Monday, June 20, 2011

Adventures with Harry P

This time last month, Sara took a journey to some of the key places in the cities of Edinburgh, Oxford and London—key places in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. This is her account of her adventures there.

A book series that has played a profound role in my childhood and that continues to impact my life today, Harry Potter, as we all know, is like none other. Thus I wanted to take some time to reflect on the places I visited. I've already collected the photos in a Flickr set here.

In Edinburgh

The Elephant House

First up was the so-called birthplace of Harry, of course. It was in this cafe that JK Rowling sat for long hours, writing out the first draft of the book. According to interviews, Jo was on a train when the idea of Harry first came to her, but I was on more of a pilgrimage, not an attempt to recreate her life, so lunching at the Elephant House was more than exciting enough. The food was really great and the cafe itself was overwhelmingly unaffected by its literary claim to fame. That was, until you got to the toilets. They were fantastic. Someone seemed to have pasted magazine cut-outs of all the HP actors on every inch of them, and fans who came to the Elephant House for the same reason as I had scrawled their affections for JKR all over the walls and door. Some thanked Jo for changing their lives, others wrote their favorite quotes or moments from the books, yet others wrote their own names and date of visit. I knew immediately what I wanted to add: ϟ THE WITCHING HOUR ϟ WROCK ON, HARRY!

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Located directly behind the Elephant House, this graveyard provided Jo many names for her books—Potter, Granger, Moody, McGonagall, and most notably, Tom Riddle. My friend Michaela also has a habit of borrowing names from the deceased and employing them in her plays, and I thought of her as I wove through the rows of headstones.

City Hall

The next stop was city hall, to appreciate the Edinburgh Award, a prestigious civic achievement award given to JKR in 2008, 17 years after moving to the city and 11 years since the publication of the Philosopher's Stone. The same award has been presented to the likes of Annie Lennox and Ian Rankin.

As it turns out, she actually has quite small hands.

The Balmoral Hotel

The final destination in Edinburgh was, fittingly, where Jo completed the final words of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and later left a note in Sharpie on the marble bust in her hotel room. It was crazy to go from the beginning—the modest Elephant House—to the end—glitzy Balmoral Hotel—in two days. It was crazy to think how Jo's life, not just her fans', was revolutionized by the publication of her books.

In Oxford

Christ College

By which I mean HOGWARTS! One of the many colleges at Oxford University, Christ College is where C.S. Lewis once taught mathematics, and where the Great Hall and other parts of Hogwarts Castle were set and filmed for the Harry Potter movies. Although now occupied by non-magical students and decorated rather differently, it was a very overwhelming feeling to be in a place that felt simultaneously so significant and yet so familiar. I did not shed a silent, happy tear while there, in case you were wondering. We came just after lunch, and the tables were all set just like at a Great Hall feast. There was even a head table for the professors. The old guard standing there even asked me if I saw any of the paintings move.

As it turns out, many other sets of the film were at Oxford, including the Hospital Wing and library, but I only had a bit of time and couldn't participate in a tour that took visitors to sights such as these. Alas, next time.

In London

Cecil Court and Leadenhall Market

An entire day was devoted in London to seeing Potterish things.

Top on the list were two areas, Cecil Court and Leadenhall Market, which JKR used to visit and inspired the idea of Diagon Alley. Indeed, both were very peculiar places full of dusty, old shops selling vintage prints, wine-filled chocolates, old-fashioned clothes and ancient-looking books. Sadly, I didn't find any treasures worth buying, mostly because the shopkeepers on Cecil Court were about as friendly as someone from Knockturn Alley—not Diagon Alley. We ran away rather quickly.

Movie locations: King's Cross, Gringotts, the Ministry of Magic and the Millenium Bridge

Next on the list was a number of top London movie spots. My train from Edinburgh came in to King's Cross, and I about died twice. The first time, because I was in King's Cross. The second time, because I learned that construction at the train station had closed all platforms between 8 and 11. That includes platform 9 and 3/4, in case you were wondering. Instead, it had been relocated to outside King's Cross station, simply a giant poster attached to half a trolley cart. Nonetheless I got the photo...

I also visited the Australia House, where Gringotts interior shots were done, although it was a Saturday so I couldn't get in, alas.

Slightly more exciting were the exterior shots for the Ministry of Magic, taken at Great Scotland Yard near Trafalgar Square. Yah know, where the trio abducts ministry officials and Mr. Weasley takes Harry to his trial.

After that was the Millenium Bridge, which is epically destroyed by Death Eaters in the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It's a beautiful bridge, dedicated (unsurprisingly) in 2000, and quite sturdy if you ask me. I checked.

And so ended my UK adventures with Harry P. It was amazing to see in person many of these places that had occupied my imagination for so long, but at the same time, it helped me realize that, despite my fascination with British culture as a kid, it is very much an ordinary place and Edinburgh and London cities with many ordinary features. They have shops and people and restaurants and places of employment and schools and streets and government just like anywhere else.

Well, and wizards, too. That will always be special.


Look for another podcast later this week!

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