For those of you who have been reading along with me on this journey so far, you might be worried that I’ve been entirely too serious, both in my studies and my travels to date. This post will obliviate any such ideas, in two parts.
Last Friday afternoon I went with MD to the Harry Potter Studios at Leavesden, about an hour outside London. Warner Brothers has turned the studio where they filmed all 8 of the Harry Potter films into a warehouse for everything Potter that remains from those productions.
They have sets, props, costumes, art, and models as well as displays of how some of the physical and visual effects were created. It’s a little like when they were designing the tour, the answer to the question, “Should we include… ?” was always “Yes.”
The tour starts off with a couple of short videos – one about the global impact of Harry Potter and another about the production itself. Both are high quality and include introductions to the exhibit from the main cast. Then they take you into the Great Hall set. After some introductions to the room and the various artifacts inside, they set you loose to do your own self-paced tour of the rest of the studio. We took a break after 2 hours for some butterbeer and realized we were only halfway through. They are very clever about how they’ve arranged everything, and there are lots of supporting videos from cast and crew that explain details or thought process behind the various items. Some sets were destroyed after filming, but because they were using this space for basically a decade, they reused most of them.
Aside: I still have not received a good explanation for why the Burrow caught fire in the 6th movie or why they cast Ginny as they did or why Dumbledore was so mean in the movies… not that I expected to. So if those mysteries haunt you, this tour will do nothing to resolve them. /aside
The crowds going through the tour with us were interesting, too. All generations and many nationalities were represented, but there were fewer small kids than I expected, though I suppose school is back in session. It always amazes me how broadly Harry Potter impacts society – people of all ages and backgrounds love these books. There’s something special about sharing the phenomenon with others. I don’t know if the massive success and approachability of these stories is JK Rowling’s personal underdog-to-success story, the timing (the first movie came out in November 2001), the fact that the books build as the story continues, the themes in the books themselves or a combination of all of these and other reasons. I remember the bittersweet experience of reading the final book the first time, knowing I would not experience another Harry Potter finale quite that way again (the movie, though enjoyable, was not quite the same). That didn’t stop me from essentially inhaling the book, and in the same spirit, indulging in this studio tour to recapture a portion of that wonder.
A note on logistics: lots of tour companies sell an entry ticket and bus from central London to get out to the studio. Don’t do it – the public transportation options (Overground train & £2 roundtrip shuttle to the studio) are easy and inexpensive, my favorite combination. You will easily save £30-50 per person by going on your own. You can book your entry ticket directly with Warner Brothers, but make sure you book online before you arrive. It’s a timed entry.
Come back tomorrow for more Harry Potter Studios adventures.
Title quote: J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (that’s “Sorceror’s Stone” in American editions)