Edinburgh, the “midwife” of Harry Potter

Ms. Joanne K Rowling, of the centre seat at the Elephant House Cafe, was proud to say that she were perfectly normal, thank you very much. She was the last person you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because she just didn’t hold with such nonsense. Not that she had the time to, she had a child and a book to write…

And it was the sights and sounds of Edinburgh that were partially inspired the story of the Boy Who Lived.

I don’t have to tell you who that is, do I?

Harry Potter, the global phenomenon.

Most authors are inspired by their life and the things that happen around them. JK Rowling was one of them. JK Rowling’s early life was an unhappy one, a strained relationship with her father, a mother dealing with multiple sclerosis, a lack of self esteem and low self confidence masquerading as an insufferable know it all (the inspiration for Hermoine Granger). Books and storytelling were her way of retreating into a different world.

Rowling was close to her mother and took leadership from authority figures such as Alfred Dunn her primary school headmaster. After graduating from the University of Exeter witha degree in French and Classics. Rowling began working in London for Amnestey International as a researcher. A relationship with a man from Manchester brought her to the city and it was during a four hour train delay that she dreamt up of the story of Harry Potter.

While she dove deep into writing her book, her mother passed away and Rowling channeled her grief into Harry and his loss of his parents. Rowling’s next stage in life was a move to Porto in 1991. Where she met her husband and bore a child with him. The relationship however broke down, with suggestions that she suffered domestic abuse, and it was in 1993 that she moved with her child to Edinburgh.

Rowling had three chapters of her book with her when she arrived in Edinburgh and so the story of Harry and Hogwarts was to continue to be developed in Edinburgh. The charm of this medieval old town provided the setting for the world of Magic. The alleys of Edinburgh are packed with small closes each opening into a new world. Walk down a flight of stairs and a different vision of Edinburgh unfolds. Hang around the old town at night and you would feel the occasional chill of ghoulish spirits at the darkest corners.

There is Victoria Street, whose curves and colours were the inspiration behind Diagon Alley, the shopping belt of the magical world.

Many curiosity shops such as Museum Context have since sprung in this street selling items from the Wizarding World.

But Rowling was an unemployed woman living on council benefits, in a house without heating. So she needed to leave her house to write. The presence of cafes in Edinburgh became a life saver. One in particular, The Elephant House was instrumental. For it was there, sitting that Rowling completed her first book and wrote her next two.

Looking out from the Elephant House was a site for inspiration, as next to the cafe was Greyfriars Kirk, a haunted cemetery but also a the inspiration behind the names McGonagall, Moody and Riddle – you can find tombs with these last names. Overlooking the Greyfriars Kirk was the Edinburgh Castle and a boarding school called George Heriot.

George Heriot school had turets and a house system with four houses – the colours of the houses? Red, Green, Blue and White (Yellow in the books). Coincidence?

Sitting at the suite in the Balmoral Hotel, overlooking Edinburgh, she put the final lines on her work.

The scar of poverty had not pained Joanne for 12 years. All was well.


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