England, where everything is like Harry Potter…


It’s been a while since I’ve let on that I’m a Harry Potter fan, so I thought I’d share a few reflections on the film (and upcoming book) from the point of view of a foreign student in the UK.

First of all, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opens with a `serious’ scene which vindicated the British-ness of the entire movie*. The film starts opens with a bright, cloudless summer day. Zoom into a somber Harry Potter, sitting on a playground swing contemplating how hard life is as a boy-wizard. After his bully of a cousin and his cronies start to pick a fight with Potter, the creepy music background music cues as suddenly ominous storm clouds gather above and the sky immediately above begins to darken. Soon it begins to rain and the temperature drops. American Potter-fans will be quick to explain this meteorological anomaly as coming from the presence of soul-eating Dementors lurking about to attack Harry Potter.

No. Anyone who’s been in the UK this summer will know that this has nothing to do with magic.

That’s just the way the weather is here. 🙂

Honestly — today I walked to my office wearing sandals, only to be startled by the sound of thunder an hour later. When the weather cleared a bit, I decided to run home to get a jacket since it was chilly… only by the time I returned to my office it was sunny again. The Californian in me would have had his heart broken if it werent’ for a few choice days in Spring where I was caught wearing shorts and a hawaiian t-shirt while it was hailing outside. (In fact, it hailed twice that day with a period of sun in between.)

But I digress. I mentioned American** Potter-fans… I was tickled earlier in the day when a colleague was sad that he’ll be in Boston for a conference when the last Harry Potter book is released. He was concerned that he’d miss the all the excitement. Suffice it to say that there will be more people in Boston’s midnight release parties than would fit in all of Durham. I would know — at age 20, I was the oldest kid at a Book 6 release party to be accompanied by a parent. (My mother had just picked me up from the airport.) “Oh is that your little one? Just finishing up first grade? Yeah, mine is looking at postgraduate schools.”

In an earlier post, I gave a list of summer reading for future American students in the UK. One good comment asked why I hadn’t put up the Potter books. The answer? If you’re going to the UK to study (especially in Oxbridge), then you really should see the films. I like the books better myself, but nothing gives you a common ground to understand the Oxbridge experience like the Harry Potter films. From the architecture (parts were filmed in Oxford and Durham, among other places) to the customs (matriculation feast with high table, gowns, end of year exams), I found myself remembering bits and pieces of my past year. [Like that time when my friends and I found the sorcerer’s stone under the CMS… or the other time when we defeated a basilisk in the Trinity wine cellars…]

In the film, ministry-appointed faculty Dolores Umbridge comments that “progress for progess sake [should be avoided]” — what a very Oxbridge thing to say! Rowling does take a few choice jabs at UK education reform and tabloids in her own way.

Anyway, the final book is on it’s way. I’m not sure if I have it in me to wait in line at midnight anymore (I’m an old man now), but hopefully I can finish reading the book before my adviser gets back. 🙂

By the way, for those who graduate from Harry Potter and are still looking for their fix of very-British magic, I recommend Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It passed the time very well when I had no in-room Internet connection. It’s something of a mix between a grown-up Harry Potter and Nabokov’s Pale Fire. The book rivals the Potter series at least in sheer girth. Number of times the book mentions Durham: 2. Number of times it mentions Cambridge: 0.

(Apparently the North is just historically deeper rooted in the English magic tradition… but you’ll have to read the book to learn that.)

* – As if the films didn’t already have the reputation of hiring every British actor/actress except Hugh Lorry (Dr. House), who is `in disguise’ as an American.

** – If you can’t properly place the accents of Seamus Finnigan and Cho Chang, then you’re not British. And, if you mix up the Irish and Scottish accents, then you’re probably American.


2 Responses to “England, where everything is like Harry Potter…”

  1. Facebook only, but here you can see a wand-fighting http://cambridge.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=30734648&op=4&o=all&view=all&subj=36907960&id=36908368

    The girl doing the lunge is Jenny, one of the knitters in the lectures of History of Maths, and one of these persons who seem to live the Colleges as if it were their natural habitat. I remember to hear her singing in one of the student plays, in Peterhouse. Rowling speaks a lot about sports, but not a word about student amateur theatre. Perhaps is it because Potter is about a secondary school, and not a university college?

    (BTW, Secondary school theater in Spain is horrible, mostly recitations of Lorca in frozen frames. I guess the UK equivalent is MidSummer Night).

  2. 2 robert

    Hugh Laurie is an enormous credit to his Alma Mater. Not only is he a consumate comic and, occasionally, serious actor and a considerable musician (remember the episode of House in which he excised half the brain of an idiot savant pianist to restore him to a normal, if less talented, life), as a student he rowed in the University Eight and was something of a ladies’ man (Emma Thompson has likened him to a well-hung eel, and she should know). Which minor character in the Potter canon could fully exercise the talents of to such a polymath?

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