Something truly magical is happening in Staunton.
Beginning this Friday masses of people will descend on Downtown Staunton, many dressed in whimsical wizarding garb, to celebrate the second annual Harry Potter festival in town. What was last year the Queen City Potter Party has recently switched monikers to Queen City Mischief & Magic, but that’s not the only difference. The number of businesses involved this year has more than doubled and instead of being a single-day event, the celebration will go all weekend from Friday to Sunday. Thousands of people showed up in Staunton last year to join the magical revelry and this year, we expect no less.
When the final Potter films were still coming out, it was easy to feel like the end of an era was actually upon us. The huge book release parties held at bookstores across the world and the conventions with thousands of attendees in costume would surely die off as the final chapters hit the screens. But somehow we seem to still be living in the Age of Potter, though it looks different than it once did. When one book of Pottermania closed, it wasn’t long before a new one opened.
For a fan, there is something beautiful about the quote, “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” It’s possibly more beautiful today than it was when said by J.K. Rowling at the premiere of the final film. At the time, it did sound like a goodbye, like an old friend saying, “I promise we’ll keep in touch,” as a pleasantry. But boy, have we kept in touch with Ms. Rowling.
The past few years have seen something I think of as the “Harry Potter Renaissance.” Rowling turned out a wealth of new information on her supplementary website, Pottermore, a next-generation play on the West End in London, and the start to a five-installment spin-off film franchise. The universe of Harry Potter that extends beyond the original seven books has grown at a surprising rate. The intricate world inside Rowling’s head clearly never stopped growing and she didn’t hesitate to let it out. We now know details of the magical schooling system and government in the United States and the future of Harry as an adult with a family.
It’s made one thing quite clear - Hogwarts will always be there to welcome us home, at least for the foreseeable future. Some of us never really left. It isn’t the same as it always was, but something did open at the close.
The coming weekend in Staunton is the best kind of reflection of that. A community has banded together contributing their time and talents to turn their downtown into a magical world for a few days and to celebrate a monumental work of literature that, among other things, transformed the way young people read. Queen City Mischief & Magic has grown tenfold since the event last summer when Sarah Lynch, owner of the Baja Bean, orchestrated an event to celebrate the release of the Cursed Child script that was published on July 31st, 2016. The event was an undeniable success and there was no doubt a second event would take place this year.
As much as I love it, I do often wonder how this many people are still passionate enough about Harry Potter to put something like this together. I think part of it is an inclusiveness that is spoken from the actual text and films themselves, a ubiquitous invitation to enjoy Potter content no matter how familiar or unacquainted you are. It’s very difficult to find someone who has consumed absolutely no Harry Potter media today. People are drawn to a full and enchanting universe that has as many ins and outs as it has stories to tell and somehow, it’s still growing.
Harry Potter has proven to be so much more than a series of juvenile literature in countless ways. The text itself matures as the characters grow up and face true evil in their world, evil that often eerily mirrors the form hate takes in our world in history and the present. Adults read these books to their children and fall as much in love with the characters as their kids. People who were much younger as the books and films were coming out have grown and taken the lessons in life and love and strength taught by the Potter stories with them along their journeys. It’s incredibly heartwarming to see old fans and new, young and grown, so charmed by Rowling’s rich stories that they want to be a part of an event like QCMM.
Harry Potter, scavenger hunts, and historic downtown communities: these are a few of my favorite things, and somehow, my job involves all three at the moment. I’ve had the time of my life formulating new content for the event this year as well as simply organizing information about the participating businesses to make available from our app. I made sure to highlight the recent film, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” by creating a Fantastic Beasts Hunt which is similar to the Horcrux Hunt that Traipse provided last year.
We’re all so excited to see what this weekend brings and watch the magic of Harry Potter work its way through the town of Staunton again. With all of the people involved in town ranging from Mary Baldwin University to owners of bookstores, craft shops, restaurants, breweries, and municipal workers who will be putting forth their efforts to keep the city clean and safe, the magic of Downtown Staunton will surely touch every heart in town.