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The traveling column: Harry Potter culture in Edinburgh

For many Harry Potter fans that are not aware of the specifics behind J.K. Rowling’s creation of the franchise, London comes to mind as the primary real life setting for the series. In actuality, though, Edinburgh is also a primary location that inspired the incredible series. Honestly, my love for Harry Potter had a large impact on where I wanted to study abroad. Talking with other Harry Potter fans at the University of Edinburgh, which are easy to find, I found that Edinburgh as the city for Harry Potter is a very popular factor that students consider when they decide on coming to Edinburgh. Now after months of living in the Scottish capital, I have come to realize the many aspects, both negative and positive, of the Harry Potter connection to Edinburgh.

Thousands of tourists flock to the city every year to explore the many Harry Potter sights that contributed to Rowling’s formation of her wizarding world. Some famous spots include Greyfriars Kirkyard, Victoria Street, Potterrow, The Elephant House Café, George Heriot’s School and Balmoral Hotel. It is a usual occurrence to run into Harry Potter tour groups exploring the city, with the tour leader donned in a full Hogwarts uniform or wizard’s cloak. Harry Potter souvenir shops can be found everywhere in the city. Even random boutiques usually sell one or two items related to Harry Potter.

Though this is a Potterhead’s dream come true, it also poignantly shines a light on the commercialization of the magical series many have grown up with. Kitschy paraphernalia, misleading tours and intentional advertising begin to wear away the novelty of Edinburgh as the birthplace of Harry Potter. Visiting The Elephant House café, which claims itself as the place Rowling began writing the series, is one example of the consequences of the Harry Potter phenomenon on the city. What probably once was a relaxing popular café, one of many in the city, is now a tourist destination which has turned a visit to The Elephant House into a stressful experience, one in which you are expected to leave as quickly as possibly once seated at a table.

Though the Harry Potter series has absolutely contributed to Edinburgh’s tourist industry and overall economy, the sights have exchanged authenticity with marketability. There are even a few cafes with signs on their window saying that Harry Potter may have been written there also, highlighting how anywhere Rowling has ever been can be turned into a marketing strategy. Though there are many saddening aspects about the commercialization of Harry Potter, the vibrant and exciting magical culture that abounds in the city cannot be ignored. It really is an incredible experience to walk the historic streets of Edinburgh imagining that the city was Hogwarts or Diagon Alley instead.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter thrives in Edinburgh as fans of the series breathe life and attention to specific sights connected to the series. And this magical quality extends farther than the Harry Potter series as Edinburgh’s history is grounded in spooky, mysterious and curious events. It is not called one of the most haunted cities for nothing. Edinburgh’s more sinister side has inspired many authors, including Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ian Rankin and of course, J.K. Rowling.

Commercialization is the prize Edinburgh paid for a Harry Potter experience that is truly alive and tangible for many fans who are lucky enough to visit the city. Though the salability of the franchise has somewhat diminished my perspective of the city as novelty and chimera, my heart will always warm to anything remotely Harry Potter-related, and this is a feeling truly widespread among the community of Harry Potter fans.

Maria Marabito is a second-year student majoring in English writings track. MM883631@wcupa.edu

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