Last week was the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, and the internet has been abuzz with Nimbus 2000 nostalgia, invisibility cloak content, and Snape thirst. When some people think of the first Harry Potter and its subsequent film, it conjures memories of the quaint illustrations that adorned the dust jacket—the boyish grin of Daniel Radcliffe, the thrill of a CGI snitch. For me though, mention of Harry Potter and my mind goes first to the unabashed masterpiece, Wizard People, Dear Reader.
For the uninitiated: Wizard People, Dear Reader was released by Arkansas comedian, musician, animator, and comic artist Brad Neely in 2004. It's ostensibly a DVD commentary—by way of audiobook—of the first Harry Potter film. In his nasally way, Neely talks/squawks in a drawl reminiscent of Gilbert Gottfried, addressing the "dear reader" directly with his wild misinterpretations of the Harry Potter mythos, the action onscreen, and its intent. His tangents are absurdist, surreal, and darkly hilarious—by the end you are left with a bizarro Harry Potter universe that irrevocably alters how you think of Harry, "Ronny The Bear," and "Haggar The Horrible."
If you're not familiar with Neely's work, hop online and search for CreasedComics, Baby Cakes, and The Professor Brothers ("Prisoner Christmas" is my hot tip.) Wizard People is straight from the depths of his sublime imagination.
According to Neely, the idea came one night in a bar, as he and a few mates watched a guy play pool alone while wearing headphones. "What could he possibly be listening to?" they wondered. Neely offered it could be a misinformed book on tape of The Philosopher's Stone. He joked he was going to rush home and record it that night: "Because I had not, and have not ever, read any Harry Potter books. Once I started making notes for it I realised that an audio track alone could get boring, so I decided to sync it with the movie. Then I took a week or two and made the damn thing. I love it."
Warning, dear reader: Wizard People is akin to a brain disease. Once you hear it, you can't unhear it. You'll spend the rest of your life quoting it. Quidditch will forever be "Cribbage," Dudley will forever be "Ragtime Roast-beefy," Snape aka "Snake" will forever be "that horrible woman," and Hedwig will forever be the "Turkish massage owl."
Wizard People Dear Reader may be the greatest postmodern text of the 21st century. Neely's language is rich and vain-gloriously poetic, his words collapse in on themselves, the narration drifts into soliloquy and then into stage direction as though James Joyce was writing DVD extras laced with 1980s pop culture references: "imagine music: la-de-da-de-da, alive and market-placey, and violins, taking a break up in the air with non-threatening amblings, and a wreath of tambourine, just lightly jangled."
Neely's narrator is apoplectic, enthusiastic, Homeric—it's an amazing, if unwitting, skewering of Rowling's infamously purple prose: "The family seems to be happy... with nothing. A giant Burmese leopard-eating snake basks in front of their piggish faces… like a poem, and of course they want it to dance for them... but not our Harry, this sweet wizard in remission is psychically linked with the beautiful snake being, having dreamt himself of eating leopards, boars... and dik-diks."
The language is vivid, associative, yet wholly Neely's. It's high art, true literature. Lines like this are undeniably beautiful pieces of prose: "Her voice is chilling, like a piano made of frozen Windex." Passages like this are often immediately punctuated by hilariously anachronistic exclamations like "willickers!".
Neely's Harry—aka HP, Master P, or Harry Fucking Potter: Destroyer of Worlds—isn't an enchanted 10-year-old wunderkind. He's the most powerful being in the universe, and a depressive alcoholic: "Harry in a spiral of depression, turns to the escape of the world of miniature equine aficionado. He produces many a Wine-Out-Of-Nowhere spell, and is drunk every day before noon."
Harry is "a world laced with rivers of wizardly blood"—an omnipotent god child prone to "power comas," indifferent to the goings on of mere mortals. He is bored by the entire experience, he's prone to drift into long daydreams about scaling Dumbledore's giant skeletal rib cage, or marrying an indigenous woman in pre-Columbus America. When he wins the Cribbage match, he hysterically announces: "I am a beautiful animal! I am a destroyer of worlds! I am Harry Fucking Potter!" which Neely's narrator closes up with, "and, dear readers, at last the world was quiet."
Neely's anhedonic Harry is a great tour guide to a cast of characters with heads like "a happy pizza, left in a chicken house, covered in feathery bird sweat and oily discharge. Yuckers." The Half Dead Dumbledore is a cryptkeeper obsessed with death, telling HP: "You and I shall drink tonight, Harry. We shall drink to life's confines, to life's pearly end, which is the nothingness of death, not the perpetual pansiness of Heaven!"
Ronny The Bear is more buddy cop than buddy, introducing himself as a "pot-of-coffee-by-day, bottle-of-wine-by-night type of guy" ("Triple that and you've got me," Harry replies.) The Wretched Harmony worked "a temp job playing piano in a jewellery store. Wisely, she wore a hood so as to not distract the customers with her hideous visage."
The cast of freaks goes on, the greatest probably being Filch and Mrs Norris who are transformed into "The Blood-Eyed Cat that is head of security" and her man servant, "Dazzler."
Through a barrage of absurdism, Neely, no Potter-head, is able to distill Rowling's world to its basic elements. A chapter's worth of Rowling's prose and rickety mythopic-logic are brusquely deconstructed: "Harry puts up with the Wretch bickering with the Bear over the practicality of a hungry, three-headed, giant dog in a school full of tasty kids, when the Wretch points out that it had to be guarding something."
Rowling's plotting and character development is lampooned, and the real Harry Potter's anxiety over being "the chosen one" taken to its ridiculous extreme: "I could throw this Stone into a gutter and not give one fucking shit," HP tells "Valmart"—his true father.
Wizard People, Dear Reader is a cultural artefact but, like all cult masterpieces, you either get it, or you don't. I cannot hear "Privet Drive" in anything but the gargled rasp of Brad Neely. It's become a litmus test I use to determine the future of relationships. It ran through my old workplace like a forest fire, a possessive demon we couldn't purge: We talked in Neely's accent, metaphors, intonations. My ex and I spoke it like a second language. There are two versions, and I personally prefer the first where Neely constantly corpses, but either way it is one of those galvanising experiences to have with your friends and loved ones. Watch and marvel as it fills your head like "Upfish's" (Neville Longbottom) cursed "blood-ball."
For me, Harry Potter will forever be as much Neely as Rowling. It's refreshing to let genuine weirdness into the wizarding world. After all, it was it not Rowling who said: "magical deeds are afoot, dear readers, magical darkness a must." Actually, that was Neely.
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