It must have been when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (#6) was released that T and I gave up trying to share a copy and instead each bought our own. That tactic continued through #7, HP and the Deathly Hallows, and I very clearly remember reading side-by-side in bed, both our noses buried in our respective books, flying through the pages as fast our eyes and brains could carry us. It was thrilling: the story; the fanciful shared flight; the total immersion in a great tale.
When I closed the back cover of the Deathly Hallows, I did so with real sadness. The epilogue was terrible and unnecessary, so certainly I mourned that rare misstep by Rowling, but most of my grief was because there was no more Harry Potter to be read. My maiden voyage with the series was finally over, and I considered that fact fairly awful.
The films, excepting number 4 (the Goblet of Fire which certainly deserved and needed the two-part treatment granted the Deathly Hallows, and was quite miscast) were marvelous and have provided repeat succor. David Yates really finished things off with a directorial bang; films 5, 6 and both parts of 7 were masterfully executed.
Jack was ensorcelled by Harry Potter when he started book 1 several years ago. We told him that as he finished each book, we'd all watch that movie together. (That means that second child Oliver has seen all the movies despite being only halfway through having book 1 read aloud to him. Alas.) J took a hiatus after book 6 but became re-energized early this summer when London started looming, so we encouraged him to read HP 7 so that we could watch the movie before heading here. He finished it a couple weeks ago and was as crushed as I was when he finished. To my delight, he immediately started reading the series again.
All of us got to come full circle on our Harry Potter fandom yesterday when we trekked out to the Warner Brothers studio where much of each film was shot. There you tour many of the original sets, see thousands of original props, learn about the make-up and costume creations, see the blueprints and variously scaled models of Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, etc, and also about how the creatures and other magical beings were constructed and filmed.
It was really an outstanding place that in no way disappointed; I absolutely had as much fun as the kids did. The attention to detail was inspiring: 17,000 wooden wand boxes labelled with hand-written notes; 400 place settings at the students' tables in the Great Hall whose real stone floor added to the grandeur of the set; various animatronic items that made magic come alive. In this case I think pictures say it all, so here you go.
Harry Potter fans: what do y'all recognize?
One of my favorite parts of the experience was the enormous range of people there. There were just as many teens as younger children, and adults of all ages were there with their families but also on their own. A number of people were dressed in costume. I heard at least six different languages being spoken and am certain there were many more in the (very well-managed) crowd.
What all that really proves is that Rowling touched a representative sample of everyone with Harry Potter. The series' demonstrations of kindness, hard work, loyalty and courage; portrayal of good and evil and the battle between them; honest take on fairness and justice as something that should be striven for but is often elusive in the real world; respectful treatment of children and the very real capabilities they possess; belief in the power of progressive education; and the wish so many of us have for magic to be real are appealing on multiple levels and in various ways. They are universal themes or goals that we can all understand and desire.
Everyone at the studio was a big fan having fun in the unabashed way children do. At the green screen station where you can "fly" on a broom and "drive" the blue Ford Anglia that Harry and Ron crash into the Whomping Willow, I donned robes (Gryffindor, naturally! The kids chose Slytherin- what?!) and hopped on that broom as quickly as did the kids. It was such a blast.
Hilariously, Oliver wore a green shirt that exactly matched the green screen color and so on the screen looked invisible except for his head and hands. He said, "It's like I'm wearing the invisibility cloak." The people in line were laughing hysterically!
Tips for if you visit:
Buy your tickets well in advance and get to the studio early. Kids under 4 are free though I don't think this is a great venue for such little ones, and various packages are available. We bought the family package.
The tour is mostly self-guided though you can rent (~£4.99) an audio component for extra information. Tom really enjoyed all he learned via his. The boys and I just roamed and took in plenty that way. We spent about four hours total from lobby back to lobby.
The studio, which is in Watford, is about a 40-minute drive from London. You can take public transportation there but not in a direct fashion. We took an Uber which was easier, faster and not much more expensive than taking the tube and buses you'd need to otherwise.
You can bring your own food and drink which is lovely. If you don't feel like schlepping vitals out to the studio, the two cafes (Studio and Backlot) offer really nice salads, sandwiches, burgers and such at reasonable prices. The food is loads better than anything you'd find at an American studio or theme park. For example, I had a couscous salad with beets and goat cheese, and the boys had a beautiful hamburger on a glistening brioche bun that came with stunning lettuce leaves (NOT iceberg) and gigantic tomato slice.
The gift shops are pricey though I admit that much (not all but much) of the merchandise is nice. We did a spin before going on the tour so the kids could be thinking about what they might want to spend their money on. I think that was helpful because as they went through the visit, certain things faded or became more beloved in their minds.
We've had the kids saving their own money from gifts and such and have asked them to buy their own souvenirs. It's been meaningful for them and a great lesson on budgeting, and hey, we are treating them to this trip.
Bring a camera and wear comfortable shoes!
Try to get a good night's sleep before you go. I hope you do. It's well worth it!