London fills our minds with wonder as we marvel at where our own history began. Remnants of imperialism abound in the historical buildings and in the population. The Middle Ages, Absolute Monarchy, Industrial Revolution, Age of Information/Globalization — all are adequately represented on the streets and in the museums. Famous preachers like Wesley and Spurgeon leave their traces about town. However, besides the history centers, we pause as we pass the places of literary imagination. The (recreated) Globe theatre where Shakespeare performed his plays stands active and lively. We imagine the children at the train station in The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m on the constant lookout for Mr. Darcy (he did take trips to London, right?). We think of Oliver, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Eliza from My Fair Lady. We even notice where Lightning McQueen was in Cars 2. Everything looks familiar, even though of the Mesquits, only Brent had visited before. One special literary work dominated all our thoughts: Harry Potter.
As parents, we had the first clue, when trying to show the kids the renowned Thames river and the London Bridge. The kids only had eyes for The Millennium Bridge, the one destroyed by the Death Eaters in the 6th movie. The Harry Potter wands accompanied us on most of our outings, just in case we passed an important site. We visited Piccadilly Square with Harry Potter in mind (movie 7). And of course, King’s Cross Station, Platform 9 3/4 and the adjoining St Pancras Station that is the actual location of Harry Potter’s “dream” conversation with Dumbledore in the 8th movie. We re-watched most of the movies at the end of our tiring days of touring. Fun.
Our biggest Harry Potter adventure was a pilgrimage to The Making of Harry Potter at Harry Potter studios. Wow. Here is Camille’s version of us arriving at the studio:
“…I just couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw a large double decker bus pulling up to the tube station lot. It was incredible! The bus was tall and you would have never missed what it was because there were pictures of scenes from the movie and a large ‘The Making of Harry Potter’ spread across the top. We were at the front of a small crowd. I hoped we would fit. Then, a friendly driver ushered us inside and everyone crowded in. Grandma stayed on the bottom [level] but I went on up to the next level.
‘Wow,’ the whole bus seemed to say as we pulled up to a large yellow building. … There were more people here than the Churchill war rooms.”
I agree. The entire crowd appeared awed to arrive at the studios, and our kids were among the youngest there.
Once inside, larger than life pictures of the characters gaze down on you from high on the walls. I’m struck with the affection I feel for many of them, like I’m perusing a baby album or a yearbook! A cafe is on your left and a gift shop is on your right.
Our tour began with a walk by the cupboard under the stairs and then into a movie theatre. Luke describes this part of the tour in his journal:
“We moved into the Harry Potter movie theater where we watched a short clip. Afterwards,the movie screen lifted up and the tour guide was there. Then, behind the screen the huge brass doors to the Great Hall appeared.”
The tour guide asked who had a birthday. The lucky birthday “boy” and “girl” shared the task of opening the doors to the Great Hall. They opened up to the full set, complete with costumes from teachers and each school within Hogwarts. The children disagree on the grandeur of the Great Hall. Luke says it was huge and I concur. But, I will share Will’s opinions on the Great Hall from his journal:
“The hall looked different from the movies in many ways:
- It had no roof.
- It was extremely smaller.
- There was no fire.
- It wasn’t real marble.
- It had a lot of mannequins wearing the costumes.
- It had a gap in the wall.
- It was decorated with Halloween. “
Walking through the Great Hall we entered the self guided part of the tour. A person could spend between 15 minutes and 2 days exploring the rest of the studios. The 15 minute estimate was for someone walking through briskly without looking at anything. Some displays discussed parts of the filming, such as the various directors or how they used animals in the filming. A large portion of the space was filled with sets and props. Do you want to see the time turner? It’s there. How about the Goblet of Fire? Check. The Potions room,
Gryffindor common room,
The Ministry of Magic,
the Night Bus,
Malfoy’s family table (scene of muggle murder),
the bridge, the Chess Set, 4 Privet Drive,
Harry’s parent’s home, and the infamous flying car.
Some sets appear small, some large. The beds in the Gryffindor room look terribly small and we learn that by the 6th movie, the actors had to hang their feet off the ends because they’d grown so much!
A giant green screen hung on two walls and showed how they created the flying scenes, fight scenes, and many of the landscape scenes. We enjoyed seeing Mad Eye Moody’s flying broom chair and the goblin cart.
An amazing part of the tour explained how they created magical creatures and Hagrid. Will found this to be among the most interesting parts of the tour.
“They put a real flame thrower inside of the dragon! The goblins were drenched in make-up. The spiders were remote controlled,” he explained.
Camille agreed, “[I find it fascinating] that Hagrid’s head was animatronic. It seemed so real when he blinked, moved his head, and talked. It was really cool!”
She added, “Buckbeak the Hippogryph stared at us through animatronic eyes. Apparently they had to put every little feather in the right place.”
The section was followed by a walk through Diagon Alley. Ana loved walking on the “real” street, by the “real buildings”
“They had all the real buildings. They were real and all right there. They weren’t fake. They were a real street and real buildings.”
At the end of the Alley was the beginning of the planning section. Hundreds of drawings hung on the walls. These were the artists sketches in planning the scenes. Some were followed, some weren’t. They were beautiful to behold and led up to the grand model of the Hogwarts castle. I’m sorry to spoil it for you, but the castle is not real. Hogwarts is pretend. So, all the scenes of the grounds and the exterior of the castle were completed from this impressive model.
Luke was especially inspired by the model. He said it encouraged him to build a model, which he later did.
Finally, the gift shop. Will bought a journal that he uses for planning. Camille said, since things were a little expensive, she bought candy. Ana bought a chocolate wand. We left with sugar quills, fudge flies, and chocolate frogs. Yum. We avoided the butter beer, since we knew of our distaste from our earlier visit to Universal Studios. If JK Rowling can’t turn that invention into money, something must be wrong with it!
Overall, we soaked in the magic.
Camille said, “I bet it would stay in my mind forever. It was great, just great.”
Inspired, Ana said, “That one person could create such big influence. JK Rowling had all this stuff just because she wrote a book.”
Yes, thank you JK Rowling and authors everywhere for writing good books.