During the summer of 2018, I decided to take a three-week course abroad. The course I selected was Magic, Murder and Mystery in London Literature. According to the course description, the class focused on famous London icons such as Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter. As a fan of these three topics, how could I not take the class? Also, being a Literature and History major at my home university, London was heavily featured in my classes and I thought a chance to study in the city for a few weeks would help bring what I had been learning to life. I could not have been more right!
Built into the course were excursions or chances to bring the readings from paper to the altered and layered cityscape. These excursions were all themed, walking tours. Despite the protest in my aching feet, I quickly learned that walking coupled with public transportation was the easiest way to take you to around, and it was the best way to observe the city. London is more than famous landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, which in fact reside in Central London. Separated into different boroughs, each with their own unique history and demographics, London is home to advancing technology, history that dates as far back as the Romans, and over 300 spoken languages.
The first walking tour was centered around Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper is an international sensation, influencing movies, TV shows, novels and comics. However, being taken to the spots where the victims were murdered was jarring. Nothing distinguished these spots from the street corners in front of rising skyscrapers, the cloistered courtyards behind office buildings, or the playground of a primary school. The path took my class across East London, an area known for its docks and struggling, working class. The history of the docks is still attached to the area despite the rapid growth. It highlights the class division in London as the prestige of certain areas has carried over for centuries.
During the tour, we had to cross through the City of London, which I learned was different from London. The City of London is the original square mile that was built by the Romans. (For the history fans reading this, the city, Londinium, was protected by the London Wall which was built around 120 AD.) London has far outgrown this square mile, but it remains the richest and oldest part of the city with its own police force. It is considered one of the financial capitals of the world.
A blend of historic and modern buildings, the city is often described in layers: eras, immigration, cultural changes, world events, class, race, gender, sexuality, etc. Home to roughly 9 million people, every view of London from history books to modern best-sellers offer layered perspectives of the city. As my class walked through the bustling streets, it is easy to see how the contemporary interacts with the historical. This interaction has inspired countless works of fiction.
The Jack the Ripper tour focused on how a historical event shaped modern media. Our second walking tour, the Harry Potter Film Location Walking Tour, showed us how the interaction of old and new inspired one author’s fantasy world. This tour was much different from the Warner Brothers’ Studio Tour and did not include Platform 9 ¾ in King’s Cross Station. However, the tour is great for film buffs or anyone interested in movie trivia. We passed by the bridge featured in the opening scene of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the Borough Market and nearby area that inspired Diagon Alley, and the bank that was the model for Gringotts.
As I went on these walking tours, I could see these layers, some tangible while others were more abstract. It blew my mind how one city could hold millions and millions of stories from past and fantasy worlds. The Magic, Murder and Mystery in London Literature course was tailored to show how London is presented in various works, but also how these works represent London. I was originally worried that three weeks would not give me enough time to explore the city, but the course helped me understand the city and gain a tiny insight into its complexity.
About the Author – Lauren Trevino, Summer 2018 London, England Storyteller & Elizabethtown College Student
My name is Lauren Trevino. I am a Literature and History double major at Elizabethtown College. After I complete my undergraduate degree, I hope to continue onto graduate school for either literature or law.