Harry Potter Festival 2010

Here in the city of Odense, Denmark, we have an annual Harry Potter Festival. Usually it takes place one week during September, but this year it only lasted 3 days in October. Furthermore Hogwarts was closed. Usually kids are able to attend Hogwarts, taking classes in Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Potions, History of Magic, Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures, the subjects being taught by McGonagall, Snape, Hagrid and the rest of the staff. But not this year. Why, you ask? Well, because J. K. Rowling was coming to town.

Odense is the hometown of the fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen and Rowling came to receive the "H. C. Andersen Literature Award". The award is founded by a private literature committee and its purpose is to pay tribute to Hans Christian Andersen’s influence on writers from all over the world by selecting award winners whose works can be tied to Hans Christian Andersen’s through similarities in genre or narrative qualities.

J. K. Rowling received the award on October 19 and because of that the Harry Potter Festival had been moved from September to October and Hogwarts had been closed, as Rowling was to use the building. Normally Hogwarts is situated in our old town hall, but this year Rowling needed it in order to read to children and have lunch with the notabilities of Odense. Needless to say that the kids were devastated, as attending Hogwarts is one of the highlights of the year. But of course, Rowling is more important than the kids she writes for!

Hogwarts is the core of the festival, so with that gone, not much was left. Instead of attending the school, kids could take a trip on the Hogwarts Express, but not many did, as they were too upset about not going to Hogwarts. As adults were not allowed, I don’t know much about the train ride, except that the children had something to eat and drink and were allowed to roam the compartments with the lights off. I think they were attacked by Dementors as well

Tuesday was the big day of the ceremony award. You could buy tickets to the award show and it was actually very good although short. Odense Symphony Orchestra did a wonderful version of "Hedwig’s Theme" and Rowling made a very funny and also moving acceptance speech. After the show, she walked to the Hans Christian Andersen museum, but the streets were closed off, as people weren’t allowed to get near her. Then she drove to the town square where she signed autographs to children – but only to the ones who were dressed like characters from the Harry Potter books.

In the town hall Rowling did a 5 minutes reading from her HP books to children aged 8-14 who had paid quite handsomely to see her. After the reading they were allowed to ask her 9 prefabricated questions, then they all got a signed copy of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." And that concluded Rowling’s official programme in Odense.

As most Danish kids aged 8-14 don’t understand English well enough to get anything out of Rowling’s reading, a lot of them had opted out of paying to attend it. What they were left with was the Harry Potter marked. Usually during the festival, the city centre turns into Diagon Alley with all its shops and buildings and you can meet all the characters from the books there. This year only a handful of shops were left, as the town square had to make room for Rowling walking from the limousine to the town hall, so again the kids were disappointed. Gringotts was there, manned by real goblins (or rather dwarfs) and then Ollivander’s, The Daily Prophet, Eeylops Owl Emporium, The Leaky Cauldron and Quality Quidditch Supplies. Not much compared to what we are used to. Even Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes was gone, although George Weasley still did his tricks in the alley. He always does that on his own, as we’ve never had a Fred.

Snape was in place in his dungeons in the old town monastery and I was glad that he was, because we always have a little chat while my daughter mixes potions. He wore a silly wig this year, though, but his presence made our day. Hagrid’s hut in the old ruin behind the town hall wasn’t there, though, so Hagrid no longer had a place to live. Instead the ruin was occupied by a fortune teller. I don’t know what she had to do with Harry Potter, but there she was.

Apart from George and Snape, you could find Dumbledore and Hagrid at the marked, but not many of the other characters. Instead the place was swamped by Dementors and Death Eaters and even Lord Voldemort was there. It is safe to say, that the marked this year had turned a lot more gloomy and commercial and less magic. Even at Gringotts you only got 500 galleons for £2 whereas last year it was 1,000 galleons for £1. Inflation, I suppose.

In past years the Harry Potter Festival has been all about giving kids a magical experience, but this year it seemed to be all about buying stuff, as there wasn’t much else to do. The only new welcome addition to the marked was The Weird Sisters performing standard rock at The Leaky Cauldron from time to time, but all in all the festival was a huge disappointment.

I know that it is a feather in the cap of Odense City that Rowling came by, but it was such a let-down for the kids. I sure hope that next year we go back to the usual festival with Hogwarts and tons of shops and buildings in Diagon Alley for the kids to enjoy.

© Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 2010