Tag Archives: books

Witchcraft and Wizardry

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The year I did a summer exchange at the University of Oxford, there were quite a few suitcases weighed down on the way over by the final installment in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Plowing through the Deathly Hallows on a bench outside Christ Church College – which houses the inspiration for the Great Hall in the movies – made the reading of the last book all the more emotive. A few years later, I was working a short walk from Trafalgar Square while a shrieking and exuberant crowd celebrated the premiere of the final Harry Potter film. I think that’s when it hit me, that as much as the series is a global phenomenon, it will at its heart always be a very British treasure. What a gift to give the world, everything from J.K. Rowling’s initial literary creation to the behemoth film ventures.

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And, if that’s all not enough (which it isn’t, to any Harry fan worth their every flavored beans), there is THE WARNER BROS STUDIO in…Leavesden. Fear not, it is more accessible to those in London than it would initially appear (though judging by how fast tickets for this weekend filled up, I don’t think Warner Bros should be too worried about visitors being daunted).

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Whereas the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando is more of a theme park (at least, I gather it is – my entire family made the trip without me, so I wouldn’t know on a firsthand basis!! Ahem ahem), the Warner Bros Studio is where a majority of the scenes in the movies were filmed. A suggestion – if you’re like my friends and I and enjoy pointing and yelling at recognizable sets/items/costumes (AND WHO DOESN’T), watch some (or all) of the movies first to make the whole tour even more incredible.

It really is a magical experience (for groups in their 20s to parents with kids dressed up as witches and wizards alike). The sheer size of the endeavor that was the creating of the films is awe-inspiring. The tour opens with a recorded spiel by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, highlighting the work of countless actors, producers, directors, make up artists, costume designer, special effects teams, graphics wizards, etc etc…but the exhibits truly speak for themselves.

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The tour opens in Hogwarts’ Great Hall, where everything looks straight out of the movies except for the ceiling, which was digitally enchanted with rain, sunshine and snow. You then leave the dining hall for a feast of another kind – sets, props, costumes, and trinkets are everywhere, and you understand why they recommend 3 hours for the visit.

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The Gryffindor Common Room…shabby and wonderful

The Burrow, home of the Weasley family - note the knife and scrubber working by magic!

The Burrow, home of the Weasley family – note the knife and scrubber working by magic!

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Advanced potion making

Don’t want to spoil the magic with too many photos, but it’s all there: Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut, the House of Black family tapestry, Dolores Umbridge’s terrible pink lair…not to mention Horcruxes, animal familiars and the wand of practically every character. There’s a brief outdoor bit with the flying Ford Anglia, a model of the bridge to Hogwarts and the Knight Bus (THIS IS WHERE YOU GET THE BUTTERBEER!!! Looking up homemade recipes immediately).

There’s also a section where you can get your picture taken on a flying broomstick, complete with a green screen sky background and a wind machine, but the only photos allowed are the professional ones you’d have to pay for. We opted to skip it, but it would definitely make a fabulous adornment for the fridge for anyone interested!

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Diagon Alley

Home of the Dursley family

Home of the Dursley family

There are rumors that there may be plans in the works for theme-park style additions, with rides and such. It’s totally worth the visit now though; you really won’t be able to leave without marvelling anew at the success and gloriousness of the entire franchise. More than that, you’ll have an even greater appreciation of the love and detail that went into bringing Harry and Co to the big screen…and want to read and/or watch all the books and movies again and again.

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Wands at Ollivanders

 

A note on travel:
Book your tickets (£30) early! A month or two in advance to be safe – I checked a couple of weeks before our slot and the entire weekend was sold out. There is a cloakroom but I was actually told they weren’t accepting coats because ‘it is VERY cold outside’ (it was 11 degrees) and there is a brief stop outdoors.

To get there, you take a train from Euston Station to Watford Junction (we booked as a group of 3 and got return tickets for £6.75. Then I lost my return ticket and had to pay an additional £10. DON’T DO THAT!) Shuttle buses (£2 return) go from Watford Junction to the studio and back.

Now There’s a Novel Idea…

Now there's a novel idea

Surprise shelf at the North Library


Coming across this shelf at Islington’s North Library, I wanted to clap my hands together with glee (*major book nerd alert*). I’ve visited a respectable number of libraries over the years, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen random selection taken to this level. I’m so intrigued…I wonder whose responsibility (privilege!) it was to gift wrap these hidden reads. What books would you pick – something to delight, to surprise, to yank one abruptly out of one’s comfort zone? Though I guess you could never fully predict what reaction your choice would inspire, given that it’d be completely dependent on the particular patron who happened to grab it off the shelf…

I’m definitely of the school that believes books have the power to change lives, so just imagine the influence in the hands of this lucky librarian (or librarians) – no pressure!

Craig Taylor Talks ‘Londoners’

Amit Chaudhuri, Alex Clark and Craig Taylor at Foyle's

Amit Chaudhuri, Alex Clark and Craig Taylor at Foyles

Last week I had the good fortune of stumbling across a post by The Londonist listing a free (free!!) event hosted by the Foyles on Charing Cross Road: Amit Chaudhuri and Craig Taylor in conversation with Alex Clark. Craig Taylor, for those of you who aren’t fangirls, is the Canadian author of Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told by Those who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It. I asked for it for Christmas last year and have been extolling its virtues to anyone who will listen ever since. So naturally I jumped at the chance to hear the man behind the work, and dragged a couple of Canadian friends to the third floor Foyles gallery this evening to see him (and Amit Chaudhuri of course, who was brilliant and evocative in his own way, reading aloud from his book about Calcutta – see more here).

On paper, Londoners is 80 interviews with London-dwellers, condensed from 200 conducted over five years. In actuality, Londoners is magic. Each chapter is a different person’s story, meaning you can zip through one before bed or binge on a bunch at a time. From airline pilots to manicurists, to driving instructors, to hedge fund managers, to antique clock restorers, to a Buckingham Palace Guard, to the voice of the London Underground – it’s all in there. Wit and insight from people you didn’t even realize you wish you could meet, if only to ask where they are now (the one drawback to the format is that you’re afforded only a glimpse into their lives, and are always left wanting more. What happened to the homeless man who came in from Leeds? DID HE FIND A JOB??)

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This is the first book I’d recommend to anyone living here, partly because of the way you’ll relate – you’ll recognize a bit of yourself in the various stories, and there’s something neat about being part of a shared experience. But perhaps more importantly, you’ll find yourself noticing your fellow Londoners more, instead of waltzing on past. I think just that bit harder, when I walk by a street cleaner or a rickshaw driver on the way to work, and wonder how their thoughts compare to their counterparts in the book.

After all that, Craig admits he still hasn’t really figured out what it is, exactly, that makes up a Londoner (fair enough – tall order for anyone). He offered some wisdom on writing about places: all books on cities are failures, because there is no possible way one could truly paint a full picture. But he finds this liberating, and I’m taking this as encouraging news for all city bloggers out there!

We got to chat with Craig for a couple of minutes at the end, and it was lovely that someone who has created something so beautiful and poignant was so quick to laugh and down-to-earth. He says London is pretty much home now, and that while he misses his family in Canada, he talks to them practically every day (which I take as evidence that I was SO WRONGLY made fun of in grad school for doing the same thing).

After we mentioned that we went to university in Toronto, Craig smiled knowingly and said something along the lines of “Ah…the Brunswick House”. This is hilarious for reasons only known to Torontonians, so for anyone else I’m afraid you may have to wait until THAT book gets written to figure it out 😉 Now if you’ll excuse me…gotta go call my mother.