Edinburgh and the Writing of Harry Potter

When I immigrated to Canada with my parents 13 years ago, I did not know a lot of English. Among the first English novels I read in their original version was the Harry Potter series. Although I read the Chinese translation of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets back in second grade, I did not enjoy reading it, since it was difficult for me to remember the many translated names, hence requiring a lot of effort to flip through the pages to cross-reference the names. However, soon after starting to read the first Harry Potter book in English in June 2007, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I instantly became soaked into the story and eagerly finished the entire series during the summer and fall of that year. One of the most memorable times of my youth was listening to the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows audiobook read by Jim Dale, after I turn off the lights at night, before sleeping, during those warm summer nights of 2007. The magical and mysterious soundtrack at the beginning along with his narration in his British accent together with the darkness of the night allowed me to create a rich, vivid imagination of the story in my head. Whenever I rode my bike down a slope, with the wind brushing against my face, I would imagine myself flying on broomstick. I even wrote about the Harry Potter for my grade 8 English final exam. In short, reading Harry Potter made me more happy tremendously during those times and enriched my imagination. This month, I visited the city where J. K. Rowling wrote most of the chapters of the Harry Potter series, Edinburgh.

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We start at King’s Cross Station in London and Platform 9 3/4.

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Then heading north to Edinburgh by train, through some Scottish towns.

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First impressions of Edinburgh after I got off the train and during my afternoon hike to Calton Hill.

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This is the entrance to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, which inspired Little Hangleton and contains the grave of Tom Riddle. The grave where the tourists are standing belongs to John Gray, a nightwatchman. He had a dog named Bobby who sat at the grave guarding his owner’s grave for 14 years after he passed away. Some believe the name Bobby and his loyalty inspired Dobby, the loyal house-elf.

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The gravestone of the real Tom Riddle can be found inside the graveyard. Inspiration for Professor McGonagall and Moody’s name can also be found in the grave.

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This street apparently is the inspiration for Diagon Alley.

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This is the entrance to George Heriot’s school, said to be an inspiration for the house system of Hogwarts, since students are also sorted into houses. It was originally a school for orphans but unfortunately nowadays it is an expensive private school.

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Here is the café where Rowling wrote the first book, which used to be occupied by Nicholson’s Café at the same place and was owned by her brother in-law. There is another café called the Elephant’s House overlooking the graveyard that specifically markets themselves as the “birthplace of Harry Potter”, but that isn’t true since Rowling herself said during an interview she thought of Harry Potter on a train, although she did spend time writing the later books in there.

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First Trip to London

On October 7th, I kicked off my graduation trip to Europe starting with the United Kingdom. My impressions of the UK prior to visiting were primarily shaped by reading Harry Potter as a child, studying the Industrial Revolution and Britain’s role in the world wars, reading Shakespeare plays and other English literature, and watching the London Olympic Games. I’ve wanted to write this blog entry for a while, but there is often little time left when I get back to the hotel every evening, and I use the remaining time for planning the next day, or I’m just too tired. But today I’ve finally set some time to do it, writing from Paris, France.

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Overlooking the outskirts of London from above

My first impression as I flew to London Gatwick from Halifax, Canada is that the land is extremely fertile. The long miles of fields below me are all green and vibrant, whereas this time of the year in the Canadian prairies I would expect nothing but yellowness. When I landed, the temperature was almost 20 degrees Celsius, whereas my home in Calgary was about freezing point. London is also slightly further to the north than Calgary by latitude.

When I landed, I was instantly amazed by London’s extensive subway system. During my stay in London I never had to wait more than 2 minutes for any subway to arrive on any of the lines I’ve been on, even late at night. It is also a quick, cheap way to get to many places within London, beating the traffic on the road above ground. Train stations are also located at the same place as subways, connecting London to other places on the island. I suppose in many North American cities the population density just isn’t dense enough to support this kind of amazing infrastructure.

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Roof of the British Museum

On the first afternoon in London I visited the British Museum, which contains artifacts from different civilizations of the world since the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. The most memorable part of the museum for me were the Egyptian mummies, whose evolution through different eras was showcased in successive rooms of the museum.

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Christ Church at Oxford

On my second day I took a day trip to Oxford, the oldest English-speaking university in the world. I learned the name Oxford is quite literal – it is named after the place with shallow water where ox crossed the river. For me, the most amazing thing about Oxford is that many of the greatest minds in history have left their footsteps here, some of whose work I’ve read include J. R. R. Tolkien (The Hobbit) and Oscar Wilde (The Importance of Being Earnest). It feels splendid to walk on the same grounds as they did during the past.

As a fan of history, my third day in London was mainly split between the Tower of London during the morning and the Churchill War Rooms during the afternoon. While the former tells many stories about England during the medieval ages (also contains the old Roman wall), the latter tells stories of Winston Churchill during his entire life and especially the crucial years of World War II. It it fascinating to stand in what was once the most important room in the European theatre on the Allies side.

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Tower of London

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A room in the Churchill War Rooms, with maps tracking shipments of the day

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Buckingham Palace

I wrapped up the day in the area by taking a stroll to Buckingham Palace, the park around it, and the British parliament. Before going back to the Swiss Cottage area, where I lived, I went to King’s Cross Station to pick up my train ticket the next day to Edinburgh, witnessing the real Platform 9 3/4.