Slate asked two editors who have neither read a page of J.K. Rowling's books nor watched a minute of the film adaptations to attend a screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Their assignment: Describe the experience of watching the final installment with no background in the Potter mythology. Before they saw the film, they made some predictions about what they thought Harry Potter was about, based on the dribs and drabs they'd heard around the watercooler. Then, after the movie, they tried to sort out exactly what they'd seen.
First, the pre-movie exchange:
John Swansburg: So, Jess, you and I would seem to be the last two Harry Potter virgins on Planet Earth. Have you ever read a page of one of the books?
Jess Grose: Not even!
JS: Have you seen a snippet of any of the movies?
JG: I am allergic to both the fantasy genre and the over-hyped so I deliberately avoided all things Potter.
JS: I share your allergy, and no amount of Zyrtec has had any effect on me.
JS: So neither of us has read a word or seen a minute of a Harry Potter movie.
JS: We're about to head out for a screening of the new movie, but before we leave the office, let's talk a bit about what we know about Harry Potter.
I mean, we're culturally literate people. We know some things.
JG: The main characters are this kid, Potter, with the glasses, and he has two buddies, the ginger and Hermione.
JS: And they all go to prep school at Hotchkiss.
Or perhaps it's Hogwarts?
JG: I think it's Hotchkiss.
JS: And Hotchkiss is a school for kids who are gifted at magic?
JG: I reckon it is.
And they face down evil at some point?
With the magic?
JS: I believe they face down evil.
There is a character named Dumbledore!
JG: Dumbledore is gay!
JS: I think Dumbledore is gay.
JG: I'm glad we both remembered that factoid
surely pivotal to the plot
of this 8th and final movie.
JS: Yes, I think this is the movie in which Dumbledore comes out and the Hotchkiss faculty is scandalized.
JG: Maybe he has an illicit romance with that dude with no face
who is in all the ads.
JS: Right, there is a faceless dude.
Is that THE bad guy?
That sounds evil.
JS: Is Harry Potter an orphan?
Feels like he is.
Did Voldemort kill his parents?
JG: Maybe? Maybe they just wanted to run off to Tahiti.
JG: And they made up this whole magic thing
to make him feel better about banishing him to that ferkakte school
JS: Your theory sounds equally plausible.
JG: Also quiddich [sic].
At some point they play quiddich [sic].
JS: Quiddich [sic] is a game played with brooms I think.
JG: Which is worse than hacky sack
but maybe better than ultimate Frisbee.
JS: I confess a certain affection for hacky sack for my own days at a New England prep school, but point taken.
I think certain colleges now play quidditch intermurally.
JG: I think I read several blog posts about that.
JS: A testament to the reach of this franchise that did not reach us.
What kind of magic are we talking about? Do these kids cast spells?
JG: They fly sometimes!
JG: Not sure if that involves spells.
JS: Let's assume Mr. Faceless is Voldemort. He seems to still be around. What have these kids been doing for all these movies?
Have they vanquished lesser villains?
JG: I think if they had not done any vanquishing the franchise would have stalled out long ago.
I remember some blond punk from previous trailers.
JS: Ooh! I don't recall that punk.
JG: He seemed like bad news.
JS: Presumably he hath been vanquished.
JG: Yes! Are there mystical beasts?
JS: Great question.
JG: I would like some mystical beasts.
JS: Me too.
JG: What kind!
JS: Like that guy from the Neverending Story.
That they ride.
Falkor, I believe was his name.
I would love a Falkor-esque beast.
I just Googled that while you were typing.
JG: I would also want some sand worms
a la Beetlejuice.
JS: Rodents of unusual size.
JS: We're dating ourselves, I think.
JG: Here's an assertion.
Fantasy of the 80s was better because we had to use our imaginations
unlike these whippersnappers today
with their fancy 3D
JG: and their CGI.
If only they were still scared by dinky sand worms!
JS: Though kids today did have to read all those long books.
JS: Does Harry Potter have a happy ending, do you think?
JG: I think we would have heard about it if it didn't.
JS: Good point. I vaguely recall some talk of an important character dying in a late installment.
JG: I hope it's that ginger.
He seems OK.
JS: I kind of want it to be the ginger too.
JS: Something about his face.
JG: Begs to be smited.
JS: Maybe if I had seven books of investment in the kid I'd feel differently.
JG: So what else do we expect from this movie?