Some of you may be familiar with Xandra Robinson-Burns of Heroine Training, who frequently partners with the Granger Leadership Academy and the Harry Potter Alliance. Her current essay, “Life in the UK,” collects her thoughts while studying for her exam to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. I was honored to be mentioned in the essay as having contributed to the parallels she draws between her own experiences and the fictional Hermione’s. All of Xandra’s essays are worth reading, but this one, in particular, strikes me as a tour de force, combining truth-telling with her characteristic graciousness and calm.
I met a magical cartographer at Granger Leadership Academy in March 2019.
Xandra Robinson-Burns is an essayist who runs Heroine Training, providing lessons on how to apply love of fiction and magic to daily life, becoming the heroine of your own story. I was introduced to her by Grace Gordon, who said firmly, “You will love each other.” Xandra told me that my book had been recommended to her by her Jane Austen mentor. (Jane Austen mentor? Magic already.)
At GLA, Xandra was offering 10-minute “mini adventure mapping” sessions:
Bring me an obstacle, and I’ll help you turn it into a mini adventure. It can be big or small. I’ll help you narrow it down to a daily life scale and get you excited about facing it (yes really!).
I brought Xandra a fairly big obstacle. I need to write Chapter 9 of Snape: A Definitive Reading so I can include it in the second edition.
At present, the book has eight chapters, one for each of the Harry Potter novels and one for “The Prince’s Tale.” In the month that the Snape book was published, July 2016, the script to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was also published, to decidedly mixed reviews. Cursed Child adds to Snape’s story and completes it. I should write that ninth chapter, revise the earlier eight chapters, and release the second edition. I want to. Once I write it, my publisher can go ahead with the German translation and the audiobook. But for the past two years, I have not started writing this ninth chapter.
Xandra asked what obstacle was in my way. I said for one thing, I feel like I’m the only person in the world who loves Cursed Child and thinks it was brilliantly written. I don’t know if I can stick to focusing on Snape for Chapter 9, as I did for the other eight chapters. I’m afraid I’ll be tempted to digress into my comprehensive reading of the entirety of Cursed Child, instead.
Xandra, who has studied literature at Oxford and has a background in theater, said she would have liked to see Cursed Child condensed into a single three-hour play. Ohhhh…yes, I can see how that would work. She asked me, “Can you tell me what you love about Cursed Child — ”
“Yes,” I started to say.
I laughed and said no, not briefly. Over half an hour later, we had to take a break for programming.
We met again the next morning and resumed discussing how big I’m afraid the Cursed Child chapter will be. Xandra asked why I had to try to condense this chapter. Couldn’t it be its own book?
In considering that question, I discovered that I think it would take about 2.5 chapters to cover what I have to say about Cursed Child and Snape’s story in it. It’s not a whole book in itself. Primarily, I want to discuss the posthumous shift in Snape’s characterization. Famously, before his death, all of Snape’s words and actions could be interpreted in at least two opposing ways. In Cursed Child, that double characterization became a single, unequivocal one, a character shown to have a steadfast and knowable self.
Xandra had already helped me define my obstacles better.
I said my obstacle to beginning the writing is that I can’t imagine starting unless I know I have a full six weeks to immerse myself in the thoughts and the writing, interrupted by nothing at all. This method would be neither sustainable nor good for my family; I ought to take pauses for, say, meals.
But I am always scared of being interrupted midthought. So many nascent and tenuous notions rush my mind simultaneously, and it takes time to articulate and record them, one by one, in some sort of retrievable form. If I’m interrupted, some will dissipate permanently, and I feel grief over the loss. I will have to make my arguments using whatever wisps I managed to capture, stretching them over the holes left by the missing ideas and hoping they don’t tear. When I try to recover the thoughts I had before interruption, I might retrieve 45% of them, if I have the time and leisure to start the immersion over again completely, without interruption.
It does sometimes happen that I have the uninterrupted time to get down every single interconnected thought. I can tell when it’s worked and I have everything. My feelings subside into calm. It is not an impossible thing, what I want.
Xandra suggested that I write notes to myself about the fleeting ideas, maybe on Post-Its. I’ve tried that, but sometimes, when I reread what I jotted down, I have no idea what I meant. Xandra brainstormed a few different ways to make these notes less cryptic. What about pictures? Yes! I could draw pictures as well as write code words! That might be a different way to help myself remember how some ideas connect, and the novelty of adding a graphic element would make it a fresh and fun challenge. Xandra had formulated a mini adventure for me.
She said she kept getting the image of Dumbledore’s Pensieve for me, a way to store thoughts until I could resume them. This image settled uneasily for me, though. Pensieves aren’t secure. It makes me nervous to think about how Dumbledore left his Pensieve unguarded when he was called away and failed to close the cabinet door, so that the light of his thoughts caught Harry’s attention. It makes me nervous to remember the one mistake Snape ever made in his usually impenetrable defenses. Rushing to care for Montague, the Slytherin student who nearly died in the Vanishing Cabinets, Snape left Harry unattended with the Pensieve full of the three memories that would get them all killed if Voldemort read them in Harry’s thoughts.
“Pensieves can’t be secured,” I said to Xandra.
Delicately, she asked, “Is that an issue?”
Yes! Xandra had asked the right question! She had identified my real obstacle.
So I need to feel secure that my Pensieve can emit a glow without attracting the attention of someone who will heedlessly violate my boundaries and disrupt my thinking. I know why this is important to me. It’s not enough to imagine putting a cover on the Pensieve or tucking it away in a cabinet. Thoughts cannot be protected from intruders that way.
I will need a secure box. Something that is strong with magic and cannot be violated. Carved wood, maybe, or set with gems, human-wrought and not fragile at all. Secure not because it has locks but because of my own calm.
I tried to picture the box more clearly. One inviolable image that came to mind was the locked door in the Department of Mysteries, the one I associate with Snape, the one that melts the magical knife that Sirius gave Harry. But that was about love and this is about ideas; not the same. I looked up carved wooden boxes for sale and discovered the phenomenon of treasure chests with some sort of octopus decoration. Normally, I would bond with octopuses, but they’re the opposite of what I need here, those wily escape artists who cannot be contained.
Ah. I’ve got it. I have a plush toy lobster who is majestically secure in his armor, an enlightened being. I bought him for myself on my eighteenth birthday. He can sit calmly atop my box for me and none will be able to pass him.
I don’t know yet what box I will use. It might be something I already have. I will have to tidy my space and look through my things. Xandra has some inspiring KonMari videos on her site. I’ll know it when I find the right box. It doesn’t have to be right away. It’s a mini adventure and can take a little time.
Xandra left, but I continued to get new ideas from the adventure mapping. I thought about containing my Cursed Child thoughts within a chapter of reasonable length. I would start by drafting my Cursed Child general reading first, then move to a close-up on Snape…
Oh. Wait. I could do two chapters. I don’t have to stop with a Chapter 9 if I have more to say.
The meaning of Snape changed in 2016, the year my first edition was published.
Alan Rickman died that year. Cursed Child debuted onstage and in print. Hate groups rose to greater prominence in the U.S. and Europe, groups similar to the one that Snape joined as a young man and later gave his life to dismantle. At his trial in 2019, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, explained his loyalty to Trump in terms that resembled why teen Snape would have been drawn to Voldemort: “Being around Mr. Trump was intoxicating. When you were in his presence, you felt like you were involved in something greater than yourself — that you were somehow changing the world.” In the current political climate, people who have renounced hatred and use their insider knowledge to bring hate groups down, as the Snape character did in fiction, are more vital than ever.
Ah-ha. This would be a good topic for a talk, and writing that talk could help narrow down what I want to include in the book.
So I can do one chapter on Severus Snape and the Cursed Child and another on the posthumous Snape. Like an Epilogue, if you will.
Thank you to Xandra for identifying my true obstacle and mapping out this adventure for me.
Want your own mini adventure mapping? Xandra Robinson-Burns offers them online through Floo powder or Skype. Email xandra (at) heroinetraining.com to set one up.