Since I first discovered them I have loved the Harry Potter books, have been fascinated by J.K. Rowling, and have seen all eight films. What I love most about the phenomenon is that books are at the root of it. Never again in my life do I imagine that I will be part of a worldwide collective breath-hold waiting for the release of a book like I was in 2007, when three friends and I had a slumber party in Boston in celebration of the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We cooked, we ate, we drank, and at one point I went to Brookline Booksmith and used my librarian’s discount to purchase four copies of the book – and we spent the rest of the weekend reading. We were fans.
I’ve seen every movie and, as films, I think some of them have succeeded (#3) while others should rank among the worst movies ever made (#6). I love the books, so what I like about the movies is usually that I am taken even further into the magical worlds about which I’ve read – that’s how the thinking goes. I’m not sure I buy it, though. The world I created in my imagination while reading the books was pretty magical on its own; I had concrete visions of what things looked like that the movies have forever altered – I won’t get that back. I have mixed feelings in general about turning books into movies. I have favorite books that have been turned into films that I will never see. But with Harry Potter it was different – it really was a phenomenon. Despite my mixed feelings, I was as excited when each movie came out as the next person. I saw all of them in the cinema. And I geeked out a little bit last week when we took the Harry Potter tour of London and the Warner Bros. London Studio Tour.
In art – and certainly in commerce – adaptation feels kind of natural. Long before the movies started coming out there were the books on tape, which gave me an aural window into Harry Potter’s world (and won several awards for the amazing voice performer who read them). It was a logical next step in adaptation for them to be monetized further and turned into films (and into merchandise and theme parks and now into bus tours and the Warner Bros. Experience). We had a guest speaker come in the day before we took the tours; she studies fan communities and, particularly, adaptations, and she also works in film production for a small company based in the UK. She is interested in things like fan participation in movie production, how studios handle fans, the power of active fan communities (due in large part to their sheer numbers – she once wrote a blog post about being on the set of Twilight and her blog, which normally got ten or so hits a day, received more than ten thousand in a day when it was linked to by an official Twilight fan site). And speaking of Twilight fan sites, they average around two million hits per week – the numbers are staggering. She offered me a new lens through which to interpret the fan experience. As has studying tourism, which is the second major part of this course. Evaluating the Warner Bros. experience is something that will take a bit more time and reflection. So for now, the rest of this post is from the fan side of things – the part of me who found it incredibly cool to walk through the front doors of Hogwarts into the Great Hall and onto the stage sets of the most successful film franchise in history.
Platform 9 3/4, King’s Cross Station – actually filmed between platforms 4 and 5
Warner Bros. photo op staged in King’s Cross
Playing pieces from Wizard’s Chess
The flying Ford Anglia
Exhibit Entrance Hall and The Cupboard Under the Stairs
The magical moment: a film introduction to the exhibit concludes with an image of the entrance to the Great Hall at Hogwarts. The screen then rises to reveal the “real” thing behind it – the set that was used for the Great Hall in all eight Harry Potter movies.
Entering the Great Hall
“At the top of a spiral staircase – they were obviously in one of the towers – they found their beds at last: five four-posters hung with deep-red velvet curtains.”
— J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone —
Gryffindor Boys Dorm
Gryffindor Common Room
Dolores Umbridge’s office in the Ministry of Magic
The tapestry from the House of Black that hangs in Number 12 Grimmauld Place, home to the Order of the Phoenix
The Knight Bus
Number 4 Privet Drive
The Potter’s house in Godrick’s Hollow
The Hogwarts Bridge (not in the books)
The Gift Shop
These are included in part for scale – the gift shop was massive. I also include them because one of the things they did well was to incorporate set pieces into other parts of the experience (can’t bring myself to call it a museum), for instance introducing the cupboard under the stairs at the entrance line. They’ve also got one of the chandeliers from Gringotts Bank in the gift shop, as well as this giant window from the Hogwarts library. They also had Xenophilius Lovegood’s Quibbler printing press in the gift shop, but I did not get a picture of it.
Coming Soon: photographs of the massive 1:24 scale of Hogwarts Castle.