Recently, I have made a somewhat controversial and shocking statement: I am not going to the midnight premiere of Harry Potter.
To all of those who have had at least one in depth conversation with me, whether they are my longstanding friends or newly acquired coworkers, I have somehow managed to reveal my love for the Harry Potter series without even taking a drop of veratiserum. Whether it is my use of magical vocabulary that I assume everyone understands or the explosion of facebook posts about all-things-Potter on my wall, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that I am a potter fan. However, in my best judgment, I just could not support this film wholeheartedly. This has nothing to do with its content or ability as a film (though I do wish they would stop deviating from the book). Instead, I attribute this to my disillusionment to the Magical World that I experienced in Edinburgh.
Before you judge me too harshly, put yourself in my situation for a moment and come down the pensieve with me.
One crisp March day while in between classes, I decided to try a new lunch nook about which everyone has been raving. It was a cozy little baguette shop next to campus that was so inexpensive and delicious that everyone in town frequents it at one point in their week. While I was standing at the counter trying to pick between the umpteen spreads, a group of school children flew by the door, sniffed the air, and quickly backtracked in order to come in out of the cold and have some food. But, these children were not dressed in the usual private school garb that I was used to (and believe me, I had twelve years of schooling to show that I was SICK of skirts, knee socks, and vests for a lifetime). No, these children looked exactly like Hogwarts students, complete with black robes and tie. In my Emily-ness, I quickly scanned them up and down for places where a wand could be hiding or to see if they left their brooms outside. But, alas, this proved to be false. They were just normal school children on a lunch break. For the remainder of my lunch, I sat by the window pondering this encounter and attributing it to an inspiration that JK Rowling had for her characters.
You might think, “oh Emily, this was merely a coincidence! No need to let spilled milk ruin your love of the magic!”. And I completely agree with you. I ended up brushing this experience off in denial and continued on my fanciful way. It wasn’t until it happened again that I really started thinking..
Drop the memory into the pensieve and begin to slowly sink
This time, I was sitting in the Elephant Café, the exploited “Birthplace of Harry Potter”, and marveling at the view at the Edinburgh Castle. I kept thinking that it reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Of course, if you are thinking ahead of me, it would be that this castle was an inspiration for Hogwarts. I can completely see Hagrid paddling the young first year students up to these gates or feel the Dementors spinning around them to create an atmosphere of uncertainty. However, that is when I also realized something profoundly different: that Jo really only took everyday British happenings and turned them into a magical world. I might not have been able to come to this conclusion the first time I set foot in this shop, for as a starry-eyed fan it was impossible to see correctly. However, as a true Potter reader, after I returned to that café more than once, I could see as if I were the author and the place from which she was making her inspiration.
N.B. Do not think that I believe myself to be a Trelawney-like figure; I do not suppose myself able to predict the future or read tea leaves when it comes to the birth of the Potter series. I merely am making assumptions that connect what I know to be true in the novels and what I see myself.
Again, you might think to yourself, “tsk tsk Emily, your curiosity has gotten the best of you; how are you supposed to know what the author thinks?” While I didn’t ask Jo personally, I have one final array of experiences that I can use to prove myself.
While visiting my friend Rebecca at Durham, I was lucky enough to stay around for Sunday Brunch. All of her friends were salivating on Saturday night and completely talking the meal up so high that I thought heaven would befound at the top of its delicious pile. The boys were mimicking Ron Weasley and describing every meal ever detailed at the Great Hall: they told of Cornish pasties, Yorkshire pudding, creamy porridge, and custard tart that I would find the next morning. I couldn’t have been more excited! Meanwhile, the next day, I was absolutely shocked,SHOCKED, when I walked into the dining room. It was set up exactly like the great hall! Cue pointed ceilings, wooden beams, and more Potter-esque things such as long wooden tables (six in this case). But, what struck me the most, was the long table perpendicular to all of this that seemed to stretch from wall to wall. When I nervously asked Rebecca if this was what I thought it was, she hastily replied, “oh yes, that is where the professors and headmaster sit at meals,” and went back to her breakfast. WHAT!? …WHAT!? Outraged and a little numb, I made my way through the delicious food (probably not made by house elves), and went home a tad bit tainted.
While I tend to flit in between the worlds of Hogwarts and Neverland, I nevertheless keep my head about me as well as I can. I believe in everything to a certain point and then keep myself entertained by the magic that these places and things create. However, it is always hard to see through the looking glass for the first time and cease being uneasy. After this, I started seeing things on a daily basis that began to crack the gossamer barrier to the magical world. There are really night buses that travel to and from cities, the coins in the UK are scarily similar to those used in the magical world, and places like Diagon or Knockturn Alley really do exist. Eventually, I just came to consider this one of the endless ways that Edinburgh, and Britain as a whole, continues to be duplicitous in its literature and style.
Perhaps it is because of this pseudo-magical reality that I began to notice that more people in the States were hyped up about the Potter series than the Brits themselves. Somehow, JK Rowling managed to meld travel writing, fiction, and fantasy together to make its readers feel as if they have come to a world outside that of the earth as we know it. However, it is really just Britain with a cloak of glittery invisibility draped around it. No wonder why my flatmates were not as impressed as I was! In her tricky true Medievalist sense, JKR reused the things she knew to recreate a seemingly boring, modern reality. It is because of this, readers, that I was not completely on board with the movie-hoarding process. I realized that it is easy to be entrenched in a seemingly new world and become completely obsessed; it is like all those who go on vacation to a new place and never want to leave. However, I already feel that way when it comes to both the UK and the world of Harry Potter. So forgive me for refusing to take part in the approval of an utter world-effacing action.
Let me make it clear that I still believe in the power of the Harry Potter series. Like most popular literature, it has been criticized backwards and forwards, inside and out in an attempt to be deemed “bad literature”. This is not a critique. The magic that the series has brought to me and countless others is more than innovativeness or inspiration, more than small bouts of bad writing or lulls in the plot line. However, it must be noted that, after coming home, the hype of this move is almost surreal. Sometimes I wonder if people really know why they are excited or if what they are saying truly makes sense. In the last few weeks, I have often heard, “it is the end of an era”. No, my beloveds, it has never ended.