Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Literary Pilgrimage: Harry Potter

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.
But from the moment we stepped in, the magic began. Before we even entered the tour proper, here it was, Harry's cupboard under the stairs.
And once we did enter, the door to the Great Hall of Hogwarts opened for us by a little girl in attendance who happened to have a birthday that day, there we were, in that long room flanked by tables groaning under the (plastic, but so real-looking) holiday feast.
Our tour was hosted, via video welcome, by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, sharing stories of how they had grown up over a period of ten years on these sets together. Already, I felt a lump forming in my throat. I've decided that there is little that gets me teary-eyed faster than evidence of the sheer passage of time: how young they looked then! how much older they look now!

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:
Dumbledore's office.
The Weasleys' homey burrow, where a sweater magically knit itself as a knife magically chopped carrots for dinner.
Throughout there was abundant evidence of the extraordinary care and attention to detail that had gone into every set, prop, and costume, to recreate this beloved world for millions of fans across the globe.

We rounded a corner, and there was the Hogwarts Express, ready for us to board.
In the car we could walk through, each railway compartment represented one of Harry's years at Hogwarts, the seats strewn with whatever items he, Ron, and Hermione might have left behind.

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
and the home of Harry's parents:

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.
As we stood there, the soaring score from the films played. Some students wept. We all lingered for as long as we could, hating to leave Hogwarts behind to buy our Ravenclaw sweatshirts and chocolate frogs in the gift shop.

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:
In our "debriefing" session in class yesterday, where we shared which moments of our "Enchanted Spaces" trip had been most enchanted for us, one student cited approaching Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross. To her, it felt more "real" than the platform at the film studios. Of course, they are in a sense equally fake. But also equally real. The very day we visited the Harry Potter studios, Alan Rickman died, the actor who played Snape in the series. Students who made their journey to Platform 9 3/4 later in the week reported that it was heaped with flowers left by grieving fans.

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:
Few authors have made us want to listen as long and as hard as she has.

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this post Professor, I also adore Harry Potter and can feel the lump in my throat as well. I will have to make a trip to see this place someday as well!