Monday, 11 September 2017

In Which it Turns out that the True Author of Harry Potter is Cardinal Wolsey - Catherine Butler

There can surely be few of us from whom the daily chore of putting on a wristwatch has not at times elicited the melancholy cry, “Oh wretched timepiece! Thus I don the manacle of mortality!”

Alice in Wonderland begins with a White Rabbit looking at his watch and crying “I’m late!”, which I take to be a similar sentiment, and indeed for me it was an early encounter with Alice that led, in a kind of Primal Scene, to the shocking realisation not only that death comes to us all, but that even characters in books are not immune.

As a child I lived near the New Forest, and one day my mother, in lugubrious mood, took me and my brother round Lyndhurst churchyard. There she pointed out a rather grand (but not beautiful) box grave from the 1930s and identified it as that of Alice. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect I channelled Peter from Tom’s Midnight Garden and wailed something like “But that—that's not Alice: that's a grownup woman! (And, by the way, she’s dead!)”

Of course, it was actually the grave of Alice Liddell (later Hargreaves), not Alice herself, but being five years old I was not in the mood for such ontological niceties. There, I think, my instincts were sound.

The grave's a fine and private place,
But none there win the caucus race.

All this came to mind the other day when I made a day trip to Oxford, with a friend who was visiting from abroad. I was trying to show her various interesting places in striking distance of Bristol: we’d already covered Glastonbury, Cheddar Gorge, the Brecon Beacons, Bath, Avebury, and one or two other places, so Oxford was obviously next on the list. Although I’d been to the city on many occasions I’d never crossed the threshold of Christ Church College, where Alice was brought up (her father being Dean), but we thought it might be worth a look at Tom Quad and the Great Hall, even if entry cost us £9 apiece (“Each ticket funds half a glass of Chateau Lafite for the cellar!").

We duly saw statues of Dean Liddell, looking even more historical than his dead daughter, and Thomas Wolsey, the College’s founder, both of whom were gazing down on the more merely mortal mortals from the comfort of their perches high on the college walls.

So, anyway – it’s about time I justified the title of this post. Christ Church is also of the course the place where Harry met Ally, in that it offers a point of contact between Alice and Harry Potter. How so? Well, according to the sign at the porter’s lodge, the Great Hall was "the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films".

I was surprised to read this, because my impression had always been that the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films was Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books... But then, I'm biased towards the written word.

Of course, I knew what they meant – namely that a location scout had found in the Great Hall a place that answered well enough to the description in the book to be used as the model for a set. Certainly plenty of Potter fans had found it worth visiting on that basis, and the college shop catered happily to them with cloaks and wands.

But hang on… isn't that a bit like saying that Daniel Radcliffe was the inspiration for Harry Potter himself, because a casting director did something similar? Had our £18 been well spent or not?

I puzzled over this. Perhaps I had misunderstood this inspiration business? I remembered Humpty Dumpty, his words ghost-written by a Christ Church don: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” Humpty’s testimony was corroborated by Mr Toad: “The clever men at Oxford know all there is to be knowed.”

Slowly I began to see that my rustic brain had been hopelessly unsubtle. After all, when a film is made of a book, there can be an inspiration feedback effect, especially if the book series is still being written. It's well known that Colin Dexter was influenced by John Thaw's portrayal of Inspector Morse in his later novels (to take another Oxford example). Perhaps Harry Potter was inspired by Radcliffe? Perhaps, too, the Great Hall really did have its part to play in inspiring the books that inspired the films?

If so, I suggest that they should not only be charging a £9 entrance fee but royalties too. Then they really could improve the quality of the wine at high table. And, since the Great Hall was the brainchild of the college’s founder, I look forward to the day when every copy of Harry Potter contains in its fly leaf the line following line:


Pippa Goodhart said...

All true, Cathy! What fun, and thank you.

Penny Dolan said...

Inspired creative logic at work here! Thanks for the post - it made a great start to the week.

Andrew Preston said...

I loved the little story that I read about Château Lafite.

There is also a Château Lafitte. In contrast to a sometimes £2,000 a bottle Lafite, the 250 year old Château Lafitte produces a £20 unclassified claret.

For years, the giant Château Lafite Rothschild outfit had dragged Chateau Lafitte through
the courts, in attempts to smother the latter's use of the Lafitte name.

Finally, in France, the Court of Cassation said enough. And in a piece of Gallic humour, forbade the serial courtmongers from using "Lafite" without the "Rothschild"..., lest any buyers mistake it for Château Lafitte.