When I first met Erin Gardner, I had no idea what deep and delicious layers of geekiness lurked beneath her deceptively placid demeanor.
Since then, Erin has become one of my very favorite geeks, a fellow bibliophile and lover of Ray Bradbury, and someone you can easily get lost in nerdy conversation with for hours about everything from “Beauty and the Beast,” to “Doctor Who,” to Harry Potter, to comic books, to conventions, to anime.
Nintendo and Disney were her gateway drugs into the world of fandoms and pop culture. A love of fairy tales and literature, particularly the genres of science fiction and fantasy, led her down the wonderful, winding paths of Narnia and Middle-earth, as well as the worlds of “Howl’s Moving Castle” and classics like “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
In this interview, she reminisces about the time she realized she had gone “full nerd” on a solo trip to the Wizarding World in Orlando, Florida. She also chats about her dream Disney wedding, her budding love of anime, her ample Funko Pop! collection, her “Battletoads” obsession, and her adorable dog Falkor.
As a bonus, Erin reveals the hidden treasure that is Phoenix Comic Fest and what the sweetest revenge is when you’re a girl gamer.
To those who don’t know you, you can seem kinda quiet, so I think people don’t always realize the ever deeper levels of geekiness that exist within you. Are people sometimes surprised when they figure this out about you?
I am a pretty shy person for the most part so, yes, most people are very surprised. My favorite surprise story is when I first started dating my husband and he had a picture of Deadpool as his phone’s background, and I saw it and said, “Oh, cool, Deadpool.” His jaw hit the floor. Since then it has been a wonderful geek-filled relationship.
Were you a geek child? How did you first become interested in nerd stuff?
I wouldn’t say that I was. I must have been about 7 when my grandma bought us our first Nintendo, and I loved playing it. That was definitely the gateway into me being a nerd. But I wasn’t quite as obsessed as I am now.
So, first off, I must ask you about your love of late science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury because that’s something we share. How were you introduced to Bradbury’s writing and why do you enjoy it?
It is such an off-the-wall story. I was a member of paperbackswap.com, a website where you post books you are willing to “swap” with other people. All I had to do was pay the shipping cost. Then I could request a book from someone else and they would send it to me. So I would go to the library book sales, where I could get a bag of old books for $1, then post them on the website.
One of the books I grabbed was “S is for Space,” a collection of his short stories. It sat on the shelf forever, and now I am glad that no one wanted it. Then one day, my mom said something about it being a Bradbury book, and that he was a pretty well-known author. So I picked it up and started reading.
I started with the introduction: “Jules Verne was my father, H.G. Wells was my wise uncle, Edgar Allen Poe was the bat winged cousin we kept high in the back attic room. Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers were my brothers and friends. Adding, of course, that in all probability Mary Shelley was my mother. With a family like that, how else could I have turned out as I did; a writer of fantasy and most curious tales of science fiction.” — Ray Bradbury
I was hooked after that. I never thought of myself as someone into weird and unsettling stories, but I just loved every word of every story. It was so different from my normal young adult fantasy stories I was currently reading. You have also been a big influence in my love for Bradbury, like showing me his favorite booth at Clifton’s, and lending me the Bradbury books I have yet to read.
Do you have a favorite Bradbury book or short story?
This is such a hard question! I loved “The Halloween Tree.” “Fahrenheit 451” was great, too. I would have to say my favorite was still my first book of his, “S is for Space.” My favorite short story from “S is for Space” would be “Come into my Cellar,” a story about children growing mushrooms in the cellar, but these mushrooms aren’t just normal mushrooms …
Do you have any thoughts on HBO’s upcoming adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451”?
I have unrealistic expectations when it comes to my favorite books being made into movies. I would love it to be the exact same as the book. Which is impossible, I know. After “Ella Enchanted” was made into such a terrible movie adaptation, I am a little hand shy about this one. I still plan to see it though. I’m sure you will be one of the first to hear from me when I do.
Judging by your email address, you’re also a fan of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.” When and how did you discover the series?
My mom had her set from junior high on the shelf, right below “S is for Space,” funny enough. I was first drawn to them because of the fantastic illustrations on the book jackets. I started reading them in Junior high, as well, also on my mother’s suggestion.
What makes it special to you?
I love that it is a fantasy-style story of the Gospel of Jesus, a retelling of how Jesus died for me because of his great love. It will always be something quite special to me.
Which is your favorite book in the series?
“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” has always been my favorite! “The Silver Chair” is a close second though. Who doesn’t love Puddleglum?
Who’s your favorite Narnian inhabitant?
There are so many good ones to choose from, Reepicheep, Eustace Scrubb (who you hate at first, but then you grow to love), and Mr. Tumnus, the first Narnian inhabitant I met. However, Aslan has always been my favorite. His presence is so comforting, not to mention he is the creator of Narnia.
You’re also a fan of Lewis’ BFF, J.R.R. Tolkien. Are you more into the books or more into the movies?
For “The Hobbit,” I am more into the book. Why the heck is Legolas even in the movie? For “Lord of the Rings,” I am into both.
I saw the movies first, but I will only watch the extended editions. I read the books after, and as always, the books are better. I am part of the group of salty people who wanted Tom Bombadil in the movie, because he is so awesome. I love both the movies and the books though. They are each good in their own way.
Who’s your favorite resident of Middle-Earth and why?
My favorite in both the book and the movie is the Mouth of Sauron, (cue my love for the creepy I didn’t know I had until Bradbury brought it out). He has been Suaron’ s mouthpiece for some 60 years, learning great sorcery, and his name is remembered in no tale. He has such a small part in the story, and he is so mysterious and very creepy. So, of course, he is my favorite.
You’re quite the Disney fan, as well. This might be a difficult question, but do you remember your first Disney experience?
Disney movies started coming out more frequently when I was born and I grew up watching them, so I think my love for Disney came gradually. I think the movies were where it started. My brothers and I watched them over and over again. “Beauty and the Beast” was my go-to movie. Disney was such a big part of my childhood (and everyone else’s) that it is nostalgic to me.
Even the parks, my first trip was when I was 2, and I walked the whole day. When I was a little older, I once got lost at the park and thought I would never see my family again, but I didn’t mind the idea of living in Disneyland if I had to. I have spent every birthday at Disneyland since I was 15. My husband asked me to marry him at the wishing well. So many of my memories are at Disneyland or have to do with Disney.
You are specifically very into “Beauty and the Beast.” How old were you when you first saw it? What impression did it make on you?
It came out the year before I was born, but I couldn’t tell when the first time was. When I was tiny I am sure.
I related to Belle the most, she is still the only brunette princess, too, I think. She loves to read like me. She also feels like an outsider, which everyone relates to in some aspect. There are places where we feel we don’t fit in. The biggest one though, is don’t judge a book by its cover. Someone might look scary on the outside, but be a great person, while others might look very attractive on the outside, but a real jerk on the inside. Ahem. Gaston …
Can you sing all the words to all the songs?
I can! For the original, the Broadway version, and the remake.
Are you a fan of the live-action remake?
I am a fan of it! They incorporated aspects from the original story written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, like when she asked her father to bring her back a rose (which made my bookworm self very happy). The song the Beast sings at the end is so good, and I am a fan of her new dress. I got to see it at the El Capitan Theatre (in Hollywood).
I understand you have quite a collection of “Beauty and the Beast” merchandise. Tell me about some of the prized items you’ve amassed.
I do have a lot of things. Many are gifts from family and friends. My favorite things would be my Jim Shore figures, a life-size set of Lumiere and Cogsworth, a hand-painted sign that my brother and sister-in-law got Tim and I for our wedding. My most favorite, however, was an outfit I had growing up. It was a purple shirt with belle on it. I wore it when it was almost dress length to when it was a pretty short shirt length. I would still wear it if I could. I still have it too.
You and your husband, Tim, had an adorable Disney-themed wedding. Please tell me all about it.
It was the best day ever, obviously. I got to wear a Disney Alfred Angelo ballgown dress covered in sparkles. Surprisingly enough, I wore a dress styled after Cinderella. The Belle-style dresses just looked weird on me. All my bridesmaids were dressed like other princesses and their bouquets were made specially to match their princess.
Each table at our reception was decorated after a Disney ride. The Jungle Cruise table even had a pop gun to scare away renegade hippos. Our candy table had a Monorail driving around the edge, our cake had the rose from “Beauty and the Beast” on top, with Iron Man hiding among the rose petals falling down the side of the cake.
The men all had action figures for their boutonnieres, and a matching shirt with their superhero’s logo under their suits. Our ring bearer was Thor and the pillow with the rings was shaped like Thor’s hammer.
We had so many people help out to make the day so amazing and I am still so thankful to all of them.
Why did you choose that as the theme for your big day?
I always wanted to get married at Disneyland. My sister-in-law, Caitlin, and I once planned our perfect Disney wedding on their website, and then cried when we saw the price for the most basic wedding package. So the next best thing was having a wedding themed after one of Tim’s and my favorite places.
Harry Potter is another of your major fandoms. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?
There was the crazy girl I met in junior high, who was a bigger reader then I was, and she was so in love with Harry Potter that she would wait hours outside the theater on opening night to see the newest Harry Potter movie coming out. I went with her to see one of the movies, I can’t even remember which one it was, but after that I was hooked, I went home and started reading all the books. That crazy girl, Caitlin, is now my sister-in-law and my very best friend. We still geek out over Harry Potter all the time. I love sharing that with her.
What’s your Hogwarts house?
I am a proud Slytherin! I got sorted in high school on a field trip to Warner Bros. Studios. I got to sit on the same stool from the movie, then they put the hat on my head, the hat started yelling at me because he said I thought he was ugly, then put me in Slytherin. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I recently took Tim to Warner Bros. so he could be sorted. He was put into Ravenclaw.
You actually once went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando by yourself, just ‘cause you had the opportunity. That’s so awesome! How did that happen? Tell me all about that visit.
My best friend Kristy lives out in Florida. She moved there when we were very little and it broke my heart. She is also quite the nerd. It was her wedding that weekend, and since I was out there already I stayed an extra day to see Universal, since I had never been there before. Kristy’s uncle works there so he got me a free ticket.
That was when I knew I went full nerd, by myself on the other side of the continent, going to the Wizarding World. It was such a good day, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I sent Snapchat videos to everyone back at home. Being by myself though, I got to go in all the single rider lines, so I rode most of the rides there.
Is the Orlando theme park way better than the Hollywood Wizarding World?
It is SO much better. They have it spread between two parks, so there is a ton more there. Not just Hogsmead, they have the Hogwarts Express you can ride to London, Lavender Brown comes and writes love notes to Ron while you are on the way there. Diagon Alley is so amazing! My favorite part though was when I found a pitch black alleyway. It was Knockturn Alley! I was terrified to go in, and once I went in the smell was horrible! It was so fantastic! I highly suggest going.
You’re a major bookworm in general. Do you have a preference for science fiction and fantasy? If so, why do you think that is?
I do prefer science fiction and fantasy. I think it is because in this genre you can push the limits, it is so different from reality, and that makes a wonderful escape from the real world.
What are some of your favorite book titles?
“Howls Moving Castle” By Diana Wynne Jones. “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. “The Great Good Thing” by Roderick Townley. All the Gail Carson Levine books. I could list so many more, but these are few of my favorites.
Do you have a bajillion books in your house?
I do. Haha. I just counted, I have 245 books throughout my house.
You work for a travel agent. This may be a stretch, but does this job ever intersect at all with your geek lifestyle?
It does in one way. My boss has the most amazing collection of Disney figurines. They are so beautiful. I couldn’t tell who made them though.
A couple of your other fandoms are “Doctor Who” and Star Trek. Who’s your Doctor and why?
Nine. I love Ten and Eleven, too, but Nine is my doctor. He was the one that got it started again, and he was more serious than the others and also had a dryer humor, which is my favorite humor. My favorite way to put it is like this: Nine is a tiger, serious and strong, always in charge of things. Ten is like Tigger, cute and silly, bouncing around but still getting things done. Eleven is a house cat that knocks over a vase and pretends he planned to do that all along.
Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite?
The Original Series, but Picard is my favorite captain. The new movies are a close second though. Anton Yelchin was my favorite in the movies, so I am so sad about his unexpected death.
You’ve recently gotten into the “Flash” TV series. What do you like about it?
The Flash is my favorite superhero out of both the Marvel and DC universes. The show just sucked me right in! I love all the characters, the writing is good too. Tim and I have tried to get into the other CW shows but they just aren’t as good. I still want Barry Allen and Felicity Smoak to be together. Even though I know that will never happen. I have even started reading The Flash comic books.
In other comic book related news, it seems you’re pretty obsessed with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” right now. What’s that about?
I seriously don’t know, I just love everything about it! The soundtrack is amazing and all I have been listening to recently. Baby Groot is just so cute! The chemistry between Peter Quill and Drax is so funny to me. It also has my new favorite actress, Elizabeth Debicki, who is covered in gold. This is a spoiler, but I love the redemption story arc of Yondu. I hated him in the first movie, and in this one he becomes pretty awesome.
I was also super unhappy that they changed Tower of Terror to a Guardians of the Galaxy ride, but now I can’t get enough of it! It one of my favorite rides!
You’re currently wading into the wonderful waters of anime. What shows have you been watching?
I have only watched two so far, “Death Note” and “Full Metal Alchemist.”
What’s intriguing you so far about this genre of animation?
The story of these shows are so elaborate! It keeps me interested, and it is fun to see how their culture and how they tell stories are so different from how things are done here. The different mythology is really cool to me. Like learning about Shinigamis and how they work. It’s really cool.
You have an impressive collection of Funko Pops. How many do you own?
I have 161, as of right now, but that is always changing.
What are some of your favorites?
I have a Rose Tyler Pop! signed by Billie Piper, a 2015 San Diego Comic-Con Unmasked Barry Allen limited edition, worth about $170. I am pretty picky when it comes to the ones I get, so all of them are my favorite.
Where do you keep them all?
I have an Ikea cabinet that I have most of mine in, but I am in desperate need of another, they have already out grown it. The cabinet is in the room we call the Nerd Cave, where we keep most of our nerd memorabilia.
Do you collect anything else?
Just books and Pop! figures, I don’t really have space to collect anything else.
You’re also an avid video gamer. How did you get into gaming?
It started with our first Nintendo, and I just kept playing games. It helps that all my brothers were into gaming, and as the only girl in the family, spending time with my brothers meant playing video games, so I always thought it was normal for girls to play video games. I learned later that I was more of an anomaly.
What’s your experience as a girl gamer been like?
It has been good for most part. I think gaming does come more naturally to guys, so I have always had to work hard at keeping up with them. Playing online is where things are different. If I have a mic in and am talking to the other people playing, most of them think I am a 12-year-old boy, and when they do find out I am a girl some of them can get pretty vulgar. Then I beat them, and that is pretty satisfying.
I made some pretty good friends too, though, and that was fun. Now though, I play mostly with my husband, my brother Sam and his wife Caitlin, and my brother-in-law Brian. It has been fun to see more girls get into gaming now though. It has been such a guy-dominated hobby, but not anymore.
I understand you own an old-school Nintendo console just for your favorite video game of all-time, “Battletoads.” What is it about that game?
This game has been named the hardest game of all time. I have only ever made it past level three once, you literally have to memorize the entire game to beat it. My brothers and I spent hours playing it, it is a nice piece of nostalgia for me. I also love the idea of toads being totally B.A. It is such a different kind of game to play.
You’re also a big fan of the Lego games. What do you like about those?
They are just so fun! They have a mice mix of action, puzzle solving, and humor. The Harry Potter ones are my favorite, I have played them through a couple of times.
How good are you at “Call of Duty”?
Not to toot my own horn, but I am pretty good. I used to stay up till three in the morning playing it, so I have had a lot of practice.
How many hours have you spent playing “Overwatch”?
61 hours so far. We actually haven’t played much lately.
How crazy are you about “Portal”?
So crazy! The first time I played it, I put it in the console, and then emerged three days later, having beaten the game. I couldn’t stop playing it. I heard they were talking of making a movie, which would be fun to see I think. I have played it through several times since then.
You’ve discovered the joys of the Phoenix Comic-Con (now called Phoenix Comic Fest). What’s the advantage of immersing yourself in one of the smaller fan conventions?
We went in 2016. It isn’t affiliated with (San Diego) Comic-Con. So all the guests they have there aren’t contracted to be there. They come because they want to, which makes the atmosphere more comfortable I think. It wasn’t as crowded as some of bigger cons. It is in Phoenix, but the heat isn’t a problem because it is in the downtown convention center, which is huge! So everything is inside.
What were some of the highlights of your con experience?
Meeting so many “Doctor Who” actors! Billie Piper, Alex Kingston, Dan Starkey. We also got to meet Timothy Odmunson and Oded Fher, who thought he knew Tim from somewhere. Alex Kingston was my favorite to meet though, she is seriously the nicest person.
The selection of Pops there was also astounding! I found so many exclusives I was looking for, and they were cheaper then Amazon!
The best part though was when we stumbled upon an Aquaman panel. The one guy on the panel casually dropped that he was a writer for the show “Scream,” which Caitlin and I were currently obsessed with. I about died! So I found his booth the next day and got to talk to him about the show and what theories we had! It was one of the best parts of the whole weekend!
Are you planning to go back?
I would go back every year if I could. I really hope we can make it this year. The cast from “Guardians of the Galaxy” will be there, also Paige O’Hara! Plus William Shatner and Tim Curry. I would love to cosplay this time too.
What’s left on your geek bucket list?
To go to Disneyland in Paris! Maybe to go to San Diego Comic Con once. To start getting into cosplay.
To close, I must mention your adorable doggy, Falkor, just so we can include a photo of him. Tell me a little bit about this lovable real-life luck dragon.
He is crazy sometimes, but since we got our cat, Tonks, he has become the mature one. They are the best of friends. He is such a smart dog too! When he is outside and wants to come in, he knocks on the door. We didn’t teach him that, he just started doing it on his own! We just love him to pieces. I didn’t know his ears would stand up, otherwise we might have named him Ghost.