I’ve just returned from a visit to London, the land of winding cobblestone streets, tea and biscuits, and dimly lit, creaky-staired pubs with twelve different lagers on tap. It is a place of centuries old, half-bombed out churches standing alongside modern glass facades and Wi-Fi-enabled phone booths. It is the home of outdoor markets that bustle even in the dead of winter, of bangers and mash and beans on toast.
Oh, and Harry Potter, of course.
I’ve read the Harry Potter books and watched the films more times than I can count. I’ve quoted the wise Professor Dumbledore on multiple occasions, and have referenced both Patronuses and Dementors in casual conversation. Without question, I am a fan.
But while I was well aware of the global phenomenon that is Harry Potter, the scale of the thing didn’t really hit me until I visited Harry Potterland, which is housed in an enormous warehouse-type structure just outside of London and is actually called The Making of Harry Potter.
I spent nearly four hours on the self-guided tour, which featured full-scale sets from the films, original costumes, literally thousands of props, behind the scenes footage of how certain special effects were achieved, and a gallery of magical creatures ranging from Acromantulas (giant spiders) to Thestrals (scaly winged horses), not to mention what may be the largest gift shop of its kind. While the collection was impressive beyond my expectations, the thing that struck me the most were the quotes from the author herself, J.K. Rowling, well-placed throughout the museum. Her name was all over that place.
Most writers are thrilled to be published at all, and those whose books are turned into movies are probably grateful to get a Based on the novel by credit. Writers are not film stars, or the lead singer in the band. They are not talk show hosts, or YouTube sensations. Writers are not often in the public eye, but exist behind the scenes, and spend most of their time alone with their laptops, surrounded by dirty coffee cups.
But J.K. Rowling has not only made a household name for herself, she has built an empire. She managed to not only have her books published, but to negotiate her way into the production of the films, of the museum, video games, amusement park rides, fan websites, and billions of dollars worth of merchandising. She is either a genius or mind-blowingly lucky, and probably both.
The first book was published in 1995, and the first film was released in 2001. In 2014, Forbes estimated the Harry Potter brand to be worth over $15 billion, and J.K. Rowling’s personal fortune at over $1 billion. And to think, this all started 20 years ago when Rowling had a good idea for a character whilst on a train ride to London.