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Musings on the Lexicon

I did an interview today with a Brazilian newspaper and one of the questions was “What was your favorite experience as a Harry Potter fan?” I thought about all the incredible things that I’ve been privileged to do, from visiting the film sets to exploring Britain to write a book about Potter places, but the best experience? That was working on the Lexicon website with Lisa and John and Bel and the others. That camaraderie and shared excitement and passion was the best by far. And I miss it.

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How to organize the spell pages

I’ve been trying to work out the best way to organize the Spell Encyclopedia. There are basically four types of entries: spell names (Full Body-Bind), incantations (Petrificus Totalus), unnamed magic (“fire whip”), and categories (fire magic).

Trouble is, every spell doesn’t have both an incantation and a spell name. Some have neither, some have both. So how do I organize the lists? What do I alphabetize by, and when I have an entry for both the incantation and the spell name, do I duplicate information or link one to the other, so list spells by spell name and list the incantation with a link back to that spell name? But if I do that, how do I list the spells that have no incantation given? And how do I make it clear which spell names are actually given in canon and which ones I’ve had to invent in order to list the spell? I’ve started putting quotation marks around the non-canon spell names, which helps, but still …

Nowadays, this sort of problem seems, well, quaint and archaic. But remember, this is the Lexicon, which was created in the late 1990s before Wikipedia or databased websites or content management systems. Each page is a separately created HTML document and is basically a static page. No sorting on the fly, no clicking on categories, nothing. Yes, yes, it would be great if the Lexicon were recreated in the modern style, but that would take way too much time and money. It is what it is.

So I’m left with the problem: how do I organize the spell lists?

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Bestiary and Herbology

When I start reading the Lexicon, I find myself following link after link, rediscovering the rich world of Harry Potter. I might end up reading some old essay or finding a page about nicknames or a map of Quidditch teams of the world … and before you know it, an hour’s gone by and I can’t even remember where I started. I’m not alone in this. I’ve received plenty of emails from people who tell me that they “just spent the last three hours here at my desk, reading things on the Lexicon when I should have been working.”

Well, the same thing happens when I start editing. Over the past few days, I’ve been updating sections of the site. I’ve been reformatting pages to the new style (and cleaning up the navigation in the process). I’ve also been adding canon information all over the place, and not just from book seven. I’ve also been adding notes from the WOMBAT tests, Tales of Beedle the Bard, and Pottermore.

By the way, I’m not including nearly all the information from Pottermore. I’ve been adding some basic information (such as Mr. Ollivander’s first name) and then linking back into Pottermore itself so fans can read all the details on Rowling’s own site. Take a look at the new Herbology page to see what I mean. On Pottermore, Rowling writes extensively about wand woods. All those types of woods are listed on the page and as part of the description, I’ve included a small quote from Ollivander along with a link back to Pottermore’s wand wood page. I like this approach because it doesn’t in any way replace the experience of reading the original source while it does make the connections to the rest of canon which fans appreciate about the Lexicon.

The sections I’ve been working on include:

Herbology – I’ve added missing plants, sources, and canon references to make this the central resource for plant information; I’ve also updated the formatting to put list boxes on the right-hand side and “On this page” navigation at the top.

Potions – I’ve removed duplicate information and added links back to the Herbology page

Bestiary – I’ve updated the information with more canon and sources; I’ve also updated the formatting to the new page style

other creature pages – this is ongoing; I’m updating all the individual Bestiary pages, the ones for dragons, dementors, and so on, changing them to the new style and adding canon and source information

Besides those, there have been edits and updates all over the site because, as I mentioned, I keep wandering off and discovering things which need attention. Sometimes these edits are small. Other times, they get pretty extensive (and I end up with a page half-edited when I run out of time for the night). That’s what happened to several of the spell pages, for example, as I tried to integrate some of the new information from Pottermore.

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What’s New? Plenty!

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here, mostly because I’ve been putting most of my updates and comments on the HP Lexicon’s Facebook page and Google+ page. Here’s what’s been going on with the Lexicon lately:

A new series of books is available called The Harry Potter Lexicon Reader’s Guides. The first and second volumes have been published on Kindle and Nook, and the third should be available by the end of August, 2012. The Lexicon book is included in this series and is available now!

The HP Lexicon podcast was just updated with episode 13.

I’ve been doing a LOT of editing all over the Lexicon website. Many of the edits have been small, but some larger revisions have been going on, such as a new page listing offensive and defensive spells and an update and redesign of the pages for the WOMBAT tests which appeared on Rowling’s website back in 2006 and 2007.

There are lot more changes, updates, and discussions going on, and I plan to start posting here again to keep you all up to date.

Steve

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Episode 13: “The budding new baby hero!”

Steve digs into the interview archives, discussing Rowling’s control of her story and her characters, then explores the murky challenge of finding name sources, discovers the not-so-murky Grimmauld Place in London, and discusses the essential elements of book six which allow us to truly understanding book seven.

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Episode 12: “Why weren’t we told about this sooner?”

Steve chats about Rowling’s take on “official” Harry Potter, then discusses different modes of storytelling in book five, fan recommendations for best re-reads, how Sectumsepra just might be necessary, and how Molly Weasley rocks long before her showdown with Bellatrix.

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Episode 11: “What happened to the whimsy?!”

Steve marvels at the levels of the soundscapes on Pottermore, then bemoans expensive canon and Rowling’s lost website, reads a wonderful insight from a fan about the magic of books, then finds book five to be “really jarring on a number of levels” … and yet his favorite book of the series.

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Episode 10: “This gap is where it all changed …”

Steve starts “season two” of the podcast by reviewing the past nine episodes, then discusses new things on Pottermore, discovering Diagon Alley in London, how the world of Harry Potter changed during the gap between books four and five, and why that gap left many fans unprepared for book five when it came.

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Comments on SOPA

Today I was asked about my position on the pending legistation in the US congress known as SOPA and PIPA. As the webmaster of a relatively popular website, as a published author, and as a dedicated fan of the Harry Potter series, I firmly oppose this legislation. These bills are intended to fight piracy and copyright infringement, but they are written in a way which is overly broad and which threatens legitimate websites. For example, many websites, including the Lexicon, could find themselves shut down if they link to some external site which includes possibly infringing content. Few site owners would have the resources to fight against such an unfair attack. As someone who has been the victim of piracy and copyright infringement, I support the goal of defending copyright owners and trying to stop illegal pirating of intellectual property. However, I am definitely against anyone who feels that the way to stop such things is to censor and damage the free and open way in which the internet operates. For more detailed information on SOPA, please visit this Wikipedia page.

Steve Vander Ark

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Episode 9: “The Dark Arts … are you TRYING to be bad?”

Steve wonders about the numbers 1531 and 4157, then talks about December in the Harry Potter universe, what makes the Dark Arts dark (and where Crouch Jr. could have learned them), mixes up the spelling of a spell and forgets the order of Priori Incantatem, then recalls experiences with anti-Potter book-banners.

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Episode 8: “And then book 3 came along … a bolt of lightning!”

Steve raves about Pottermore, then talks about dragon breeds, interviews from the misty past, offensive spells, Rowling’s trickery, missing the whole point, and other odds and ends of Harry Potter lore.

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Updates and new stuff

I’ve been wandering around Pottermore lately. Everywhere I look, I find interesting canon information (along with the odd chocolate frog card or galleon). As I’ve mentioned before in the podcast, I won’t be posting all of that new canon information on the Lexicon. There’s no way I want the Lexicon to spoil anyone’s joy of finding for themselves things like the story of McGonagall’s lost love or the purposes of other hidden King’s Cross platforms. However, I have added to the Lexicon little tidbits here and there — Ollivander’s first name, for example. If you’re already on Pottermore you know how wonderful all of Rowling’s essays are and that there’s no substitute for reading these marvelous tales directly from her. If you’re not on Pottermore yet … well, let’s just say that you’re in for a treat when you finally get your owl, get your wand, and get Sorted. Me? I’m a Ravenclaw and my wand is hornbeam and unicorn hair.

There are a few other new things to mention. The latest episode of the HP Lexicon podcast went live over the weekend. You can find out more about it by clicking on the Podcast link on Lexicon pages (or just by clicking here). In this episode I talk about wandering down Charing Cross Road looking for the Leaky Cauldron, the purpose of book two and its connections to book six, and other odds and ends of Potter lore. You can download it from here on the Lexicon or get it on iTunes.

Also, I’ve released the first eBook in the Harry Potter Lexicon Reader’s Guide Series. This book, entitled The Reader’s Guide to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, consists of completely updated notes, trivia, connections, plot questions, and background details about the first Harry Potter book, presented chapter by chapter and even line by line. I’m working on the second book, not surprisingly covering Chamber of Secrets, and I expect that I’ll be releasing a new volume every six months or so.

The book doesn’t simply reproduce the readers’s guides from the Lexicon website. In fact, I intentionally avoided referring back to those notes since they were written many years ago without the benefit of the viewpoint of the entire series. Instead I went at the project with “fresh eyes,” bringing to the text of the book over a decade’s worth of research into the world of Harry Potter.

So far, the book is available on the Kindle and the Nook (whose online store seems to have problems with apostrophes in their book titles, for some reason). I’m looking into releasing it in other formats as well.

Thanks for all the emails and comments. It’s great to know that there’s still such a vibrant, creative, and exciting community of fans out there enjoying Harry Potter as much as I do.

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Original page date 9 June 2011; Last page update 14 June 2011 SVA