The Elephant House

Harry Potter Bathroom Graffiti is the Nicest Graffiti

The Elephant House in Edinburgh, Scotland describes itself on its website as “made famous as the place of inspiration to writers such as J.K. Rowling,” as though visiting the same coffee shop, drinking the same tea, and occupying the same seat as Rowling once did can allow fans to share in the experience that led to the birth of the Harry Potter series.

What the website does not depict, however, is the shrine-like bathroom where countless Harry Potter fans have decided to express their gratitude to Rowling across the walls of a space that is not technically hers; instead, the fans have decided that this place represents a spot where they intersect with Rowling and the presence of the world she created. While most, if not all, of the comments have been written by English-speaking visitors, these walls still represent the idea that people from around the world have all made their way to this particular space and have used it to pay homage to the books that they have experienced in both personal and collective ways. This seems to indicate that Rowling’s series has transcended enough literal and figurative boundaries to have made an impact on a worldwide generation of childhoods. That the Elephant House has left graffiti (even of the friendly variety) on the walls, rather than focus on any legal right to their property, shows the respect the shop has for fans using this space to make a concrete connection to an invented world.

(Photo credits to http://travelcuts.com/blog/how-to-get-that-perfect-photo-take-dozens-of-bad-ones/, https://www.flickr.com/photos/starycat/5148505505/, and http://crystalinscotland.blogspot.com. These are just some of the images of the walls available online, if you want more of a time-lapse.)

Lindsay Warren

3 thoughts on “The Elephant House”

  1. It might be interesting to explore how the experiences of all of these fans from around the world are mediated by translation. While most of the graffiti is in English, there are definitely some in other languages. The fact that some of these individuals would have read a translation might have had a fairly significant effect on their understanding of this text. I know from experience that the Czech translation makes some significant changes to the original text, for instance, they decided to translate a lot of the words relating to the magical world. To take one example, Quidditch becomes Framferpal, thereby losing its Latin connotations and becoming little more than a nonsense word. This made the magical world seem more absurd and made it harder for me to suspend my disbelief.

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    1. That’s really interesting to hear about the Harry Potter experience outside of the English version (I’ve always been curious how it would differ, especially since the translation process of more mass-produced books can get pretty wonky). In that case, there could be instances of a disconnect between the reader leaving a note or quotation and JK Rowling reading it without really understanding it, provided she ever sees the “fan art.” That could create some unforeseen boundaries in a space that has been made oddly communal.
      Lindsay

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  2. I think that one of the reasons Harry Potter is appealing globally is that JK Rowling has created a universe within our reality. The wizard world has its own jargon, customs, hobbies etc. She places Harry in this world where nothing makes sense to him or the reader. Essentially, he’s been dropped into a foreign country and expected to figure it out with very little guidance. It’s like a Jhumpa Lahiri story, but for children. By inventing the wizarding culture, she can tell the transnational story in a neutral space, untainted by the realities of racism, imperialism or assimilation that are themes in transnational literature. This probably helps kids build understanding and empathy that prepares them for transnational literature. That people come to this cafe to pay homage to JK Rowling speaks to the impact these stories continue to have on our lives.

    Madison

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