It is impossible to avoid the legacy of The Boy Who Lived when you first arrive in Edinburgh. When arriving four months ago, I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer quantity of Harry Potter related events and merchandise in the city. I had first visited Edinburgh at the tender age of 15 and, other than popping my head around the door of The Elephant House Café, I don’t remember much other ‘Harry Potter Tourism’ in the city. Fast forward to the present day and every souvenir shop has some form of wand, magnet or mug related to the series, not to mention at least four shops dedicated solely to offering Edinburgh and its visitors any number of themed gifts and memorabilia.
Somewhat contrary to local opinion, I have no qualms with the role that the wizarding world plays in Edinburgh’s tourism industry. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and indeed worked in one of the aforementioned specialist Potter shops. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, as a newly inducted Edinburgh resident, to bring a bit of magic to holidaymakers and particularly to kids just discovering the series.
Some argue that the ‘Harry Potter Tours’ around Edinburgh mean that tourists don’t get to see the real city. But if you can go to Candlemaker Row, Victoria Street, Greyfriars Kirkyard, the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle, George IV Bridge and Potterrow and somehow have not seen the city of Edinburgh, I’d begin to question the strength of this argument.
That is the point here. Critics are not really concerned that visitors to the city don’t get a real taste of Edinburgh, they are bitter that it is Harry Potter that people are excited about. There isn’t backlash for the prevalence of literary figure tours, Ghost Tours, Majestic Bus tours of ‘royal’ Edinburgh or the walking ‘Trainspotting tours’, although they all offer a similar one-dimensional view of the city. No one worries that Edinburgh is only defined by the works of J.M Barrie or Sir Walter Scott.
So, why are people so concerned that Harry Potter will erase Edinburgh’s identity? In part I am sure that there is a rational concern that given the series’ prolific success, it draws in more of an international crowd than other features of the city. It seems far more likely to be part of the general disdain for the ‘millennial’ nature of Harry Potter. Society has always been fearful of the interests of teenagers; a quick trip to the National Museum’s ‘Rip It Up’ exhibition will remind any reader of the suspicion around ‘Rock and Roll’ when it first emerged in the music scene. I believe that there are many parallels with the Harry Potter series. It isn’t ‘high brow’, it isn’t ‘traditional’, it isn’t ‘classic’. But do you know what Harry Potter is? It is a huge earner for the Edinburgh tourism industry, it is a tool to engage young people with the history of the Old Town, and most importantly, it is good, old-fashioned fun.
Image: JVL via Flickr