Harry Potter, Yankee-style
Published 19/06/2010 | 05:00
Just when it seemed that relations between Britain and the US had hit an all-time low over the Gulf oil spill, along comes another diplomatic wrangle to cool them even further.
This weekend, Universal Studios in Florida cuts the ribbon on its latest theme park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a vast wonderland of flying broomsticks, duelling dragons and magic spells devoted to the Hogwarts wizard. But the opening of the park has provoked outrage among some British fans because Orlando, and not England, is about to become the official place of pilgrimage for every Harry Potter follower.
London's Mayor, Boris Johnson, is seething over the development and has launched an appeal asking the Potter-loving children of England to lobby JK Rowling and urge her to bring Harry home.
"We must be utterly mad, as a country, to leave it to the Americans to make money from this great British invention," Johnson said.
"We split the atom, and now we have to get French or Korean scientists to help us build nuclear power stations. We perfected the finest cars on earth, and now Rolls Royce is in the hands of the Germans.
"Whatever we invent, from the jet engine to the internet, we find that someone else carts it off and makes a killing from it elsewhere. And now in the crowning insult, I am being told by a 12-year-old that I have to start making preparations to take everyone to Orlando."
What really gets Johnson is the fear that once Potter has been claimed by America, he will lose his quintessential Englishness.
"I have nothing against Orlando, though you are of course far more likely to get shot or robbed there than in London ...
"But the fact is Harry Potter is not American. He is British. The train for Hogwarts goes from King's Cross, not Grand Central Station.
And what is Harry Potter all about? It is about the ritual and intrigue and dorm-feast excitement of a British boarding school of a kind that you just don't find in America. Hogwarts is a place where children occasionally get cross with each other -- not 'mad' -- and where the situation is usually saved by a good old British sense of HUMOUR. WITH A U. RIGHT? NOT HUMOR. GOTTIT?"
Universal Studios are naturally delirious that they have snatched from British hands the massive tourism revenues the park will generate. At the box office alone, the Potter movies raked in $5.3bn (€4.3bn), making them the most successful film franchise of all time after James Bond.
And in true American theme-park style, little has been left to the imagination in this virtual world of wizardry, which is three years in the making. The new $265m (€217m) park has its own Hogwarts castle, soaring several hundred feet tall, a spectacular roller-coaster where fans are flown through haunted landscapes on an 'enchanted' bench, and a wand shop, where visitors can re-enact scenes from the movie and snack on butterbeer, chocolate frogs and other staples of the Potter world.
Totally awesome ... or should I say jolly good!