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THE YOUNG AMERICAN'S UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO THE VERY BRITISH WORLD OF HARRY POTTER
Trade paperback / 6 x 9 / 290 pages / Publication date / Feb 2019
Are you an American who loves the Harry Potter books? But did you know you might be missing things?The Harry Potter series is about Harry’s magical world but it’s about his British one, too. This book will help you understand all the British history, geography, culture and slang that J.K. Rowling so expertly weaves into the Harry Potter stories. It offers a window into Harry’s British world, which is practically as rich and fascinating as his wizarding one.
HERE'S A PREVIEW FROM THE YOUNG AMERICAN'S UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO THE VERY BRITISH WORLD OF HARRY POTTER
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE
CHAPTER 1: THE BOY WHO LIVED
The Dursleys are a seemingly regular English family. You'd never know—and they'd rather you didn't—that they have wizards and witches for relatives. Little do they realize that their one-year-old nephew, Harry Potter, has just witnessed the murder of his parents at the hands of the evil Lord Voldemort, and that the boy has somehow survived and defeated the mighty wizard. The orphaned Harry needs a family to raise him and the Dursleys are his closest relatives. So, one night late in October, he is delivered to the Dursley’s doorstep by Albus Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Rubeus Hagrid. Harry is left to be raised in the Muggle (non-wizarding) world.
Number 4 Privet Drive (page 1)
In the very first sentence of the book, we receive our initial clue that we’ve entered into an alien world—and by alien, I mean British. The British often write or say the word ‘number’ before the actual number of a street address. That explains Number 4 Privet Drive (though it would more commonly be written as No. 4 Privet Dr.)—but what’s a privet?
A privet is the most common bush or shrub used in British hedges. A neatly-trimmed privet hedge is the default perimeter of British front gardens the way a white picket fence is the default perimeter of American front yards.
Garden Fences (page 1)
When we say garden, we usually mean a vegetable or flower garden. The British, however, use the word ‘garden’ the way we use ‘yard’: any piece of land around a house with grass on it. Where we say front yard, they say front garden. Where we say back yard, they say back garden. To the Brits, in fact, a yard is specifically not a garden. To them, a yard is a paved patio, usually at the back of a terraced house (what we'd call a townhouse) in a working class (blue collar) or middle class part of town. And what we call a garden, they would usually define more specifically as a vegetable or flower garden.
When Mrs. Dursley looks over a ‘garden fence’ to spy on her neighbors, she’d be looking over a wooden fence (or sometimes a wire one) that surrounds or abuts her garden.
Half Past (page 2)
It's half past eight when Mr. Dursley leaves for his office and I think that's worth noting. Not because it’s the magical time when he gets to escape from his horrible family but because people rarely say eight-thirty in England. In the British world, time is told as minutes or blocks of minutes past the hour (i.e. half past, quarter past, ten past, etc.). Just watch Mary Poppins and you'll see what I mean.
Cloaks (page 3)
On Mr. Dursley's way to work, he sees lots of strange people wearing cloaks. Even though ‘cloak’ is a word we Americans use, it is somewhat rare and antiquated. We would more commonly call it a cape. But think Count Dracula more than Superman—roomy and full length with a good chance of a hood. Obviously, the cloak is a fashion must-have in the wizarding world.
Floor (page 3)
In the building where he works, Mr. Dursley’s office is on the ninth floor. Or is it? Because in the U.S., his office would be on the eighth floor. Confused? So was I. Until I found out that what we call the first floor, Brits call the ground floor. The next floor up (our second floor) is their first floor. And so on. If you ever ride in an elevator (which they call a lift) in Great Britain, you’ll find this information to be extremely valuable especially when you are trying to get out of that building.
Bun (page 4)
When Mr. Dursley crosses the road to buy a bun from the bakery, he’s making a beeline for what we might call a sweet roll—a doughy pastry cooked with raisins and covered with icing. In this particular case, though, he ends up buying a doughnut instead. And, yes, their doughnuts are like ours, though for years their selection was pretty much limited to the glazed or jelly variety, a situation only improved by the influx of American chains like Dunkin’ Donuts.
Collecting Tin (page 4)
Over there a ‘tin’ is what we call a ‘can.’ For instance, they would buy a tin of tuna or a tin of beans. When Brits stand on a street corner raising money for charity, they carry ‘collecting tins’ into which other people can put their donations. Years ago, they collected money in actual cans but nowadays a collecting tin is a plastic cup with an attached handle or stem that makes it look like a bulky and unbreakable wine goblet.
Mr. Dursley assumes the cloaked ‘weirdos’ are wearing costumes as part of their charity-collecting efforts. Boy, is he mistaken!
Garden Wall (page 5)
As we’ve learned, a garden is a yard. But a garden wall is different than a garden fence. A fence is usually wooden; a garden wall is made of stone or brick. So, when Mr. Dursley pulls into his driveway after work and sees the tabby cat (which turns out to be Professor McGonagall) sitting on his garden wall, she’s perched upon a stone or brick wall in front of his house.
Kent (page 6)
When Mr. Dursley watches the news, he learns that shooting stars have been spotted all over Britain including by people from a place called Kent. England is one of the countries that makes up The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (see Britain in the index, or read further in this chapter). Where the USA has 50 states, England has 48 counties (which is something, given that England is smaller than most of our states!). Kent is one of those counties. It is located in the extreme southeast corner of England and lies along the English Channel (a big body of water that separates England and France).
Kent is known as the Garden of England because so much of the country’s vegetables are grown there. It is also known for its vast deposits of chalk. There is a line of chalk hills which runs east to west through the middle of Kent called The North Downs. Also, on the coast of Kent, great chalk cliffs rise up in areas along the English Channel. These cliffs were romanticized in a song made famous during World War II, The White Cliffs of Dover—Dover being the city from which most people cross the English Channel on their way to France. And during the war, there were lots of British (and other) soldiers who did precisely that.
In the 1st century, the Romans invaded Kent (along with the rest of England). By the 5th century, the Jutes and Saxons came along and established Kent as one of the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon Britain.
The beautiful gothic Canterbury Cathedral is located in the city of Canterbury in Kent. It’s there that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was murdered in 1170. For years, pilgrims traveled to Becket’s shrine to pay him tribute and in the 14th century Geoffrey Chaucer described these pilgrimages (with quite a bit of added flavor!) in his Canterbury Tales.
In Sorcerer’s Stone, the fact that shooting stars have been seen over Kent tells us that there are wizards celebrating in this historic county east of London. But as we are about to learn, there are fireworks going on in much more far-flung places.