What the New Harry Potter Theme Park Has, and What It Never Will

Kids can read Harry Potter, watch Harry Potter, play Harry Potter, don Harry Potter—and coming soon they can be Harry Potter at Universal’s theme park in Orlando, Florida.

The "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" (aka “Top THAT, Disney World!”) is officially approved by J.K. Rowling and set to open as one of Universal’s “Islands of Adventure” next spring. The $250 million park will feature sets and shops from the film, two Potter-themed roller coasters, simulated Quidditch matches, and one very famous castle. For Potter fans—with the money and means to get to Orlando and pay for tickets—it’s a dream come true, complete with wands, snitches and chocolate frogs.

To imagine the kind of catnip this will be to kids, just rent a copy of the Gene Wilder version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and watch the scenes of pandemonium as children scramble for golden tickets.

But what also strikes me as I read the announcement is just how far the Harry Potter experience has evolved and transmogrified from its original incarnation. Not so long ago (at least in adult years), Harry Potter could not be seen at all, only imagined from words written in a book as part of a personal, private-reading experience. The book inspired an explosion of student literacy like nothing before it and nothing since.

Compare this to now, when one’s imagination merely fills in the tiny blanks between what’s seen on the screen and soon to be experienced in person. Reading is no longer a prerequisite to experiencing Harry Potter, so its power to promote literacy has been diluted.

And what was once a powerful solitary experience is now forcibly communal. No one visiting “The Wizarding World” will be outside earshot of some kid screaming in a stroller and another dripping ice cream from his chin and spouting Harry Potter trivia as if he’s the only one around with an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.

I’m not knocking the theme park—heck, I’m excited to go myself—but all this pageantry makes me yearn for a simpler time, like that night in the brand new millennium when I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in my bed, trying to imagine that spooky but thrilling train ride, and wondering when my one-year-old son—now 10—would be old enough to read it himself.

He has—many times over in fact. And while he loves the movies and will save his pennies for Orlando, I’m happy to note he’s still reading voraciously, using that awesome projector in his head to create scenes that can never be matched on any screen or park, no matter how much money and marketing magic is poured into it.

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