This month marks 20 years since the first Harry Pot­ter book was pub­lished. Do­minic Wells ex­plains how you can fall un­der the spell of the sto­ries

Where London - - Contents - Clock­wise from top left: Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child; Plat­form 9¾ at King’s Cross sta­tion; spe­cial edi­tion of Harry Pot­ter and the Philoso­pher’s Stone Be­low, inset: Hog­warts at Warner Bros. Stu­dio Tour London

Re­live the magic of the books and films across the city and at Warner Bros. Stu­dio Tour London.

Has it re­ally been 20 years since the first Harry Pot­ter book was pub­lished? Yes, and here’s the proof: a new se­ries of spe­cialedi­tion cov­ers is re­leased by Blooms­bury Books this month. The chil­dren who first read Harry Pot­ter and the Philoso­pher’s Stone are grown up now, many with chil­dren of their own, yet the sto­ries have a time­less qual­ity that means they don’t date. They are steeped in an ex­ag­ger­ated English board­ing school tra­di­tion that makes Harry Pot­ter as recog­nis­able an em­blem of Bri­tish­ness as James Bond, Sher­lock Holmes or the Queen – and just as big an at­trac­tion for vis­i­tors to London.

The book that J.K. Rowl­ing wrote in an Ed­in­burgh café as an im­pov­er­ished sin­gle mother, and which ini­tially strug­gled to find a pub­lisher, has now be­come a global fran­chise with seven books, eight Harry Pot­ter films, a new film se­ries of Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and even a suc­cess­ful stage show: Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child is still the West End’s hottest ticket, a year af­ter it opened. Its in­no­va­tive stag­ing has won over the critics as well as Pot­ter fans: it won the 2016 Evening Stan­dard The­atre Award for Best Play, and was nom­i­nated for 11 Oliviers, more than any other show. Tick­ets to the sold-out pro­duc­tion change hands for hun­dreds of pounds on ticket re­sale web­sites, but 40 tick­ets at just £20 each are re­leased on­line at 1pm ev­ery Fri­day. Just round the cor­ner from the Palace The­atre, where The Cursed Child is show­ing, is a sell­ing ex­hi­bi­tion de­voted to the art of Harry Pot­ter. The film se­ries was renowned for the exquisite crafts­man­ship that went into all the props and cos­tumes, and here you can see news­pa­pers, magazines and posters cre­ated for the wizard­ing world by the graphic de­sign team of Mi­raphora Mina and Ed­uardo Lima. Two floors of the House of Mi­naLima, their pop-up shop on Greek Street in Soho, are de­voted to the Harry Pot­ter films, and an­other for Fan­tas­tic Beasts. Or per­haps you would like to show off your own knowl­edge of the se­ries? St Margaret’s House in Beth­nal Green, east London, hosts a Harry Pot­ter quiz ev­ery month or so – see if you can let out your in­ner Hermione Granger and pass your O.W.L. ex­ams with fly­ing colours.

Just 10 min­utes from there you’ll dis­cover one of the great Harry Pot­ter lo­ca­tions in Lead­en­hall Mar­ket, the el­e­gant, or­nate Vic­to­rian ar­cade which pro­vided the set­ting for Di­agon Al­ley in The Philoso­pher’s Stone. The en­trance to the Leaky Caul­dron pub for wiz­ards is, in re­al­ity, an op­ti­cians in Bull’s Head Pas­sage. Walk east to­wards St Paul’s, and you’ll find the Mil­len­nium Bridge link­ing the cathe­dral to the Tate Mod­ern art gallery on the South Bank. This slen­der sil­ver scim­i­tar of a bridge was mem­o­rably ripped up and de­stroyed in the wake of the fly­ing De­men­tors in The Half-Blood Prince – a witty ref­er­ence to the fact that, when it was first built, it was nick­named ‘the bendy bridge’, since it vis­i­bly swayed when crowds of peo­ple walked over it.

Other no­table London lo­ca­tions seen in the Harry Pot­ter films in­clude Pic­cadilly Cir­cus, where Harry, Hermione and Ron have to jump out of the way of a London bus in The Deathly Hal­lows; Lam­beth Bridge, which the Knight Bus races across in The Pris­oner of Azk­a­ban; Tower Bridge, which Harry and friends swooped past on broom­sticks in The Or­der of the Phoenix; and the grand St Pan­cras Re­nais­sance Ho­tel, from which the mag­i­cal Ford Anglia takes to the skies in The Cham­ber of Se­crets. Just across the road from there, in King’s Cross sta­tion, you will find the of­fi­cial Harry Pot­ter Shop at Plat­form 9¾. For more in-depth ex­plo­ration, there are many guided Harry Pot­ter walks and bus tours; or you can down­load a free walk­ing tour at www.the-ma­gi­cian.co.uk.

The de­gree to which Harry Pot­ter has gone from a hum­ble chil­dren’s story to a clas­sic beloved by all gen­er­a­tions is shown by the fact that The Bri­tish Li­brary, no less, will be host­ing the 20th an­niver­sary ex­hi­bi­tion, A His­tory of Magic (from 20 Oct).

Jamie An­drews, Head of Cul­ture and Learn­ing, says: ‘We are thrilled to be work­ing with J.K. Rowl­ing and Blooms­bury to mark the 20th an­niver­sary of Harry Pot­ter, and to in­spire fans with the magic of our own col­lec­tion.’

Af­ter 20 years, read­ers and view­ers are still spell­bound by J.K. Rowl­ing’s tales of alchemy, magic and fan­tas­tic beasts of yore. ■

Clock­wise from top: Mil­len­nium Bridge; Harry Pot­ter Shop mer­chan­dise; Forbidden For­est at Warner Bros. Stu­dio Tour; Harry Pot­ter Walk­ing Tour; J.K. Rowl­ing

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