July 25th, 2012

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.

How to organize the spell pages

July 13th, 2012

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?

Bestiary and Herbology

July 13th, 2012

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.

What’s New? Plenty!

July 9th, 2012

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

Comments on SOPA

January 18th, 2012

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

Updates and new stuff

September 7th, 2011

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.

What’s new around the Lexicon

July 26th, 2011

Here’s the answer to the most common question I get in email: Yes, the Lexicon is still being updated and edited. The changes are kind of hard to notice, for the most part, since they consist mostly of reformatting pages and making small edits and corrections to the content, but they’re happening. I work on it almost every day.

There are also changes happening behind the scenes, thanks to Nick Moline who has taken on the role of tech guru. The search is fixed, for example. Registration works, too, which means we can finally mess around with the Portkey again (which I’ve really missed … I love the Portkey!). Nick’s been working on a lot of other things, too, getting the Lexicon running the way it’s supposed to.

Probably the biggest addition to the site lately has been the podcast. I’ve put four episodes online so far and I’m recording a new one in the next day or two. Check it out if you want to spend a little time chatting about the Harry Potter canon.

I will try to post here a little more often and let you know what’s happening with the Lexicon. You can also follow me on Twitter (Lexicon_Steve), add me to a circle on Google+, and visit the Facebook page.

Steve

Plugging away …

November 20th, 2009

This morning I was working through the emails I’ve received noting various Lexicon errors or edits. One email asked why the Minister for Magic page didn’t list Pius Thicknesse. I knew the answer to that one. The reason Thicknesse isn’t listed it that the Minister for Magic page hadn’t been updated for book seven yet. So I went in and edited it.

While I was at it, I changed the page over to the new layout. Then, as long as I was in that section of the site, I started converting the rest of the Ministry of Magic pages to the new page layout. Of course, as soon as I started doing that I realised that I also had to update ALL those pages for book seven. No problem. I had coffee. It was raining.

Seven hours later, I’m still not done with the Ministry of Magic pages. Amazing how long some of this updating and editing takes, especially when it involves editing code and struggling against rogue CSS stylesheets that crop up out of nowhere to change formatting on something when I least expect it. Now it’s evening and I’m going to set it aside. I’m tired of editing.

Still, it’s not a bad way to spend a the better part of a day … immersed in the wonderful, magical world of Harry Potter. I don’t get to do that very often.

Update to Rowling’s website

September 10th, 2009

I just received this email from Rose:

“Just thought you should know that Jo has updated her site. Where her diary used to be is now a notebook with multiple pages. It’s called “Everything You Might Want to Know”, and it has info on herself, her books, different awards and honors she’s received, her charity work, and the films.”

Thanks for the heads up!

I looked it over and quite honestly, it makes me sad. It’s a collection of information clearly written by a publicist somewhere, certainly not by Rowling herself. I can’t get over the strong feeling that Jo has abandoned the site and her personal contact with fans. I think it’s time to give up hoping that there will be new tidbits of information, answers to questions, rumours in the trash can, or even new Wizards of the Month.

*sigh*

Welcome to another year at Hogwarts

September 1st, 2009

It’s September the first, and young witches and wizards have converged on King’s Cross Station in London for the journey north to Hogwarts. Me, I’m just working through all the emails I’ve received with suggestions for edits, updates, corrections, and additions to the Lexicon. Unfortunately, there’s no Welcoming Feast awaiting me at the end of the day. On the other hand, I won’t have to travel the whole day on a train with nothing to eat but sweets from the trolley. I mean, seriously, I love Bertie Botts but for a day-long train trip I’d rather have a sandwich or two. Even corned beef. And maybe a nice ripe tomato. Okay, now I’m hungry. (If you enjoy the descriptions of food in Harry Potter like I do, you’ll appreciate the blog “Harry Potter Recipes“).

So another Hogwarts year begins. Let’s see, the defeat of Voldemort was in 1998, which is eleven years ago. The children starting school today will have been born, then, during that final terrifying year of danger and suspicion and war. Harry’s year was similar, having been born in 1980, at the height of Voldemort’s first rise to power. I wonder if the number of students this year is fairly small, just as the number of kids in Harry’s year seems to have been quite small. Ah, the fun of speculating and discussing Harry Potter!

A wondrous website

August 7th, 2009

This recommendation is way overdue, and I apologise for taking so long to post it. John Kearns, formerly an editor here at the Lexicon, is putting together a fantastic reader’s guide to the Harry Potter series called The Harry Potter Companion. The Companion offers commentary on each chapter of the books (currently covering the first three books and part of the fourth) and showcases fan artwork which illustrates each of those chapters. Take a look for yourself, don’t just take it from me. The site will win you over the moment you click on that first link.

The Half-Blood Prince

July 15th, 2009

I made it home at 3:30 this morning, my head buzzing. Did I like the “Half-Blood Prince” film? Absolutely! I loved it! I think this film captures more detail of the original book than any other of the films have managed to do. It’s what the film of “Prisoner of Azkaban” could have been if they’d included the parts of the book which actually mattered instead of replacing them with a frog-toting choir and talking shrunken heads.

Specifics … let me see. It’s always hard to come up with a definitive and detailed list after seeing a film of this complexity and scope just once and in the middle of the night.

I loved the humour (and romantic entanglements) which permeate the story. The Quidditch is spectacular and brutal and exciting — and played in the snow, which is totally cool. Thanks to a few well-placed moments between Harry and Ginny, I could almost believe that he was actually interested in the her when she’s been almost completely erased from the other films. I’m afraid Bonnie still looks like an eleven-year-old girl, and I just don’t think she captures any of the brash, daring, flirtatious Ginny of the books. But Yates and Kloves managed to give Harry and Ginny opportunities to connect as the film went along. Do I believe it? Well, almost.

The kids’ acting has really taken off. Remember when they could barely utter a line? Compare Emma’s wooden attempt at tears in Hagrid’s hut in the second film or Dan’s painful-to-watch crying scene in the third to the wonderful scene in this film with the two of them sitting on the stairs with her heart broken and his all twisted up and confused. Dan’s portrayal of Harry’s budding confidence works extremely well, particularly in counterpoint with his confusion over Ginny. He’s hilarious as he wanders the castle grounds giddy from Luck Potion. Rupert’s Ron is wonderful as well, from showing off at Quidditch to stumbling around under the influence of love potion. The kids have come a long way indeed.

Jim Broadbent is a perfect Slughorn, in my opinion — and that man can arch his eyebrows and look befuddled better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Maggie Smith is in great form. Other characters are almost non-existent, however, which I guess shouldn’t be a surprise when you consider the vast scope of the story being told. They just can’t include everything. But someone please tell me why, then, they added a whole scene of the Death Eaters attacking the Burrow? And for that we lost the entire Battle of the Tower. Luna was great with her weird glasses and lion hat, Lupin’s heated conversation with Harry gave us brief but important insight into that complicated and troubled character, and Lavender Brown was hilarious. Poor Neville, however, only gets one tiny line. At least Dean gets a kiss.

So okay, was it perfect? Clearly not. After we got past the surprisingly dull battle between Harry and Snape, the requisite Very Serious Talk at the end was almost as lame as the ending of the second film. I was about ready to push them all off the astronomy tower by the end of it. And please tell me why Ron was just looking pensive and sitting fifteen feet away from his best friends while they discussed the most important decisions of their lives, to go after Horcruxes. I was also annoyed by the lighting of the film … or rather, the lack of lighting. I know it’s a “dark film” and that it takes place in a dark and draughty old castle, but still. This is the magical world! It should be colourful and animated and alive, not black and white and dark blue.

All quibbling aside, I did love the film. It was exciting and funny, easily one of the best of the series. It did a remarkable job of capturing not only the major plot points of the book but also the nuances and delightful subplots. I can’t wait to see it again. I might have to wait until after Azkatraz, though! I fly out Friday morning!

Steve