Newt Scamander, and the copyright page says it’s in its 52nd printing. The margins are full of commentary from Harry, Ron, and Hermione, which makes it all the more entertaining, especially for such a short read. Now Newt Scamander’s story is going to be the subject of the film, or series of films, and I am not alone in wondering what new things we will get to discover. Here are just a few of my rambling thoughts on it.

The first Harry Potter book takes place in 1991, so if this new story is “seventy years before” that, it would fall right around 1921. It also takes place in the US, which opens up all sorts of possibilities to find out about differences in wizarding culture “across the pond,” if you will. The 1920s were interesting times in US history: prohibition was fueling gang culture and bootleg alcohol, the rich were ridiculously so, and yet we were careening toward the Great Depression at the end of the decade. Our cultural memory of it, as Americans, is largely flappers and speakeasies and Gatsby-like parties, though there was a lot more happening, too. Airplanes and cars were becoming much more common, industry was shifting, and people were optimistic about the future. The US was also solidly on the international stage then, having just helped win the Great War, and people were thinking more globally.

The interesting thing about all of this is that it largely involves technology and, to an extent, government, two things in which the wizarding community (at least in the UK) doesn’t much participate. They have magic, so why do they need electronics? It makes me think that perhaps this was when the biggest shift away from mainstream culture began. Up until then, no one really had electronic technology so the wizards weren’t necessarily that far out of date with their muggle neighbors. It’s also possible that the wizard community is simply SO “old fashioned” that they were already outdated by this time.

Since this story is told from Newt Scamander’s perspective, though, and is about finding Fantastic Beasts, then it makes sense that perhaps much of the story takes place in the wild. Despite that, I’m fascinated by the idea of circus side shows, which were still going strong in that era. What better way for a wizard or witch to make money than to tour the country performing “impossible” stunts, or showing “monsters” to muggles? They would be hiding in plain sight that way. It could very well be that Scamander begins his quest to learn more about these beasts after discovering (and possibly setting free) some of the Beasts from traveling circus shows.

I’m also curious about Scamander’s entries on Beasts from other countries. If the story takes place (at least primarily) in the US, then how does he learn about Beasts from other parts of the world? It could be that he goes on a long journey to find them. It could also be that he begins a field collection, much like the one at the Field Museum in Chicago, where they preserve specimens from all over the world for study, or that there already was a collection of sorts and he was the one who went into the wild to study all of the natural behaviors of these animals.

One of the questions I’ve seen arise in fan theories is whether there will be a major villain in this story. I’m just not sure about that. While the timing would fit for the beginning of the Grindelwald story, that seems to take place in Europe (and is tied much more to World War II, so at least the 30s). I think it more likely that Scamander will encounter poachers and the like who are out to steal his research, or the Beasts themselves, in order to profit from what he discovers.

All in all, I’d like to see Scamander portrayed as a naturalist, someone who does the research and takes good field notes. I’d also like cameos by characters we know (or their parents) if they are old enough to be in these stories. Remember that witches and wizards live a very long time.

So those are my thoughts. What are yours?

food things, geek life

Butterbeer at Home

Hogsmeade, Butterbeer mirror

Recently J and I discovered something kind of amazing, and I wanted to share it with you, gentle reader.

Hogwarts Hogsmeade Harry Potter

A few years ago, Hogsmeade opened for touring to the Muggle population, in an outreach effort and demonstration of goodwill to the non-magical community. Until recent times, the only place a wizard (or visiting Muggle) could purchase butterbeer was in Hogsmeade, which, as I’m sure you know, (after all, you’re reading this) is the only all-magical village in Britain.

Hogsmeade, butterbeer at Three Broomsticks

The ever-popular butterbeer drink has always been a favorite at the Three Broomsticks pub, and can also be found at the Hog’s Head nearby. Muggles seem to like it both chilled (as a soda) and frozen, and the fluffy, magical topping is delightful. The only problem is that the drink is so very good and yet not available anywhere else, that after a visit one might have a sense of sadness that it might be years before the next pint, or that sharing with a friend might be impossible.

Butterbeer, freshly poured

Until now.

While visiting a local soda shop that specializes in root beers, J and I stumbled upon this: Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer. Wizards and Muggles rejoice! The only thing missing was the marshmallow topping.

Being resourceful, I pulled the jar of Fluff I keep in the pantry (you never know, right?), and made my own!

Joanna’s Butterbeer topping recipe:

What you’ll need: 

  • 1 cup Marshmallow Fluff
  • 3 T heavy cream (half and half will work, too– just something thicker than regular milk)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Mixing bowl and whisk (though an electric mixer would probably do very well, I do all of my mixing by hand)

Put your Fluff into a mixing bowl and whisk it until it is smooth. Add the cream and keep mixing until they are combined. Finally fold the vanilla into your mixture. You should have a smooth, creamy bowl of goodness. Spoon 2 T of the mixture onto your drink and enjoy!

Voilà! The real stuff, here at home.

Butterbeer foam

Important notes for first-time-drinkers:

  • A little goes a long way with the topping. Too much and you’ll get overflow, as you can see from the above photo. It looks great in the pictures, but it makes the stuff REALLY hard to drink (I chugged quite a bit before it leveled out again). Two tablespoons per mug would give you about the same ratio as at the Three Broomsticks.
  • Stirring in the cream only makes your soda concoction expand at exponential speed. Be patient and drink the butterbeer through the marshmallow topping. Straws also cause the rapid-expansion.
  • This drink is very, very filling. I couldn’t finish mine. I’d recommend it being a dessert and not before a meal. Of course, this is just my opinion, your mileage may vary.
  • I found some recipes online that call for adding butter or rum extract to the topping, but having had the stuff at the Three Broomsticks, I’m not sure any of it is necessary. It might cut the sweetness, though, if you’re looking for not-so-sugary taste.

Butterbeer, after

geek life, movie reviews

Harry Potter Movie Commentary: Deathly Hallows pt 2

Last night I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt 2, and I think it’s been long enough for me to have processed a few things. My observations are below the “more” cut to contain the spoilers.