More on Harry Potter, the Glasgow connection


many people argue about influences on the Harry Potter series. I mostly think of J. R. R. Tolkien or C. S. Lewis. You could argue for other literary influences on the series, but such influences extend to people and places as well. One of those places, I’m discovering, is Glasgow, Scotland.
I don’t know how much time Rowling ever spent in Glasgow, but she must have visited, at least. Edinburgh, where Rowling lives, is just a short train ride away. And interestingly, the two cities share a similar rivalry to that of Edmonton and Calgary. Both are interesting places, historically and architecturally; and both are home to lovely people.
Edinburgh boasts the elephant House, “The birthplace of Harry Potter,” which I wrote about earlier this week. There’s a view of Edinburgh Castle from the window where Rowling allegedly worked on the first three books in the series. The castle, more like a fortress, is forbiddingly positioned on Castle rock above the town, and it must have figured somewhere into the series—perhaps Harry’s first sight of Hogwarts castle in Philosopher’s stone. But Glasgow has something else—two somethings, in fact.
If you walk up to Glasgow cathedral, a gorgeous medieval structure in the gothic style, you will find right next door St Mungo Museum of Life and Art. Yes, St Mungo. Mungo is the patron saint of Glasgow, died 612, CE, and it’s also the name given to the hospital in the Harry Potter series.
St Mungo’s doesn’t appear in the series until Goblet of fire, but Harry visits the hospital in order of the Phoenix. In the same book, we encounter the Fountain of Magical Brethren upon Harry’s visit to the Ministry of Magic. Here’s the description:
“Halfway down the hall was a fountain. A group of golden statues, larger than life-size, stood in the middle of a circular pool. Tallest of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch, a centaur, a goblin, and a house-elf. The last three were all looking adoringly up at the witch and wizard. Glittering jets of water were flying from the ends of the two wands, the point of the centaur’s arrow, the tip of the goblin’s hat, and each of the house-elf’s ears, so that the tinkling hiss of falling water was added to the pops and cracks of Apparators and the clatter of footsteps …”
Tell me the fountain of Magical Brethren wasn’t inspired by The doulton fountain, located today on Glasgow Green, first constructed in honour of queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, and set on display for the 1888 International Exhibition at Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow. Queen Victoria presiding over her colonies is too much like the fatuous wizard presiding over the witch and other magical creatures to be a coincidence. You may not agree, but it was the first thing I thought as my daughter and I walked round and round that fountain.
Glasgow is a fabulous city. It’s more like home in some ways than I ever thought a city could be. It’s known as the river city, just like Edmonton, except Glasgow boasts two rivers, the clyde and Kelvin. If you visit, you can spend time at the Glasgow Cathedral, St Mungo Museum, and take a walk on the Glasgow Green to check out the doulton Fountain. Many other sites await. Then, hop a train and visit Edinburgh, where you can find the Edinburgh castle and royal Mile, which, if you like castles, is the place to start. If you don’t, you won’t ever be without something to do. And don’t forget to drop into The elephant House for coffee or lunch—and bring a laptop or pen and paper so you can write in the back room and stare pensively at the walls of Edinburgh Castle as you do.

The Birthplace of Harry Potter


If you take a bus tour of Edinburgh, you can climb the narrow steps to the upper deck of the bus and get a bird’s-eye—or sort of bird’s-eye—view of this fascinating city. You will start your tour at the Waverley Station—the train station named for the novels by Sir Walter Scott. The bus takes you up the royal Mile, and under the imposing walls of Edinburgh Castle. The bus wanders through the old town, then travels into new town, built in the mid eighteenth century under the reign of George III. And never once during your one hour bus tour will your entertaining guide say anything about J. K. Rowling or Harry Potter.
Last August, my daughter and I visited Edinburgh Castle, but we didn’t have the chance to visit the elephant House, which claims to be the “birthplace of Harry Potter.” This time, we managed it.
We took the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I always love riding the train. We arrived at Waverley Station and walked up the Royal Mile to the Castle, checking out the shops along the way. We found a Harris Tweed shop, which I had a hard time leaving—I love tweed.
We spent time in St. giles’ cathedral, which was beautiful, before going onto the National Museum of Scotland, where we saw a fascinating exhibition of Celtic artifacts. I could say much about the innumerable ways popular culture has come to misrepresent the Celts, but I’m trying to keep this post short.
 

We ended our day with dinner at The elephant House, the “birthplace of Harry Potter.” I know that Rowling spent time in a café working on the first book, but I also know that calling the café the “birthplace of Harry Potter” is something of an exaggeration. I have read that she started writing the book while living in Spain, and I also read that she had the idea for the book while riding a train in England.
When I visited Oxford last summer, the tour guide on the bus claimed J. R. R. Tolkien wrote most of Lord of the rings sitting in The Eagle and Child—a ridiculous, if quaint  exaggeration. First of all, he had a job and a family, and he probably visited the pub a couple of times a week. However, you understand why these places want to lay claim to such writers. Its business, for one, and it’s a way to perpetuate myths about the writers we love. The problem with such claims is that they misrepresent and romanticize the lives of these authors.
Rowling no doubt spent time in The Elephant House working on the book about the boy wizard. However, I won’t for a second believe that she was sitting in the back of the cafe, gazing out at Edinburgh Castle in the distance, when she suddenly got the idea for Harry Potter. Of course, if by birthplace the elephant House means the protracted, painful labour of writing a book, then I’m more willing to accept their claim. Whether it’s actually the birthplace of Harry Potter or not, it was nice to sit and have dinner in the cafe. My daughter had beef casserole, and I had haggis, neeps, and tatties, which is haggis, turnip, and potatoes. A lovely way to end an interesting day.