Write Stuff – Through the Looking Glass

When you step into your favourite literary world, where do you go? Maybe It’s to a shire full of hobbits and wizards, or to the ominous shores of Shutter Island. But if you like to be carried away by flights of imagination, how far would you go to step through the looking glass—to experience a literary world in real life? This week we take a look at some interesting ways to blend fantasy with reality.

Perhaps the most obvious literary tourist attraction is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a theme park that lets Potter fans immerse themselves in a life-sized Hogsmeade. Visitors can tour the Hogwarts castle, with stops ranging from the Gryffindor common room to Dumbledore’s office. Hogsmeade streets feature real-life shops such as Ollivanders, Honeydukes, and the Three Broomsticks.

That’s all very Hollywood, but if You’re looking for something a bit more realistic, step back in time to Dickens World. Located in Kent, this “multi-sensory, interactive experience” promises to truly bring Dickensian times to life, letting you “immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of nineteenth-century England.”

And when they say smells, they mean it. Not that you’ll get to throw raw sewage into the streets, a common practice in real Victorian times. However, the park features chemical “smell pots,” as this New York Times article explains. When heated, the pots “emit odors of offal and rotting cabbage.”

Fair warning, though. As the bittersweet tone of the article reveals, Dickens World might come closer than planned to conjuring Dickens’s tales, leaving visitors with a sense of disappointment to rival Miss Havisham’s.

If you prefer literary escapades of the outdoors type, try your hand at being Huck Finn for a day. Huck Finn’s Jubilee lets you climb greased poles, build a river raft, join in a frog jumping contest, and try your hand at whitewashing a fence—just like Mark Twain’s famous young adventurers did. For those who really want to get into character, the annual festival even includes a Huck Finn look-alike contest. All you need are overalls, a fishing pole, a general knowledge of Huck’s adventures, and “well-traveled bare feet.” Oh, and to be a boy, of course.

Prefer to strike out on your own? You won’t be the first to follow the trail of The Da Vinci Code, a feat many fans have attempted since the novel became a bestseller. In fact, the book’s success gave rise to countless da Vinci-themed guided tours, an unexpected boon for tourism boards.

Today, this Fodor’s blog will guide you from France to Scotland, with stops at the Ritz, the Louvre, and the Rosslyn Chapel. The blog post dates from 2005, so you should verify addresses and schedules before putting on your symbologist’s hat. One bit of advice that hasn’t changed: run if you spot an albino monk-assassin.

Of course, there’s no end to the literary tours you can create for yourself. Nearly every major writer has a cottage industry devoted to places that he (or his characters) has inhabited—from William Shakespeare’s haunts in Stratford-upon-Avon to a tour of Stockholm that includes the real-life building where the fictional Lisbeth Salander lived. You can even visit one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood homes or stay in a real-life hobbit house.

With a little imagination, there’s no telling what you’ll discover when you step through the looking glass.

S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).