This is the route of the Hogwarts Express

The Hogwarts Express. Image: Warner Bros.

Last night, I went to the theatre to see the first part of Harry Potter & the Cursed Child. Tonight, I'm going to see the conclusion. (Yes, I'm 36 years old, so what, bugger off.)

There are signs all over the theatre, asking the audience to “keep the secrets” – not to give away details of the plot, and so spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet. And I have no desire to spend my weekend fighting off an army of angry Potter fans, so I'm not going to say anything except this one thing:

At one point, you can see a map showing the route of the Hogwarts Express.

There are probably some other things that happen in that scene, but I have no idea what they are because I was so busy studying the map.

It’s not a tube-style line map, to be clear. (I mean, why bother? There are only two stops.) Instead, it’s a map of the British Isles with the train’s route superimposed upon it.

From memory, the route looks a bit like this:

The Hogwarts Express starts at Kings Cross (obviously). But instead of following the East Coast Main Line, through Peterborough and Lincolnshire, it runs slightly to the east, before making a sharp turn west at the Wash. It then heads north again, presumably following the main line to Edinburgh and across the Forth Bridge, then does a weird u-turn-y bit in western Scotland.

It has more twists and turns in it than you'd expect, is my main point here. This is probably because what I'm reporting on is a theatrical prop rather than a map of an actual railway line, but nonetheless, it does suggest the "Express" part of the name may be a bit of a misnomer.

One over thing about the map that might be worth noting: although it's a screengrab which I've scribbled on, a quick search of Google Maps does actually reveal the location Hogwarts. It's here:

That's not far from Rannoch Moor, one of the locations used in the Harry Potter firms. There are some pictures added by users, too.

And it's had excellent reviews:

Best we can tell, this is not the location of the Pottermore offices, let alone an actual magic castle. Instead it seems merely to be an easter egg placed there by Google.

I wouldn't bother going there in the hope of actually finding something more interesting than a loch, is my point here. But if lochs are you thing, then be my guest.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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What is Europe? We’ve been arguing about it for 400 years

Well, it's here somewhere. Image: Google.

It is tempting to regard the history of Europe as a tale of gradually closer union, an evolution now imperilled by the forces of nationalistic populism that have brought Brexit and the growth of far-right political parties across the continent. In reality, the story is not such a neat one – and the meaning of Europe has always been up for debate. The Conversation

Take the 16th century as an example. Back then, Europe as an idea and a marker of identity was becoming more prominent; so much so that, by 1623, English philosopher Francis Bacon could refer to “we Europeans” and the continent was depicted as a queen.

Europe As A Queen, 1570. Image: Wikimedia commons.

The cultural movement of the Renaissance sparked an enthusiasm for all things classical – including the word “Europe”, which may have derived from the Greek name for the goddess Europa. At the same time, the voyages of discovery following Christopher Columbus’s landing in the Americas in 1492 led to a greater knowledge about the world at large. With this came a corresponding deepening of the sense of “us” versus “them”, of what supposedly made Europe and Europeans different.

This identification with people from across the continent had also been spurred by the westward advance of the Ottoman Empire following the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The Reformation and subsequent breakup of the church weakened the idea of Christianity as a unifying badge of identity, and so Europe was able to articulate this growing collective sentiment.

A little used word

Yet some of the major thinkers of the period rarely used the word “Europe”. The term appeared only ten times in the works of writer William Shakespeare, where it was used not with any specific geographical meaning but for rhetorical exaggeration. In the play Henry V the Constable of France assures the Duke of Orleans that his horse “is the best horse of Europe”. And in Henry VI, Part 1 the Duke of Bedford promises that his soldiers’ “bloody deeds shall make all Europe quake”.

It is telling that three of Shakespeare’s ten utterances belong to that master of comic overstatement, Falstaff. In Henry VI, Part II he says: “An I had but a belly of any indifference, I were simply the most active fellow in Europe.” These are not the stirrings of a sense of cultural unity, of Europe as a great civilisation. The word “Europe” as Shakespeare used it is empty of meaning beyond that of a vast expanse.

The French writer Michel de Montaigne. Image: Wikimedia commons.

The term popped up even less in the writing of French philosopher Michel de Montaigne – just once in the 107 chapters that make up his Essays. Montaigne used the word as a geographical marker: recalling the myth of Atlantis, he wrote of the kings of that island extending their “dominion as far into Europe as Tuscany”. Curiously, this sole instance of the term Europe appeared in an essay about the New World, On Cannibals, in which Montaigne wrote about the customs of the Tupinambà people of Brazil. Although he contrasted them with what he calls “us”, he did not use the word Europe in these comparisons.


A contested concept

But his contemporaries do. André Thevet, a Franciscan friar who had also journeyed to South America, wrote enthusiastically of the Spanish conquest of the New World: “You will find there towns, castles, cities, villages, houses, bishoprics, states, and all other ways of living that you think it was another Europe”. Thevet championed the superiority of what he called “our Europe”.

Montaigne was much more sceptical: “We may call these people barbarous in respect to the rules of reason, but not in respect to ourselves who in all sorts of barbarity exceed them.” Where Thevet regarded Europe as a cultural model to be exported, Montaigne condemned empire building in the New World. Montaigne articulated a sense of affinity with the Spanish and Portuguese by referring to “we”, “us” and “ourselves”, but – though like Thevet he could have done – he did not name this community Europe.

Some people continued to prefer the label “Christendom” to articulate a collective identity. But others were not wedded to such overarching notions of belonging. Jean de Léry, a Calvinist pastor who had travelled to Brazil, did not use the word “Christendom” and used “Europe” sparingly in a geographical, not a cultural, sense. Léry had suffered at the hands of Catholics during the French Wars of Religion and felt no affinity with them. His allegiances were much smaller – to Calvinism and to France.

Just like today, in the 16th century the meaning of Europe was not straightforward. It was contested between those who used the word as something more than a geographical area and those who did not – between those who saw the continent as a cultural idea of unity and those whose sense of community and belonging was much smaller.

Niall Oddy is a PhD candidate at Durham University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.