Being 4000 miles or more away from family, we needed to come up with creative ways to help celebrate birthdays of our grandchildren. Our grandson Eamon is celebrating his 11th birthday today, so we decided to take the Harry Potter Trail Tour around Edinburgh, Scotland and dedicate this blog posting to Eamon.
It is only in Edinburgh that one can walk on the Harry Potter Trail, for it is here that J.K. Rawlings wrote her stories. She got the idea for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone", the first book in the series, while on a boring train ride from Manchester, England to London. J.K. tabled these thoughts for personal reasons until a much later date. Several years later, living in Edinburgh, poor, a single parent, and unable to find a job, she decided to put her book idea into reality. Up to this point, her only experience at storytelling were the stories she told her younger sister while growing up. She traded the mouse and rabbit characters of these earlier stories for Harry Potter. What a trade! Luckily for J.K. (Joanne Kathleen), her brother-in-law owned Nicolson's cafe (later renamed Spoons) just off the Royal Mile, where she would sit writing some of her stories.
Taking a writing course at Edinburgh University made her realize the importance of utilizing ones surroundings for inspiration. Thus, she only had to look around Edinburgh for settings and characters. Edinburgh is the perfect place to create stories of a boy wizard going to magic school. Potterow bridge was a walkway J.K. took daily while commuting from the university to home, and the Tariot building and McCuen Hall (which became settings in her books) were part of Edinburgh University. But where did the name "Harry Potter" come from? Many of her character names came from gravestones in the cemetery at Greyfriars just down the street from the university. Here we can find the graves of Thomas Riddell (who became Lord Valdemort in the series), and McGonagall (played by Maggie Smith). From the graveyard one can see the George Heriot school founded in 1628 which inspired the creation of Hogwarts School of Magic. Like the fictional Hogwarts, the Heriot school is divided into four houses; green, yellow, blue, and red. The headmaster of Hogwarts, Professor Albus Dumbledor (which in old English means bumblebee) reportedly was based on Alfred Dunn, the headmaster of J.K.'s English childhood school. While the Elephant House restaurant claims to be the birthplace of the Harry Potter series, it just isn't so! Rawlings wrote the last half of her second book , as well as parts of books three and four, there. The first book was written at Nicolson's (now known as Spoons). Her readers have made the bathrooms of the Elephant House into graffiti shrines dedicated to the characters of the Harry Potter series. The Balmoral Hotel in the new town section of Edinburgh is where Rawlings wrote the last chapter in the series. A stay in room 652 will cost four times what a stay in any other room would set you back, but you will have the opportunity to see the cat statue placed on the mantle on which Rawlings wrote "J.K. Rawlings finished writing "Harry Potter and the Deathly Harrows" in this room(652) on January 11, 2007" in celebration of her finishing the series. By the way, Rawlings was not charged for vandalizing the statue. On the contrary, the hotel increased the price of the room, thus making money from her act of vandalism.
It is in this city that Harry Potter came alive, not just for J.K. Rawlings but also for the rest of the world.
p.s. Rawlings really had no middle name. "Kathleen" was made up to give Joanne better sounding initials in a man's world and to appeal to boy readers. She had received many rejections of her first book before Bloomsbury Publishing accepted the manuscript for publication. Today, she is worth more than a billion dollars. Some say that she now is richer than Queen Elizabeth. Rawlings went from a poor, single parent, living on unemployment benefits to the richest female writer in the world, due to her persistency. She loved writing, but most of all she believed in the magic of Harry Potter.