Meet Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, the Real-Life Dumbledore Behind the World’s Only Wizarding Academy
To anyone who grew up in the Harry Potter era, trawling the internet for DIY Patronus instructions and haphazard “magic” scams, an online wizarding school might sound dubious, at best. But there is, in fact, a place where that pesky line between reality and fantasy doesn’t exist—it’s a school, mostly online but with real-life components, where students can realize their wizarding potential. And it’s totally serious. The Grey School of Wizardry, run by headmaster, founder, and pointy-crushed-velvet-hat-wearer Oberon “Otter” Zell-Ravenheart, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Sonoma County, California, and the world’s only registered wizarding academy.
The Grey School isn’t a piddling gimmick. It’s an establishment with a ten-year history, 650 students across the world, and 450 classes taught by several dozen teachers in 16 departments: Alchemy & Magickal Sciences, Beast Mastery, Dark Arts, Psychic Arts, Divination, Wizardry, Wortcunning, and “Mathemagicks,” to name a few. Students between the ages of 11 and 17 are sorted into four houses—Gnomes, Salamanders, Sylphs, and Undines—while adults are sorted into lodges, each with its own faculty head and student prefects. Beyond classes, the Grey School has clubs, merit systems, a student newspaper (Grey Matters), and hosts IRL summer camps called “conclaves” around the US.
How Is J. J. Abrams Going to Ruin Star Wars? Let Me Count the Ways
Star Wars is one of the most beloved film franchises of all time. The original movies spawned mountains and mountains of merchandise along with hundreds of novels, comic books, TV shows, and Christmas specials—making George Lucas a very wealthy guy in the process—which attests to the fact that everyone loves Star Wars, except for the people who really love it, who tend to hate it.
Let me paint you a picture of the inside of a Star Wars fanatic’s head: Imagine watching two amazing movies that created a rich universe, a fantasy worth escaping into, a nuanced struggle between good and evil whose conclusion would inevitably be even more thrilling than the adventures that preceded it. Those movies were Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and they are the only Star Wars movies worth liking. And people like them. A lot. They like them so much that even as Lucas systematically shitted on his own legacy by making Return of the Jedi and three vomit-inducingly horrible prequels, people continued to love Star Wars with the earnestness that only children should possess. A lot of this has to do with the fact that for many fans, Star Wars and their childhoods are inextricably linked, to the point where even after they realized Lucas had been making children’s movies all along, they continued to hold out hope that perhaps, just once, the creator of the Force would decide that making a well-crafted film that would appeal to adults was better than churning out another shitty, very expensive kids’ movie that moves a lot of toys off shelves. For a large part of my life, I have been one of these people.
What separates Martin’s books from the pack is that his made-up world of Westeros feels more “real” than other made-up worlds like Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Brooks’s Shannara. There’s very little magic in the series, and when something supernatural happens, everyone is freaked out and confused. The characters have sex (mostly sex that would be illegal today), get tortured, betray one another, and die incredibly easily and often for very little reason—just like real people involved in a medieval war would have. One of the first plot points is a child getting thrown off a ledge and crippled after he witnesses some nasty-ass incest; one major character gets killed on the toilet and shits all over the place as he dies. So the books are earthy, you might say. More importantly, anyone in Martin’s world who strives for nobility, honor, or any other trait lauded in traditional fantasy novels inevitably ends up impaled on a spike or crippled and humiliated by the amoral crooks who always come out on top. Like I said, this is more realistic than most epic fantasy.
Naturally, a show based on a series of books that’s full of plot twists, reversals of fortune, bloody battles, and scheming villains is gonna be a slam dunk. Throw in HBO’s typically high production values and strong performances (and lots of nudity) and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty fucking sweet franchise, son. You mentioned that you don’t appreciate the “scope, escapism, narrative skill, and subtle humor that fantasy fans eulogize,” but there’s nothing subtle about Game of Thrones’s appeal. It’s all, “OH SHIT HE’S GETTING KILLED WTF” and “AWWWW DAMN THEY’RE CUTTING HIS DICK OFF!!” If you refuse to watch that because—what? It’s set in a vaguely medieval world? There are dragons in some of it?—I don’t know what to say to you.
Yesterday we ran a piece by a writer in the UK called “Please Shut the Fuck Up About Game of Thrones.” Today VICE US editor Harry Cheadle responds: "No, Why Don’t YOU Shut the Fuck Up About Game of Thrones.”
Sci-Fi Doesn’t Have to Be Dominated by Horny Bro Wizards
In a genre where supposedly Anything Goes, where the boundaries of narrative and potential reality are not only immaterial, but also intended to be shattered with pure acts of what-the-fuck, I’ve always been baffled by how 90 percent of science fiction works seem exactly the same—a glorified romance novel, unnecessarily set in a world where, like, computers can erase minds.
A LIST OF THINGS I NEVER UNDERSTOOD OR LIKED ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION
Why so much goddamn talking? The Earth is being pressed upon by black magnets piloted by a race of people made of lasers from the eyes of God, and here’s a four-page scene featuring two dudes having a conversation about who stole who’s Space Lamborghini. Dialogue is fucking stupid 90 percent of the time in the first place, but when written by someone with Asperger’s it becomes instant skimming material. Please stop.
Having a Premise
The worst thing about most science fiction is how the author gets an idea they like, and then that’s the book. Like, there’s an underwater city ruled by a blue cube that holds its citizens in eternal fear threatening to explode the glass walls that contain them if they don’t work tirelessly on building a machine gun powerful enough to kill the moon, but then people just run around trying to figure out a way to stop the cube’s cruel reign, and nothing interesting happens besides the idea on the back of the book. Call me a dick, but I don’t want one fun idea, I want 500.
Generally Shitty Writing
I imagine the thinking behind a lot of science fiction is that the ideas and conceits are so fantastic that it doesn’t matter how plain the writing is. I guess the crudity is supposed to be part of the appeal, but sometimes it’s nice to not feel like I could read one out of every 18 sentences and still get the same feel out of the book. Why can’t the language be as weird as the ideas?
A New App Lets You Bribe People for Dates
We live in a big cyber world filled to the brim with dating apps and websites. Anyone these days can try to find love with the click of a button, from farmers and ranchers to the obsessively gluten-free. So, what’s the hubbub with this new one called Carrot Dating, which surprisingly is not the name for either of the previous sites mentioned?
MIT graduate and evident ladies’ man Brandon Wade invented an app that bribes women into going on dates with men. (Although the site’s FAQ page states that the briber can be of any demographic or sexual orientation—that is, women are allowed to bribe the men, too—77 percent of the bribers are male.) You see, it’s called Carrot Dating in reference to the idiomatic “carrot and stick.” Back in the old days, a cart driver would dangle a carrot attached to a stick in front of a donkey which would trick the donkey into moving forward, thus moving his cart. To Brandon, women are those finicky donkeys who don’t want to follow an unattractive, self-obsessed cart driver unless he dangles a yummy carrot in front of them.
The scheme sounds like a work of near science fiction. But police in the Netherlands and Belgium insist its true, and say they have the evidence to prove it: two tons of cocaine and heroin, a machine gun, a suitcase stuffed with $1.7 million, and hard drive cases turned into hacking devices.
I Went to a Pokémon Musical
I stood outside the Asylum Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard at 11:59 PM on a Saturday, leering with an exhaustion that trickled through like molasses. I turned to my date, wincing through my exhaustion, “I really hope this Pokémon musical sucks balls.”
I had first heard of The Pokemusical by way of Groupon, which has undergone something of a transformation—it used to be for consumers looking for a good deal, but now it seems to mainy be a way for ailing businesses and about-to-fail shows to wave flags that say, “We surrender! Please please please give us almost any amount of money for our goods and services!” It’s still a decent way to get discounts, but it’s an even better way to discover bizarre projects that never should have existed in the first place.
So naturally I figured I’d be experiencing off-key voices, patchy dialogue, and terrible dance moves. I was prepared for a room of sweaty nerds resting solely on their references. I was prepared for an audience of their friends clapping despite their hackneyed performances. I was prepared to run home and trash the evening, gleefully telling everyone I knew how awful it was. What happened on Saturday night ruined these preparations.
Professional Wingmen Will Get You Laid… for a Price
Trying to pick up a person while grocery shopping, in a park, on a train, or at a traffic light seems to be a lost art. Such weirdness is considered to be an awkward maneuver by outmoded Luddites, sad freaks who aren’t savvy enough to navigate the many online dating options available to anyone with a computer.
Still, whether its attributable to blind nostalgia, raw non-conformity, or just a poor internet connection, these folk continue to exist. Haplessly bolstering their efforts with new clothes, scents, and social dithering fuelled by increasingly precious cash, they still optimistically trudge out into the night (and day) to stalk their prey. Yet, without the reassurance of a buddy/friend/wingman or wingwoman, they are deemed desperate, weird, sadly unpopular, and friendless—an obvious disincentive for a potential “mate.”
A wingman/wingwoman/wingperson personifies reassurance for the casual observer, particularly potential dates. Akin to a bodyguard/maid/butler/counselor they serve as a guardian, ego booster, and ornate decoration that suggests you are palatable to at least one other member of the human race.
It’s irrelevant who a wingman is, as long as they present well and speak kindly of you. They could be a long-time friend, work colleague, neighbor or roommate. Unfortunately for some eager singles, finding a person to hit the dating scene with you solely for your benefit is difficult. Enter the paid wingman—giving romance-starved folks a second chance via a hired hand when they’re on the prowl.
Services such as Professional Wingman in New York and Wingman Pro in LA cater to the desperate and dateless. The former costs around $400 for basic services, with additional seminars, counseling, and classes on everything from dress sense to educated dining. A full blown wingman syllabus could set you back thousands of dollars.