Even though my students were wild with excitement about our visit to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter film studios west of London, I wasn't particularly looking forward to it. I thought it would all feel fake, over-hyped, crassly commercial.
I was wrong.
It was magical. And really doubly magical, because to the magic of Harry Potter was added the magic of film-making: magic squared.
When our tour bus pulled up into the parking lot, I wasn't reassured.
The tour was so well designed, with the chance to stand before sets of exactly the locales we most yearned to inhabit.
The cozy Griffindor common room, decorated for Christmas:
We rounded a corner, and there was the Hogwarts Express, ready for us to board.
After a stop for lunch in the cafeteria, where butter beer was for sale (tasting very like cream soda), we went outside for a look at Privet Drive
The exhibits on the last third of the tour were perhaps the most meaningful: a close look at how the magical creatures were created for the film through elaborate makeup and use of prosthetics on live actors or fashioning of birds and animals operated through remote control machinery. We saw the detailed architectural drawings for each set, including the white card models made of them. Oh, the extraordinary effort made by thousands of talented behind-the-scenes artists for so many years.
And then, in the final room, there it was : an enormous model of Hogwarts (large enough that perhaps fifty of us could have formed a ring surrounding it) used for many shots in the film.
We also had a chance on other days to visit the actual King's Cross Station where Harry departs for Hogwarts on Platform 9 3/4. Although those scenes were filmed in the next door and much more architecturally gorgeous St. Pancras Station, King's Cross now has its own replica of the famous platform:
It that isn't real, what is? I'll give the last words to J. K. Rowling, from this inscription posted at the entrance of the studio tour: