Today’s post is an extract from RENÉE WARD ON HARRY POTTER: UNIVERSAL’S THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER,THE WARNERS BROS
For now see her chapter in the book accompanying this site (go to Home or About). For now enjoy her comments on Studio Tours and English heritage sites associated with Harry Potter
A number of historical sites attract tourists by offering a range of interactive activities connected to the films and books.
Gloucester Cathedral and Christ Church College, for instance, both run tours that highlight film set locations. The Harry Potter Gloucester Cathedral Tour promises to reveal secrets about how the religious nature of the buildings, along with their modern amenities, were camouflaged during film production (Gloucester’s Harry Potter Trail 2003), while the Behind the Scenes tour at Christ Church teases that its Great Hall has only one moving picture, but that it is an important one (Visitor Information: Harry Potter 2011).
The village of Lacock also offers Harry Potter inspired seasonal events, including its Witches and Wizards Potion Trail, which leads people through the Abbey grounds and highlights the ingredients they must collect in order to concoct their ‘very own pretend “Lacock Potion”‘ (What’s On 2013). Alnwick Castle provides more elaborate ‘Potter-themed activities, from Broomstick Training to magic shows [that] feature characters inspired by Harry and Hagrid’ (Film and Television at Alnwick Castle 2013).
The attraction of experiential activities is most evident at Universal’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, in Orlando, Florida, and at the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour, in Leavesden, England. Annually, an astounding volume of people travel from around the globe to these sites. Universal’s addition of the immersive Wizarding World, for example, boosted the resort’s overall attendance to record-breaking levels (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter 2013). While on the grounds, fans engage in a variety of activities based onHarry’s experiences. They attend a wand demonstration at Ollivander’s; drink butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks; buy Cauldron Cakes from Honeydukes; explore novelty items such as Sneakoscopes and Extendable Ears at Zonko’s; and travel through the full-scale replica of Hogwarts while en-route to the main attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. This ride simulates a Quidditch match and exposes fans to some of the dangers Harry faces in the series, such as Acromantula, dragons, and Dementors. While some of these attractions demonstrate fidelity to the books and/or films—for instance, the Ollivander’s experience employs narrative verbatim from The Philosopher’s Stone—a number are primarily amalgamations. Although Universal identifies its Harry Potter village as Hogsmeade, many of the shops derive from Diagon Alley. Likewise, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is a composite experience rather than a simulacrum of a specific Quidditch match. At the time of writing, though, Universal appears to be working towards greater similitude.
A second theme park opened in 2014 featuring Diagon Alley. New shops and experiences will be available to fans, including Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions and Quality Quidditch Supplies. For the peckish, a British pub-meal can be acquired at the Leaky Cauldron, while those with a sweet tooth can seek treats at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. Perhaps the most promising additions, at least for thrill-seekers and those who desire an immersive experience, are Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, which Universal describes as a “multi-dimensional new thrill ride” (The Wizarding World 2014), and the Hogwarts Express, the family-oriented ride that connects the two Harry Potter parks. The latter option includes an experience of passage from King’s Cross Station to the magical Platform 9 ¾, as well as “never before seen” views of the Black Lake as the train approaches Hogwarts (Rumor SPOTLIGHT 2014). Riders beware, however. This immersive train-ride will also expose fans to an actual Demontor attack, “replete with ice-cold air being pumped into the cabin” (Rumor SPOTLIGHT 2014).
Fans who desire an experience with greater fidelity might prefer the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour. An exploration of the Leavesden studio, the tour provides considerable behind-the-scenes information about the creation of sets, costumes, props, and special effects, including those with medieval origins. The tour’s fi rst stop is the Great Hall. Here, fans explore the medieval-inspired architectural features of Hogwarts, such as its stained glass windows, ribbed pillars and vaults, and decorated capitals and lintels. Next, they examine a series of scale models and a narrative of the set’s relationship to the Great Hall at Christ Church College. The potions classroom similarly demonstrates the influence of medieval architecture, this time through Romanesque features such as those at Durham Cathedral and Lacock Abbey. Gilded calligraphic lines—primarily of the English and Latin names of potions ingredients—frame the dungeon’s rounded archways. At the Gryffindor common room, fans view the full-scale replica of a medieval tapestry and watch a video that discusses the room’s design inspirations. The video includes information on The Lady and the Unicorn: To My Only Desire, the fifteenth-century tapestry upon which designers modelled the Gryffindor wall-hanging.
The Warner Bros. tour culminates in an experience that borders on reverent and that evokes the spiritual aspect of medieval pilgrimage. Although fans meander within the two main studio buildings at leisure, the tour exit requires that they pass through a type of holy space and pay homage to the on-site relic: the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts Castle and grounds. The tour’s fi nal phase starkly contrasts the sensory-overload that characterizes many of the sets. The path out of Diagon Alley takes tour-goers into a pristine and bright space called the Production Designer room, where black and white images and diagrams, along with plans for sets, animatronics, and paintings, paper the walls. The Production Designer room opens into a similarly lit hallway that features artists’ renderings of characters, sets, and costumes, and then feeds into an ascending switch-back ramp. On display along the ramp are white paper models of sets, ranging from Hogwarts’ classrooms to the Durmstrang ship. As tour-goers ascend the ramp, the volume of the Harry Potter soundtrack, which plays in the background, increases. Intermittent light changes—blue to white, then white to blue—flood the entrance of the room at the top of the ramp. The displays emphasize the care that went into every item within the film franchise, while the path builds to the collection’s masterpiece. At the top of the ramp and around the corner, fans encounter the Hogwarts model, set alternately in day-time and night-time lighting. The tour’s finale is awe-inspiring.
With his adaptations of Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, director Christopher Columbus initiated the trend of employing medieval historical sites as sets for the Harry Potter film franchise. Columbus selected locations such as the Gloucester Cathedral Cloisters and Alnwick Castle as the backdrop for Hogwarts and its environs. The Gloucester Cloisters includes examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, and is especially known for its fan-vaulting, decorated capitals, and medieval and heraldic stained glass windows. Audiences can glimpse such features while viewing the films: the East Cloister becomes a Hogwarts hallway, while the West Slype, the entrance to the West Walk, houses the doorway to the Gryffindor Common Room; the Cloisters’ courtyard, the Garth, becomes the garden space in which a tearful Hermione rushes past Harry and Ron, and the North Walk Lavatorium transforms into the hallway in which the boys first encounter the troll. Similarly, the exterior and grounds of Alnwick, a composite construction upon the foundations of a Norman castle, are the site of the Quidditch lesson in the first film, and the site of the Ford Anglia crash in the second film.
Other medieval sites used in the films include Durham Cathedral, which appears as interior and exterior shots of Hogwarts and provides the backdrop for Professor McGonagall’s classroom; the Lacock Abbey Chapter House, which appears in classroom shots in the early films; and Lacock Village, which operates as the village where, in film six, Dumbledore and Harry seek Horace Slughorn. Durham Cathedral demonstrates some of the earliest examples of the architectural developments of the High Middle Ages. Most notably, it provides some of Britain’s best examples of late eleventh- and early twelfth-century Romanesque stonework, and illustrates the transition from groin-vaults and rounded archways to ribbed-vaults and pointed archways. These developments increased the weight-bearing capacities of buildings and allowed for greater heights to be reached, thus paving the way for the Gothic style. The thirteenth-century Lacock Abbey includes various Gothic and Gothic Revival features, such as fan-vaulting and oriel windows, while the connected medieval village includes architectural styles ranging from period cottages to half-timbered houses.
The most recognizable architectural reference for Harry Potter fans, though, is likely to be the model for the Great Hall at Hogwarts: the Great Hall at Christ Church College, Oxford. With its Christ Church-inspired high, vaulted ceilings and stained glass, the Great Hall at Hogwarts appears repeatedly in the films, and has a variety of functions. It serves as a dining and gathering space; as the location of the Yule Ball; as overnight accommodations in times of duress; as the location of the final duel between Harry and Voldemort; and, in the aftermath of the final battle, as a place of recovery and mourning. While the films themselves are inherently anachronistic—their sets may have medieval origins but remain imbued with contemporary trappings—they provide for audiences visual access to excellent examples of medieval architecture.
By Renée Ward (See her chapter, Harry Potter and Medievalism, in the book accompanying this website)