What can be more adventurous than venturing into the world of magic? My first introduction to this world took place when my parents gave me a book “Starik Hottabych” (Old Man Hottabych). This book (also made into a movie) featured a twelve-year old Soviet Pioneer Volka who accidentally found an ancient bottle at the bottom of a river. Being an energetic and curious boy, Volka opened the bottle, and a genie named Hassan Abdul-rahman ibn Khattab emerged, loudly proclaiming that he was ready to fulfill Volka’s every wish.
It was a great and funny story, since the Young Pioneer, who suddenly found himself empowered by the old genie, kept getting into all kinds of trouble — mostly because of differences between the life style and the morals of the ancient world and those of Soviet Russia. It was also a variation on the tale of Aladdin and his magical lamp (a fact I discovered much later, when I got my hands on a copy of The Arabian Nights). Not only did the story entertain me, but it also motivated me to learn how to swim — for I, too, wanted to find an ancient vessel on the bottom of a river. (Regrettably, that never happened, although not for lack of trying:).)
My second introduction to magic took place at the Moscow State Circus. The trip to get there lasted for 1.5 hours – thirty minutes on a streetcar, fifty minutes in the metro (with two transfers) and a ten-minute walk to the huge, tent-like building of the Circus. There my mom and I watched impossibly slim acrobats in sparkling tights glide above our heads at the top of the circus dome, two white-faced clowns in clumsy shoes cause the audience to die laughing with their jokes and tricks, and a magician in a black cloak pull doves and rabbits out of his top hat. The latter especially struck me so strongly that, for a while, I considered becoming a magician myself, although that desire was soon dampened by the fact that I was allergic to rabbits.
My latest adventure into the world of sorcery is my longest one by far. My husband and I had to travel to London to experience it. I’m not saying that London is a supernatural place where magicians with doves and rabbits pop up at every corner. Yet it is a place where wizardry is put on permanent display for everybody to see. I’m talking about Warner Bros. theme park “The Making of Harry Potter.”
Not being a Harry Potter fan myself, I would never have thought of touring this park (nor do I at the age of 62 still believe in magic:)). Yet my nine-year old grandson, Alex, who lives in London with my daughter (his mother), my son-in-law (his father), and his younger sister Amelia, were eager to go there. (Amelia always wants to do whatever her older brother does:)). So, if I wanted to witness my grandchildren’s initiation into magic, I had to fly to England.
As a librarian, I, of course, knew about the popularity of J.K. Rowling’s books and the movies that are based on them. But I had never read the books nor seen the movies, so I did not expect much from the theme park.
Well, I must admit, I was wrong. Everything there was impressive and imaginative: the original sets for the rooms and offices, the Burrow, the Hogwarts Bridge, the Knight Bus, the Potions Classroom, the wigs, the costumes, and numerous other props. To my surprise, I liked everything there. I enjoyed the energy of the crowd, and I especially enjoyed watching my grandchildren’s excitement as they walked through this fantastic world, learning how to fly a broomstick or cast spells with a magic wand.
“Well done!” I thought to myself through the whole experience – until we found ourselves in the inevitable gift shop. (Benjamin Franklin should have added “gift shops” to his list when he said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except for death and taxes.”) Predictably, both of my grandchildren wanted to buy magic wands. At first, they approached their mother, who quickly directed them my way: “Go ask your grandma.” They appeared in front of me with two ordinary looking plastic sticks in their hands — at a price of twenty-five pounds each! A calculator in my head began clicking: two plane tickets to London, six tickets to Warner Bros. Studio, meals and presents, and now these absolutely useless toys, which, at the rate of one British pound to $1.68, would cost me about $80!
“No,” I wanted to say. “We don’t have to buy them here. We’ll buy them for you at a regular store where they’re less expensive.” But I looked at Alex and saw tears welling up in his eyes. Whether or not these wands were useless — for him, at this moment, they were magical, and I could not deny this magic to him.
“O.K.” I said to my grandchildren, while avoiding looking at my husband. “Make sure that these wands are good ones.”
The kids expressions immediately brightened, and a wide smile graced my grandson’s face.
“This is one of the best days of my life!” He said, his eyes sparkling from recent tears.
I put my hands on his head, stroked his unruly hair, and a sense of pure pleasure suddenly filled my heart. My grandchildren were right. After all, toys that could give all of us so much happiness must be magical. And because of that, they were priceless, too.