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In Search of Harry Potter

In Search of Harry Pottera travel memoir by Steve Vander Ark

How did this book come about?

A few years ago I did a couple of talks at Nimbus 2003 in Orlando, Florida, the first Harry Potter convention. One of them was about the geography of Harry Potter. Fans were fascinated with what I had put together. Over the years I collected more and more information about the geography of the stories. I realised quite quickly that the geography of the fictional world Rowling created intersected with the real geography of Britain in some very interesting ways.

A few places were named in the books, like King's Cross Station or Charing Cross Road. Most, however, were not so specific. Most of these could be described as 'typical' British places, such as a farm in the Devon countryside or a mill town in the North. I knew that I wasn't going to find a particular place for these locations, but I wanted to find out in general what they were like. As an American fan, I didn't really have a very good concept of what, say, the Scottish Highlands looked like. However, I came to learn that my British friends were just as intrigued by this as I was.

I've been asked over and over if the places in this book are the actual ones Rowling used as her models for locations in the Harry Potter series. My answer a qualified 'no'. In some cases, a certain location may have suggested a location to her, such as Ottery St Mary as being the model for Ottery St Catchpole. However, in most cases there is no way to determine that kind of specific connection.

What I wanted to find were places that reminded me of the places in the books, places which had a sense of magic about them. When I went looking for Grimmauld Place, for example, I knew I wasn't going to find one particular square that Rowling had chosen. Instead, I wanted to walk into a square in the right area of London according to the Harry Potter books and be surprised, to have a sense that this was the place. I wanted to find something different from the rest of the squares in that area. And if you read that part of In Search of Harry Potter, you'll see that I actually did find a square like that.

What places did you go looking for ?

Here's the list of places:

King's Cross Station

Godric's Hollow churchyard

What did you find?

In just about every case, I found a lot more than I expected to find. For example, in looking for the Burrow I was astounded to discover a farm by that name located exactly where the Burrow was found in the Harry Potter books. I am not suggesting that Rowling drove down that tiny lane and discovered the same farm before writing Chamber of Secrets. But finding that farm -- and a lot of other similarly surprising places -- was quite a fantastic experience. That's the kind of delight I want to share with fans in this book.

Did you go to the film locations?

I did go to a few, but that wasn't really what this book was about. The film locations are chosen for how cool they look, not for how accurate they are to the stories themselves. I wanted to find places which matched the clues in the books, not the places where they filmed the movies.

How do I order the book?


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Original page date 28-September-2008; Last page update July 7, 2012.