Thus Born the Boy Wizard: Tracing J.K. Rowling Steps in Edinburgh

When you go to Edinburgh, you might pass by this seemingly ordinary little cafe called the elephant house and not even bat an eye.

the elephant house, Edinburgh

But upon further inspection, you’d see that there’s a rather obnoxious sign on its front glass:

the elephant house, Edinburgh
The Elephant House: Birthplace of Harry Potter

Yes, when J.K. Rowling was writing her first and second Harry Potter books, she was so poor that she found it cheaper to buy a cup of coffee and wrote in this cafe the whole day, rather than paying for her heating bill at home.

the elephant house back window
The backside of the elephant house cafe

Every day J.K. Rowling would sit on that third floor and stare out of the window. (I did not have time to go in, but I heard the cafe made a little sanctuary for her – after the books got giganormously famous of course.)

What did she see from that window?

First there’s a cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard. And further in the distance, the towers of George Heriot’s School:

Greyfriars Kirkyard and George Heriot's School

George Heriot’s School is prestigious private school in Edinburgh, with four houses and four towers – a clear inspiration for Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry:

George Heriot's School

George Heriot’s School was built in 1628 with the funding from George Heriot, who left his estate to build a school for orphaned children. Thus it is an irony that the school became so prestigious that presently only the richest can afford to go to this large private school. Unless you’re a rich orphan I guess. (The school ground is all locked up, so I couldn’t get a better picture. Above picture was taken from a closed gate in the Greyfriars cemetery.)

So when J.K. Rowling was taking a break and trying to find inspiration, she would roam around the cemetery just behind the elephant house cafe.

She would read the names on the tombstones one by one — as you do when you need name inspiration for the books you’re writing. (click to enlarge pictures)

Moodie, Greyfriars cemetery, Edinburgh
Elizabeth Moodie – Mad-Eye Moody anyone?
William McGonagall, Greyfriars cemetery
William McGonagall – for Professor McGonagall (this is just next to the gate of George Heriot’s School). I like how he is known as “Tragedian”.
Thomas Riddle, Greyfriars cemetery
And the scariest of them all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Thomas Riddle – Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort)

I would say the experience of seeing the tomb of Tom Riddle was rather creepy.

On a lighter note, there’s this pub in Edinburgh called Maggie Dickson’s Pub:

Maggie Dickson's Pub, Edinburgh
Maggie Dickson’s Pub, Edinburgh

Maggie Dickson lived in the early 18th century and was subjected to public hanging for concealing pregnancy outside of marriage – which is pretty much the worst law breaking act you could do as a woman at the time! So she was hung at the public square and her body was taken away in a cart. Not very far away yet, the cart man heard knocking and banging from inside the coffin. Maggie Dickson was still alive! They rushed back to the square – where the crowd hadn’t even quite dispersed yet. Some people thought that Maggie should be hung again, and some people thought technically she had, and if she survived the execution she should be allowed to live.

At the end she did live for many more years. Maggie Dickson became a local celebrity and she is known as Half Hangit’ Maggie.

If that sounds familiar at all, that is because Half Hangit’ Maggie was the inspiration for Nearly Headless Nick :)

Wandering around Edinburgh, you could see how J.K. Rowling was inspired to write Harry Potter – what a fantastic city full of stories and storytellers. All the pubs based on some quirky characters, like Maggie Dickson, Burke and Hare, and Deacon Brodie (the inspiration for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Edinburgh is also known as the most haunted city in Europe!

Anyway I think if there’s a moral to the story, it is:

Be nice to customers who hang out at your cafe all day long though they only buy a cup of coffee. You never know if later she becomes the person who writes Harry Potter and turns to be the richest woman in the UK. (yes, more than the Queen)


Thus Born the Boy Wizard: Tracing J.K. Rowling Steps in Edinburgh is cross-posted at my travel blog Wandering Mee.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

31w-lnnubl_sl160_I finally finished the Potter series. Surge of sadness just came flooding after the last page because it has ended. It’s like leaving your good friends knowing that you may never see each other again. You can only occasionally revisit the good memories, but nothing further. No more adventure, no danger, no more secrets revealed. From now on it would be ordinary lives for Harry, Hermione, and Ron. Yes I AM sad. I guess as a reader it’s a good sign when you’re sad that a book has ended though. *sigh*

Since it’s no use for me to really review a book that has been read by millions, I’m just gonna put some afterthoughts. So beware!

*** SPOILERS BELOW ***

I’m quite surprised how I managed to avoid spoilers until now. I knew that Harry doesn’t die, because if he does, the world would roar. I think that applies to both Hermione and Ron too. Someone did spoil it for me that Dumbledore dies. But I couldn’t accept it at that time until I read it for myself. I thought the guy probably just said it to upset me. It was still a shocking moment of truth when Dumbledore gets killed.

Things that people predicted were correct. There’s something more with Snape. He’s not just one evil guy. Good for him. I thought I was really supposed to see it coming: Snape fell in love with Harry’s mom Lily, but I just didn’t. Maybe because it’s a bit too far-fetched. Like you wouldn’t have guessed that Snape and Lily have been childhood playmates out of thin air. But now that it’s out in the open, it probably makes sense. I’m wondering what happens if I were in Dumbledore position. Would I trust Snape because he cries in front of me for his lost love? Couldn’t that just be all lies and his loyalty was actually for Voldemort? Hard to say.

I loved to read about Dumbledore. All the news and people’s opinions, his past and history. They make him a lot more human and add a lot of layers to his character. Nothing I love more than layered characters. His relationship with Grindelwald makes the book feel more grown-up, though for me it’s more because of their romantic/sexual relationship than the dark magic. :P So mysterious!

About Voldemort, in a way I’m glad that he was defeated in one blow, rather than a typical “just can’t die” enemy who is dead and alive again, dead and alive again, though I’m not sure if I’m really happy with the reason (about the whole mastering the Elder Wand thing). The story about the Elder Wand was a bit confusing and it’s hard to believe that Harry could solve the mystery by himself, that he knew to be the master of the wand, you don’t need to kill the previous master, just disarm him. That way you become the master without even holding the wand. It also gives the wand an unbelievably huge role in defeating Voldemort. I’m not sure if I’m happy that Harry’s triumph totally depends on the wand. Before that I thought the big name wand was probably just a mere object at the end, then people find out that nobody has the advantage by holding the wand.

JKR also killed a few beloved characters, almost unnecessarily, because they’re not given any “screen time” at the time of their killings. It feels like she just needs to kill a few of them, because in that big of a war, there has to be deaths! Otherwise it’s too happy and unrealistic. But really, she could have elaborated their final moments in more dramatic way to satisfy the fans.

The fast forward was a bit rush. I honestly want to know more about all of the surviving characters. I went to Wiki to find out. Apparently she talked about the other characters in interviews: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on Wiki. Rowling tells what happens next. I don’t know why she didn’t just include the stories in the book. I guess it’s hard not to overdo it. People have fallen in love with all these characters and they obviously want to know every little details about what happens next to them. But perhaps there’s no end to it. People keep wanting to know more and more and it’s not possible to include all of them, or else it’d be another whole new book. (which I don’t mind actually. Just a whole book about the aftermaths of the big war and how the characters rebuild their lives again. Yuum.)

Anyway, it’s hard not to be critical of this last book in the series. We grow fond of the characters. We want the best. Something perfect! But that’s not possible. So just trust the author that she has done her best to tie up this beloved story. We’ll miss you Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the folks. *tearing*

One little thing, does anyone know why they need to wear the locket all the time when they know it’s so destructible? Why can’t they just put it in the bead bag or Harry’s pouch? Is it just because they don’t want it “lying around”? But they carry the pouch and the bead bag all the time anyway. This little detail annoyed me so much through and through.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pages: 607
Publication year: 2007

First line
The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.

Last line
All was well.

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The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

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The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a delightful tiny book! To tell you the truth, I had low expectation when I picked up the book (which was accidentally just sitting on the library shelf when I passed by), because there’s nothing could be near as good as Harry Potter coming from J.K. Rowling, am I right? Well, even though I am right – it’s nothing Potter – I enjoyed it immensely.

First, if you have not read Harry Potter series, don’t pick up this book. Somehow I got the impression before that this was a stand-alone book. It is in a way, but it had major spoiler for the Potter series. So only pick it up if you have read up until Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at least (that’s number 6). I read this book in parallel with Deathly Hallows coincidentally, so I was fine. And it was somehow interesting that when I got to the point where Hermione received The Tales of Beedle the Bard, I was actually reading the Tales at the same time. It just made it more precious in a funny way. Like you KNOW the content of the book when they didn’t (because it hasn’t been translated at that point).

The Tales of Beedle the Bard consists of 5 short fairy tales (sort of, with no fairies): The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump, and The Tale of The Three Brothers (which appears in the last HP). Each followed by Dumbledore’s commentary. The tales themselves are short and nothing deep, like most fairy tales, but they’re about wizards and witches.

“Beedle’s stories resemble our fairy tales in many respects; for instance, virtue is usually rewarded and wickedness punished. However there is one very obvious difference. In Muggle fairy tales, magic tends to lie at the root of the hero or heroine’s troubles – the wicked witch has poisoned the apple, or put the princess into a hundred years’ sleep, or turned the prince into a hideous beast. In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, on the other hand, we meet heroes and heroines who can perform magic themselves, and yet find it just as hard to solve their problems as we do. Beedle’s stories have helped generations of wizarding parents to explain this painful fact of life to their young children: that magic causes as much trouble as it cures.

Another notable difference between these fables and their Muggle counterparts is that Beedle’s witches are much more active in seeking their fortunes than our fairy-tale heroines. Asha, Althelda, Amata and Babbitty Rabbitty are all witches who take their fate into their own hands, rather than taking a prolonged nap or waiting for someone to return a lost shoe. The exception to this rule – the unnamed maiden of ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ – acts more like our idea of a storybook princess, but there is no ‘happily ever after’ at the end of her tale.” ~ Introduction by J.K. Rowling

Now what I enjoyed most, was probably Dumbledore’s commentaries. They don’t add much to the story and sometimes he just rambles on. But they build this world that JKR has created. You get to know more details about wands, dark magic, animagus, transfiguration, and all the little details that build this fantasy world which you have spent time on for the past 6-7 books. I also like JKR footnotes explaining the commentaries. The whole format just makes you feel that you’re actually reading a book translated from the real thing.

At this point you might think that I’m such a Potter fan, that’s why I’d think highly of any books that are Potter related. But I don’t think that’s why I like the book. I just love it when a fantasy world gets created in such details that you get to believe that it might be true. That it might exist in some parallel universe out there.

Pages: 105
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Publication year: 2008

Award
Shortlisted for 2009 WHSmith Children’s Book of the Year (lost to Breaking Dawn)

First line
The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a collection of stories written for young wizards and witches.

Last line
Even I, Albus Dumbledore, would find it easiest to refuse the Invisibility Cloak; which only goes to show that, clever as I am, I remain just as big a fool as anyone else.

Also reviewed by

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

“Greatness inspires envy, envy engenders spite, spite spawns lies.” ~Voldemort, p415

Ahh.. Harry Potter.. The 6th installment. This is the first book that I read before I watch the movie. I’d say, apart from the Goblet of Fire, the Half-Blood Prince is my favorite of the lot. Mostly because there are a lot of secrets and little things uncovered in this one. We get a lot of more insights into Voldemort’s past ( I really enjoyed Harry and Dumbledore’s trips into the pensieve), and at the end into the (un)genuineness of a long suspicious character.

And the death! I was shocked! I think I knew it from somewhere a while ago, but reading it, I just didn’t see it coming that way. I was literally tearing :'(. The last few chapters were hard, and I was dumbstruck for a few hours after I finished the book. I had to remind myself that it was just a fiction. Nobody really died, nobody got betrayed, and nobody’s really left alone to face an evil being with ripped souls. Even if it really happened, it didn’t just happen because I read it. It sure happened a long time ago, and me reading it or not didn’t make any difference to what happened in that world.

Yea I’m funny that way. Sometimes when I found a book or a movie that was so good, I got to believe it so much, like everything really happened and the characters were really alive. Once in a while I will still think of the characters and wonder how they’re doing. Like they really exist in some parallel universe.

I like how Ron and Hermione’s relationship develops more in this book, although not by much. It’ll be interesting to see how their relationship transforms in the 7th book, since there will only be three of them go on the adventure outside of Hogwarts (theoretically). Surely they have to be together at the end?

I was pretty sure for a while (well, until it was revealed, that is) that the Half-Blood Prince was Voldemort, and was kinda annoyed that nobody in the book thought that. I thought this must’ve been the first time ever that Harry Potter’s plot was completely predictable. Well, apparently I was wrong! Have to admit, I forgot about lots of things in book 5 when I first started book 6. What’s the prophecy again? Whose prophecy? Why did Voldemort want it so much? Though I got too lazy to look at Wiki to refresh my memory. But at the end the prophecy details didn’t affect much (in this particular book anyway).

I should read the Deathly Hallows soon before I forget everything I just read. Can’t wait can’t wait! For commenters, please don’t ruin anything for me. As much as I love this series, I think I’m gonna be pretty relieved when it’s over. It’s a long journey after all :)

Rating: 5 out of 5
Pages: 607
Publication year: 2005

First line
It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind.

Last line
His hand closed automatically around the fake Horcrux, but in spite of everything, in spite of the dark and twisting path he saw stretching ahead for himself, in spite of the final meeting with Voldemort he knew must come, whether in a month, in a year, or in ten, he felt his heart lift at the thought that there was still one last golden day of peace left to enjoy with Ron and Hermione.

Also reviewed by

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

FINALLY I finished the book. It took me a LOooOng while. First, the book is just really, really, thick. All 956 pages of it. It hardly fit in my bag and so I tended to not bring it everywhere like the other normal books. It was slow because I read it only at home, where I wasn’t much at. Then I stopped halfway through for one reason or another. You know how hard it is to go back to a book which you have left for a while. So I picked it up again after I finished 9 books. 9 books!

Anyway, it’s good to be at the end of this humongous Potter book. I can’t understand people who read Harry Potter book in just one day (especially number 5, 6, and 7). They must speed-read a whole lot. I also think that the book could’ve been shorter. She really needed an editor.

So in this episode, the main villain is Dolores Umbridge. I guess it’s the first time where the villain is simply a villain. There’s no twist whatsoever to her evil personality.

I re-watched the movie yesterday. Like usual they cut off a lot of stuff, and characters. No Dobby again. Not much stories on Harry and Cho (Well, I don’t like her much anyway. Come on. First Cedric, then Harry, and she went to another boy? Bleh.) No Firenze the centaur. I thought Luna Lovegood is a bit too pretty in the movie. Neville can’t see the Thestral. No St Mungo’s Hospital scene. No Kreacher’s betrayal.

On a side note, I thought the content of the prophecy is too trivial. Nothing we haven’t already known to some degree. Makes you wonder why Voldemort goes to that extend just to get the prophecy. All those preparations and troubles, not to mention the whole year length of waiting and all.

Pages: 956
Rating: 4 out of 5

First line
The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet drive.

Last line
Instead, he smiled, raised a hand in farewell, turned around and led the way out of the station towards the sunlit street, with Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and Dudley hurrying along in his wake.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling


I said a while back that I was a bit put off by the thickness of the book before I started. But after a few chapters, the book didn’t seem so thick anymore. You know how when you read one book your mind often wander around thinking about another book? Well it didn’t happen when I read this book. I just want to keep reading it and nothing else.

I watched the movie a long time ago. I only remembered there was some contest with swimming and maze, then someone died. I watched the movie again after I read this book on weekend, and thought it just sucked. There are so many little details in the book that they just had to take out to squeeze everything in into a couple of hours. No wonder I didn’t remember much about the movie. It just isn’t that good. The effects weren’t easy to make as well, so they took out a lot of stuff, otherwise the movie would be too expensive to make. I wish (and partly predict) that in 10 years time they would work on remake of Potter movies, and this time longer, including many more details, containing a lot more magical effects. For example, in 10 years time it’d probably easier to make Dobby the house-elf so they don’t have to take him out.

So let me see, the things they took out in Goblet of Fire are: Dobby and Winky the house-elves, Ludo Bagman, Sirius, Hogwart’s kitchen (I’d love to see this one!), the whole SPEW subplot – I love this one too, Hagrid’s Blast-Ended Skrewts, the Sphinx in the maze (I wanna see this one!), and heaps of other details like names of books they read, Rita Skeeter’s news, the whole Ron and Hermione’s fights – which I found very endearing, Hagrid’s and Madame Maxime’s love story and giant identity, and so on.

I found that the movie always reveals the identity of the bad guy far too quickly. I guess it’s sort of understandable. If they put it off too long, nobody would know what’s going on since they took out a lot of things out. Like in this movie they revealed Barty Crouch’s son from the first minutes, all the way through until the end. In Prisoner of Azkaban, they revealed Peter Pettigrew somewhere in the middle of the movie. That just ruins everything! The thing that make HP interesting is that it works like a wondrous jigsaw puzzle from beginning til the end, and they all fit only at the very end. I always think that the climax is very satisfying, when everything comes together in unpredictable result.

Well looks like this review is more about the comparison of the book and the movie..
Anyway, before I forgot, in Chamber of Secrets, the movie took out degnoming of the Burrow’s garden and DeathDay (I want this!). In Prisoner of Azkaban, they took out Crookshanks’ role completely (I wish there’s more of him in the movie, including Ron and Hermione’s fight for Scabber and Crookshank).

For the characters, Snape is portrayed much nicer in the movie than in the book. And I don’t really like some of Hermione’s reactions in the movie, like crying when she fought with Ron. She’s not supposed to cry! That’s like missing the whole point!

Pages: 786
Rating: 5 out of 5 [Masterpiece]
I love love love the book. Best Harry Potter by far. Can’t wait to read more.

First line

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it ‘the Riddle House’, even thought it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there.

Last line

As Hagrid had said, what would come, would come … and he would have to meet it when it did.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter 3 and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Adult Edition

Just finished the third Potter! I’m not gonna worry about spoilers in any of my HP reviews since I assume the whole world has known everything about it.

I thought Rowling was very good at building up the climax. I went leisurely for about 3/4 of the book, then dashed through the last 1/4 in no time at all, because that’s where things are resolved. Even though I knew the formulae already by now (the bad guys are never really the bad guys and the good guys could be the bad guys), the background story that’s revealed near the end was still extremely satisfying, and lots of details unpredictable.

Again, I watched the third movie when it was out in cinema, and I totally forgot about all the details. So even I knew from the movie that Sirius Black would be the good Harry’s uncle/godfather and the rat was the bad guy (those were the few things that I remembered from the movie), I still read the whole book thinking that Black was the bad guy and I couldn’t predict who/what the rat was (or if there was a real rat or just someone transformed into a rat).

Apart from that, I thought I found the reason why HP is so popular. It’s the same reason why Doraemon is so popular. It’s all about the imaginary magical details that everyone wishes they had in real life. Wouldn’t it be so much fun to go to a witchcraft and wizardry school to study magic? Or to have a door that could open up to any place you want? *sigh*

Can’t wait to go to the next book. I actually miss everyone when I finished reading the book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 [Excellent]
Plot is getting more interesting. Better than the last book.

First line

Harry Potter was a highly unusual boy in many ways.

Last line

Harry set off towards the station exit, Hedwig rattling along in front of him, for what looked like a much better summer than last.

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