The magical world of poorly-reviewed Harry Potter products

It’s leviosa.
It’s leviosa.
Image: Reuters/Neil Hall
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Searching online for a child’s Harry Potter-themed Halloween costume yields magical surprises, from the sheer variety of flammable-seeming polyester wizard robes available to the speed at which search results for “hermione harry potter uniform” turn grossly inappropriate.

Reviews of bargain-priced Hogwarts robes and packaged costumes tend to focus on the basics that harried parents care about, like whether it arrives on time or remotely resembles the costume pictured. But spend a little extra time browsing Potter-phenalia, and one realizes that online reviews of Harry Potter costume accessories are like portkeys to a world in which dressing like J.K. Rowling’s characters is not a fun annual novelty for children, but a serious year-round hobby for people old enough to have their own credit cards.

Grown-up Harry Potter fans do not mess around with their fandom. When Warner Bros. opened the sets of the Harry Potter film franchise to the public in 2013, die-hard fans from around the world descended on the studio 20 miles northwest of London to cry, gasp, and gawp at the storefronts of Diagon Alley and Daniel Radcliffe’s Quidditch robe.

An Australian woman overcome with emotion collapsed 11 times in a single visit. One English couple spent nine hours on what is supposed to be a three-and-a-half-hour self-guided tour. The man dropped to his knees upon entering the set of the Hogwarts dining hall; the woman, who had a pre-existing heart condition, fainted three separate times.

For those at that far end of the fan spectrum, top-end Harry Potter merchandise does not come cheap. On the craft site Etsy, adult-sized handmade reproductions of Minerva McGonagall’s dress or a Slytherin Quidditch robe can run close to $200. The Noble Collection, a manufacturer of high-end licensed movie merchandise, sells replicas of Narcissa Malfoy’s spider earrings for $95 and a Triwizard Champion wand set for $164.95.

In their reviews, the new owners of these luxury products appear largely satisfied with their purchases. But with goods at lower price points, Potter shoppers seem unhappily suspended between budgetary constraints and an unwillingness to lower their expectations of magic.

“This wand was sort of cool, but it didn’t have that real wand affect,” a Target.com shopper wrote in 2016, in a three-star review of a $10.99 replica of Hermione Granger’s wand. In the book Granger’s wand is made of vine wood and dragon heartstring, and can levitate objects and conjure magical guardian animals. The one sold at Target is plastic and does not do those things.

“Decent broom for the price but definitely made for kids,” wrote another disappointed Target.com shopper, in a three-star review for a $22.99 plastic novelty broom, adding “don’t buy this if you’re an adult because it will be way too small for you!” (A read through previous reviews for the same product might have saved him some trouble, especially this 2013 testimonial: “Got this to go with son’s Halloween costume. Looked just right for his size – tall 4yr old.”)

Wands particularly elicit angry feedback. A poorly-made wand seems to be the thing that breaks the spell for an adult Potter fan: “Not amazed at all.” “sooo fake.” “it was not realistic in its dimensions.” “Garbage.” The nerve-tingling sound of shattering illusions resonates throughout this painful two-line 2017 Amazon.com review of a Hermione wand: “There is nothing special about this wand. A stick would have been just as good.”