"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (aka "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,") is at this moment being filmed all over England, and the tourist offices are preparing to make the most of it. The shooting continues through the end of this month, but the exact locations are being kept secret as a banshee's lair lest an onslaught of Potterites (aka Potterholics) throw production one day off schedule.
Daniel Radcliffe, age 11, has been declared the perfect Harry; Hermione will be played by Emma Watson, 10, Ron Weasley by Rupert Grint, 12. Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry has cunningly been relocated to Gloucester Cathedral, a place of many passageways and secret doorways overseen by a wide selection of gargoyles.
The fiendish plot based on the first of the phenomenal best sellers by J.K. Rowling will take muggles (aka mortals) on heart-stopping adventures beginning at King's Cross Station (Platform 9 - don't look for it) and continuing to the border of Scotland as well as through a series of undesignated Cotswold villages.
The motion picture about the orphaned wizard is scheduled for Nov. 16 release in the United States and England under different titles ("Sorcerer's Stone" in the United States; the Brits are using the original "Philosopher's Stone"), and by 2002 an official Tourist Trail will be ignited with the slogan "Why Don't You "Potter' Around Britain?"
Harry is not the first to lead his friends and enemies on a chase through the bucolic English countryside. The Cotswolds, 60 miles of low green hills running northeast from Bath, consist of one picturesque village after another, many too small to appear on your everyday rental car map. (Take Castle Combe, a wool marketing town in the late Middle Ages, voted "England's Prettiest Village" in 1962 and in 1967 declared home to "Dr. Dolittle" starring Rex Harrison.)
Cotswold hamlets are well-known for their honey-colored stone houses, quaint lanes and friendly pubs. Pubs with names like the Leaky Cauldron, the Hanged Man and the Three Broomsticks figure in all four of the Potter books, and it's easy enough to cover the sign of one pub with another.
Yet filmmakers are not easy to track. They put Hogwarts in the West Country's Gloucester Cathedral then shoot exteriors on the other side of the island at Alnwick Castle, 40 miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne. The 11th century home of the Duke of Northumberland with its 3,000 acres of forested estate is a frequent movie prop used in such diverse films as "Mary Queen of Scots" and "King Arthur and the Spaceman."
The Hogwarts library has been revealed as Bodleian Library, Oxford University, and its hospital wing is the Chamber of the Oxford Divinity School. Some interior shots were even made in the vast hall of Durham Cathedral, built in northeast England during the first millennium.
Gringotts, the bank protected by goblins where Harry is taken by the giant Hagrid, was not filmed hundreds of miles below the streets of London where it belongs but in Australia House on the Strand, home of the Australian High Commission. Furthermore, some scenes even take place in Leavesden Studios just outside London in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, where James Bond and "Star Wars" flicks were also created. It may be show biz, but to fans it's sacrilege.
When Harry boards the Hogwarts Express he is heading -- whether he knows it or not -- to Goathland Station (aka Hogsmeade Station) in North Yorkshire.
He has left behind him his nasty Aunt Petunia, mean Uncle Vernon and fat, spoiled cousin Dudley at 4 Privet Drive. (This is now revealed to be suburban Picket Post Close in Martins Heron, Bracknell, Berkshire.)
His eventual destination, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a coeducational boarding school for magically endowed youth, was originally slated for Canterbury Cathedral. However, the dean of Canterbury demurred citing apprehension about "pagan images" in the film. Gloucester's Very Rev. Nicholas Bury, however, was a fan of the books and noted "goodness, honesty and integrity overcome lies and deceit." He also pointed out that Henry III was crowned here when he was 9, two years younger than Harry.
Potterism has, in fact, swept the world. More than 30 million copies of the books have been sold, and the New York Times list of best sellers was so overwhelmed the editors were forced to create a separate list for juvenile books. The designated audience of 8- to 12-year-olds was soon obviously ridiculous, and in Britain separate editions were printed with plain covers so adults could read them in public without worrying about other adults reading over their shoulders.
Quach Nu Publishing House, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, prolonged the suspense by publishing the first book in seven paperbacks released over seven weeks.
As for the Potter Trail, it may eventually include such shrines as the house in Winterbourne, South Gloucester, where Rowling (who admits to being "Hermione" in spirit) lived when she was 11. Then there are certain cafes in Edinburgh -- sure to post signs in their windows -- where the author kept warm as she wrote the first book.
Warner Bros. may have cast John Cleese as the ghost Nearly Headless Nick, Richard Harris as Professor Dumbledore, Robbie Coltrane as the giant Hagrid, Dame Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, and Oak the Owl as Hedwig the Owl, but will its Academy Award-winning writers and producers get away with the usual cinematic deviations? After all, uncountable numbers of children and adults have declared these books perfect as they are.
The British version uses the original book title ("Philosopher" not "Sorcerer") and scenes where "philosopher's stone" has been used instead of "sorcerer's stone" are being spliced in to fit the audience of the country of release. The stone, which turns rocks to gold as well as making humans immortal, is worth the trouble.
Three books of the series to go may be anticipated as equally controversial since J.K. Rowling is still writing faithfully in British English.
Parents face an even sterner test. It may be all very well to theme a family visit to Britain, but will "Pottering around" be enough? Or is it only a matter of time until the kids themselves demand to enroll in a boarding school with the motto "Drago Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus" (Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon) even if it is Gloucester Cathedral?
The official "Harry Potter Trail" won't be posted until after the release of the film on Nov. 16, and meanwhile changes are constant. Bring a copy of the book and a raincoat.
Gloucester Cathedral, 17 College Green, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, 44 (1452) 528095 is open daily 8 a.m. to dusk, $4 adult, $1.50 child, $7.50 family.
Where to Stay: Manor House, Castle Combe, 44 (1249) 782206, from $240 with full breakfast; The Castle Inn, Castle Combe, Wiltshire, 44 (1249) 783030, from $180 with full breakfast; Hatton Court Hotel, Upton St. Leonards, Gloucester : 44 (1452) 617412, from $160 with full breakfast. You can rent a cottage from the National Trust from $100, 44 (8704) 584422, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cottages.
More information: British Tourist Authority, (800) 462-2748 (ask for the Movie Map), www.visitbritain.com/moviemap (the Trail will be posted later in the year).