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There is a couple who are our friends who own and run an independent bookstore. The bookstore specializes in about ten categories, including among other things: art, Judaica, local authors and information, and children’s literature. It is a fairly eclectic mix. Besides the books, the store is decorated with old tin wind-up toys, Day of the Dead figures, African masks, and other eclectic bric-a-brac. The store is about as normal as its owners. Not to be unkind, but the male owner is just a bit flighty. He knows his stock well. They have been in business as an independent bookstore for decades, despite the rise and fall of such behemoths as Borders and the rise of Amazon. So, the man must be doing something right. But Mr. Bookstore Owner is also an artist. He has had a band. He’s a very interesting character and creative, but not always the most focused.
Back in the early 2000’s when the Harry Potter books were coming out, the book release parties became a very big deal. Bookstores were contractually obligated not to release the books until a specific date and time. In the summer of 2003, the fifth book in the series was to come out, and starting a few months before the event Mr. Bookstore Owner was looking for ways to juice up their book release party. They had treats and refreshments planned, but they were looking for something more. We somehow came to an agreement to do a joint production of a limited run miniature sixteen-page booklet about the size of an eighth sheet of paper. I would create the text, imagery, and file, and his people would print, cut, staple, and number them (limited edition, remember?), as well as putting on a bit of extra decoration to make the booklets more interesting. All that we had at that point was the first four books in the Harry Potter series. In that fourth book, two other schools of wizardry were introduced: Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. It is mentioned that at Durmstrang, they not only teach Defense against the Dark Arts, but they actually teach their students the dark arts. I used that as inspiration for the little booklet, “Durmstrang Institute’s Manual of the Dark Arts.”
I used to work at a renaissance festival, so I had a lot of costume elements that would fit well into the Harry Potter universe. I was invited to show up at the party, where I would portray the Dark Arts Professor from Durmstrang Institute.
Writing the booklet went well. I had gotten the file over to the bookstore for production. On the day of the book release, I put together an appropriately dark costume and my wife and I went to join the fun. My understanding was that we would just wander around in costume to add some color to the festivities.
When I walked into the store, Mr. Bookstore Owner said, “I’ve had an idea!”
You may have gathered from my description of him in the first paragraph, that not all of Mr. Bookstore Owner’s ideas were fully baked. Now, he’s in a long black robe wearing a tall, pointed hat with stars, crescent moons, and spangles, and he has an idea.
“Okaaay…” I said.
“We can have a game: Stump the Wizard.”
“And how will this work?” I asked.
“We can put you back in the alcove, and we’ll have the kids line up and come to ask you questions about the Harry Potter books. If you can’t answer the question, we’ll give them something.” He looked around and grabbed a basketful of chocolate-dipped pretzel sticks off the treat table, “Perfect! Magic wands!”
I had not prepared for this. I had not reread the books, for instance. Springing this on me at the last moment was totally unfair. Still…
“Alright,” I agreed. I happen to be a bit uncomfortable in tight spaces. The aisles of this bookstore seem rather small to me at the best of times. I happen to be a rather large individual. I may not have Hagrid’s height, but I do have his width. Imagine having me walk around tight bookstore corridors with hundreds of little Potterheads running about. The alcove sounded like a great place to be.
The alcove is in one back corner of the store. It’s usually used for storage of various things. There are many of the aforementioned African masks on the walls. For this purpose, they had put up black curtains on the walls below the masks (also covering some of the stored items). They had gotten a smoke generator and a few other items to make the alcove a bit scarier. Then they put in a table and chair and me. They also gave me the limited-edition booklets to hand out as well as the “magic wand” prizes.
And then the game began. The children filed in. I would give them a copy of the limited-edition booklet and ask, “Would you like to try to stump the wizard?” At first I put on a German accent, but that seemed to scare some of the younger kids. (Especially me.)
At the beginning, the rules were very simple. They could ask me anything about the first four books in the series. I was doing very well with that. I had read all four books, and I have a very good memory and retention rate for what I read. Then the first budding lawyer came in. Now, to be fair, I think he had already cycled through the line three times before, and hadn’t stumped the wizard, but he had a will to win.
“What is the fourth word on page twenty-nine of the third book in the series?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. He got his prize, but he also engendered a rule change. Questions like that would not count.
About a dozen more children passed through, none of whom stumped the wizard. Then another budding lawyer came through and asked a complex question.
“That’s a very good question, and I don’t know.” I let her choose a “magic wand” and then asked, “What is the answer?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
Another rule change. If they stumped the wizard, they had to know the answer to get a prize.
By the end of the party, I had only given out three “magic wands.” When the appointed hour arrived, everyone lost interest in stumping the wizard. The books were available, and they all planned to get them and go home and read.
The remaining chocolate-dipped pretzels went on the table by the door for anyone to take on their way out, and the wizard retired until the sixth book came out.
How about you? Ever been stuck into a situation where your memory served you well? How about the opposite?Published in