Over the next twelve months, I will take you on a personal journey through my discovery of the world of Harry Potter. Reviewing the film series in its entirety, attending the Fantastic Beasts exhibition at the Natural History Museum, the Dark Arts season at the World of Harry Potter to a review of magical locations around the UK, it promises to be an eventual year. In 1997 this exciting new series of novels from author JK Rowling launched in the UK before arriving on the silver screen in 2001 with the Philosophers Stone from acclaimed director Chris Columbus. In 2012 the permanent exhibit in Leavesden opened providing fans of the series an opportunity to step inside the world of the boy wizard and visit sets and props from the franchise. This is my personal experience of the series.
In 1985, Huey Lewis eulogised on The Power of Love, indeed it was one persons love for this series that begun to change my mind on a franchise I had dismissed over two decades ago. Released in 1997 and gaining an almost cult like status, the series launched in my formative teenage years, a period of extremely mild middle class rebellion against the system and popular culture. In contrast to the modern world, with limited means of income and ability to consume media to the opportunities we have today, I had a personal stake in another franchise and series, I couldn’t comprehend the penetration into the cultural zeitgeist this series had at that moment in time and presumed it would diminish in time.
The release of the first movie in the winter of 2001 coincided with another fantasy series that launched to acclaim, the large screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. As with other famous or perhaps infamous conflicts of fandom, it seemed like an affront to my particular predication, competition can be an unsettling factor and I was determined to support quality over this new found darling of the Hollywood movie studios. Fuelled in part perhaps by a determination to maintain my late teenage sense of independence I rushed out to watch the earliest showing of The Fellowship I could, determined for my series to win. As the tone of the series changed with subsequent releases, I felt perhaps with a certain level of hubris, an inability to adapt and appreciate this franchise for its merits, viewing it through the prism of teenage occultism of those around me enamored with these books.
A decade passed, I dated unbeknownst to me, a witch in hiding, I say that with peace and love as it was never an aspect of her character that came to the foreground during the five or six years we were together though at times she did observe the commercialisation and mainstream presentation of the wicca movement through series such as Harry Potter and to an extent Buffy. Today, she practises the mystical arts in earnest whilst giving my partner a legitimate reason to use the phrase, my last girlfriend was a witch. Perhaps, as Morpheus observed in the first Matrix film, fate it seems is not without a sense of irony, that a son of a priest would date a witch. It’s here though the foundations of my interest in the Harry Potter franchise begun.
When we first met, through the usual cordial discussions of interests and hobbies, within short order I came to discover Harry Potter was one particular series she really enjoyed.I was perhaps a little dismissive of the series but through respect for her and her enjoyment of this one specific franchise my decades long embitterment began to subside. Whilst we have attempted to some degree to find other common ground in these fantasy genres, this was one she enjoyed and could talk enthusiastically about. After a year or two, I decided whilst avoiding the film and book series, I would take her to The Harry Potter studio tour in Leavesden.
Located a short drive from where we live,this permanent exhibit opened in 2012 provides the fan base an opportunity to visit this studio tour of sets, props and costumes that continues to expand with the subsequent release of the Fantastic Beast films. It remains as popular to date despite competition from America with tickets selling out months in advance for its most popular limited time events. To coincide with her birthday we visited during the festive Christmas season where the castle model is decorated with fake snow, the great hall has a festive theme, it is a lovely time to visit especially when its cold and dark outside, it creates resonance to the film series. It was also one where I had no expectations of quality or merit and could just enjoy the occasion.
Expectations of outcomes is a dangerous and unsettling mindset, especially when it’s a franchise or series that holds meaning and importance to you. Last year when I attend my first conventions, the opportunity to meet William Shatner was an almost overwhelming experience, equally the exposure to fandom at MCM and the Pokemon store elicited an unsettling sense of anxiety through expectations of the experience. I feel its important to make note of this, certainly it’s mild and doesn’t have any lasting impact on my actions but in the interest of transparency, when you have the opportunity to meet your idols, it can be a daunting prospect not made easier by the planning of the day or the occasion to ensure its what you wish it to be.
In contrast, my first exposure and motivation for this particular day was to provide a positive experience for her birthday celebrations, it made little difference to me its content and as such any anxiety or foreboding was entirely absent. It’s refreshing to be exposed to a series of this scope and legacy with no expectations and as such, as a fan of world building and cinema, was a really great afternoon. I will be attending the Dark Arts season later this year so will refrain from reviewing the exhibit in great detail for now, only to observe if you do have the opportunity to visit with any sense of interest for this series, or indeed just an appreciation of set and world building it is a great studio tour to attend.
Since that first visit, we have been fortunate to find ourselves visiting other locations, through deliberate choices or happenstance including by chance the station at Goathland during a visit to the NYMR in Yorkshire and the setting for Hogsmeade station. As residents of London, we have been able to walk by chance close to the various landmarks in the capital used in the film and as my exposure to the series has grown a new found appreciation has developed for the insistence on filming in and around the UK to bring the world of Harry Potter to life. Walking across the iconic footbridge between St Pauls and the Tate Modern gallery is often referred to as walking The Harry Potter bridge, though I’m yet to reach that point in my movie watching.
I reached a tipping point last year when I begun to attend and enjoy these events such as Comic Con and the clear passion and dedication of its fans, and on a personal note the sustained interest in this franchise by my partner. I’ll readily concede the impact during my formative years has long passed, as such it will always hold a deeper resonance with her than I. It still holds, certain negative feelings inside how devoted readers were at that exact moment in time but as ‘Peak Potter’ has long passed, it is a series I can take a chance to explore with no peer or societal expectations to enjoy them beyond what they are. When I first visited the studio tour in 2015, I had no expectations to enjoy the experience, but as a general media fan and a bit of a geek, I could appreciate it for what it was. This year, provides opportunity to expand my knowledge through watching these films, attending these exhibits and perhaps even reading the books.
Throughout 2020 in addition to my usual assortment of gaming and media discussions I will be creating content around the world of Harry Potter. Primarily, these will be reviews of the feature films released to date with added real world location information where applicable. In May I will be attending during opening weekend the new exhibit at the Natural History Museum, Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature in London before returning to the franchise later on in the year with the Dark Arts event at the studio tour in Leavesden. I will take you on a journey around some mystical locations in the historic town of Glastonbury as well as feature locations around London. As with last year I will be attending Comic Con in May so this will afford my opportunity then to experience the fandom from that perspective.
It’s fascinating to see the impact and appeal of a series, any series long after its last feature and main cultural impact has subsided. My teenage perceptions this would be a short lived fad are well and truly consigned to the rubbish bin of history. It wasn’t a series of genre I had any interest in partaking despite being of the age were it would have traction in my life. One of the great joys of age and maturity is having the good grace to admit your foibles and change your attitude in good faith. My various nieces and nephews have all to some degree enjoyed the series over the years, all discovering the allure and appeal of the boy wizard and finding resonance in a way I never could. Whilst the childhood joy has long passed, one of the areas I could enjoy as a fan was the dedication to the art of cinematography, the sets, the costumes, not reliant on effect but practically built and shot where possible.
This year I plan to take you on a personal journey of sorts where I watch the movies for the first time, witness the connections to the real world in the museum exhibit in May before returning to the studio tour in October. For many of you, perhaps it’s a series that has come and gone, I’ll readily concede to finding my appreciation for the movies long after they were a cultural moment. But they continue to remain as popular today as they ever were, the theatre shows in London are sold out well in advance, equally the studio tour and limited time exhibits. They continue to find a new appreciative audience with a timeless narrative. That for me was its appeal now, long after witnessing on the tube to university children and adults alike sitting there reading the same book, that it continues to be such a resounding success.
Were you a childhood fan or a late addition to the wizarding world? are you attending any of the tours or events this year? I would love to hear your experiences as a comment or a post over the next twelve months and will share what comes my way, as ever I look forward to talking below.
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