Feelin’ Weasley

I recently got back from a few days at Universal Studios in Orlando. The main attraction at Universal is the Harry Potter section of the Islands of Adventure park. The park opened at 9 AM when we were there, but since we were staying on the property, we were able to get in an hour early. Nearly all of the people who availed themselves of this option made a beeline for the Potter section of the park. And with good reason, since it does a very credible job of bringing J.K. Rowling’s work to life. The people who put this together really did it right.

I bring this up as a background for something that occurred to me today. I’ve read the Harry Potter books, and seen maybe half of the movies, so I’m generally aware of the characters and their stories. One of the primary characters, Harry’s friend Ron Weasley, came to my mind as I was putting up some pictures of old Chicago Cubs players at work today.

Rowling’s world of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley and all the rest works so well because it was invented out of thin air. Like Baum’s OZ, and Tolkien’s middle-earth, it draws you in and makes you want to believe it exists, even when you know that it doesn’t. A world of muggles, or munchkins, or hobbits seems much more interesting than the world that we actually inhabit, and so reading these books is a way–the only way, really–of spending some time there.

A major element of Harry Potter’s world is the invented game of Quidditch. Harry’s friend Ron is a big fan of the worst Quidditch team of all, the Chudley Cannons. They’re a terrible team that never wins anything, but Ron Weasley supports them, anyway. It’s a bit like Charlie Brown and his favorite baseball player, the inept (yet fictional) Joe Shlabotnik. Players like Shlabotnik, and teams like the Cannons, somehow have a following in the worlds they inhabit, even though they’ve given their fans nothing to get very excited about. And so it is with the Chicago Cubs and their long-suffering, yet still very real, fans.

I thought about this as I was putting up three pictures of Cubs players from the 1977 team at my desk at work today. The three were Jerry Morales, George Mitterwald, and Gene Clines. The 1977 Cubs were in first place halfway through the season, and they led me a younger and more naive version of myself to believe that great things would happen that year. But they fell apart in August and September, and finished far out of the running in their division.

Had this late-season collapse been a sign of things to come in the decades ahead, I might have switched my team allegiances back to the St. Louis Cardinals, who are much the preferred team in the town where I grew up. But the bond had been forged, despite (or maybe even because of?) the team’s losing ways. Unlike the Cardinals, I could watch the Cubs’ games on TV, and I liked hearing the way that Jack Brickhouse called a game on WGN. He talked about Waveland Avenue and Sheffield Avenue as places that, like Hogwarts, I wanted to believe actually existed.

It would be a decade before I went to these places myself, and confirmed their existence on the North side of Chicago. But in the meantime, the Cubs became my version of the Chudley Cannons. They lost all the time, and that’s never an easy thing to cope with, but when you love a team, and the game that they play, their losses somehow strengthen that bond, rather than dissolving it.

Should anything ever happen to chase the ghosts of Jerry Morales and all of the other Cubs from the past away, well, that will be a fine day, indeed. May I live long enough to see it. I sometimes think that Ron Weasley’s Cannons will win a championship before my Cubs will. And if you were to tell me the Cannons don’t really exist, my reply is that’s exactly my point.

Understanding Cranbrook through the lens of Harry Potter

By now, everyone knows the story of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling’s tales of the young wizard and his years at Hogwarts became runaway successes, the likes of which we might not see ever again. A generation of kids have grown up knowing about muggles and horcruxes and he-who-must-not-be-named. Writing these tales certainly changed Ms. Rowling’s life, but it can fairly be said that it changed many of our lives, as well.

The story of Mitt Romney and what happened at Cranbrook back in 1965 has parallels to the story that Rowling told. I’ve never seen Cranbrook School myself, but it conjures up (no pun intended) the same kind of images that Hogwarts School does in the Potter books: otherworldly architecture, a romanticized setting, something unlike the schools that most of us attended. We might have gone to a school like Central High School or George Washington Elementary, but nobody much wants to read about that, do they?

The players in the 1965 assault on John Lauber also come right out of Rowling’s books:

  • Neville Longbottom is Lauber himself, humiliated for nothing worse than being different;
  • Crabbe and Goyle, the contemptible sidekicks who gladly partake in Neville’s humiliation, are the ones who spoke to the reporter about their regrets all these years later;
  • Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and all of the other fringe characters are the majority of students at Cranbrook, such as Philip Maxwell, who don’t like the bullying, but know that they cannot put a stop to it; and
  • Draco Malfoy is Mitt Romney, who knows that he will be protected by the wealth and standing of his parents, no matter what he does.

Nobody who reads Rowling’s books, or watches the movie adaptations of them, identifies with Malfoy, since he is the little jerk who assumes–correctly–that he can do as he wants to, and nobody can put a stop to it. We identify with Harry and his friends, or possibly even with Neville, knowing all too well what being on the receiving end of physical and mental abuse can feel like. We can’t very well identify with Crabbe and Goyle, because they’re Malfoy’s enablers.

We all hate Malfoy because we should, so long as we live in a decent society. And Mitt Romney perfectly fits the bill as Draco Malfoy, in the events of 1965 at Cranbrook School. If Romney can’t acknowledge his Malfoyish ways back then, and throw himself at the mercy of Neville Longbottom (who, regrettably, isn’t with us to tell his side of the story) and everyone else for having behaved the way that he did, then how could we choose such a man to run the country that we all love? I can’t imagine how we would ever do that.