Writers have always sparked their own imaginations off the flint of the people and places around them, whether it’s J.K. Rowling passing through King’s Cross Station or Stephen King sleeping alone in a remote snow-swathed hotel. And they’re often good at passing idle time in a cafe, talking and watching life drift by. These 10 locales capture something about the life and work of some of the 20th century’s most loved authors, and you can decide whether to imagine them hard at work, or slumped in indolent reverie.
Stephen King stayed in room 217 of The Stanley, an imposingly elegant hotel encircled by the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. While there, he conceived the series of terrifying visions which grew into The Shining, his tale of a child’s intense sensitivity and an adult’s descent into murderous madness. The Stanley is located in the town of Estes Park, and is far less remote than its fictional counterpart the Overlook Hotel. So, perhaps fortunately, it takes a little imagination to suppose yourself isolated at the end of the long, snow-covered mountain road that cut off the Overlook with such horrific consequences.
Photo by andrewl04/Flickr.
For any new wizard – particularly one born to Muggle parents – the first journey to Hogwarts is an intimidating experience. To board the Hogwarts Express, students have to find their way to the mysteriously-named platform 9 3/4, in King’s Cross Station, which involves passing through the solid brick wall separating platforms 9 and 10. A recreation of this portal has been built for Muggle visitors, marked by a simple sign and a luggage trolley frozen midway through its journey onto the wizarding platform. Actually making it through to the other side, however, requires true magical blood. So Muggles have to make do with a picture taken by the professional photographer who’s on site for much of the day – at least, until they turn 11, and their Hogwarts acceptance letter drops through the door.
In John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars, two young cancer patients flee the sterile atmosphere of their small American town to meet an author in Amsterdam who has inspired them both. Time is short, as the illness spreads through their bodies, but the author they’ve idolized turns out to be a broken-down mess. This disappointment leaves them alone with each other in the Dutch capital, so they take a room in the De Filosoof Hotel, where they sleep together beneath walls daubed with philosophical themes. This small hotel room contains the novel’s highest moments of emotional ecstasy, made all the more intense by the dark shadow that hangs over both the lovers. A film adaptation of the novel comes out in the summer of 2014.
Hobbiton is a small village situated in the heart of the Shire, a green and pleasant land which is home to one of Middle Earth’s most resourceful and resilient races – hobbits. It was here, among warm fireplaces, mugs of ale, hearty dinners and convivial festivals, that the legendary journeys of both Bilbo and Frodo began. Today, you can reverse the journey taken by these famed adventurers, travelling from whatever over-industrialized hellhole you live in to the rolling farmland of Matamata in New Zealand, where the Hobbiton Movie Set has been exquisitely preserved. Drop into Bag End, where Bilbo penned his memoirs and Frodo first felt the spellbinding power of The Ring. Then visit the Green Dragon Inn, the mill, and the Party Tree, perhaps puffing on a little pipe-weed as you go.
The fourth book in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series, Inferno flits between some of Europe’s most beautiful cities, as Langdon’s inquiries take him from Florence, to Venice, and finally to Istanbul. In the Turkish capital, he circles in on the Hagia Sophia, the immense temple whose vast dome has been a definitive structure on the city’s skyline since it was built in 537 C.E. Here, the various mysteries threading through the novel converge, causing a stampede of tourists alongside other, far more serious consequences for the future of mankind.
The Victorian era’s greatest rationalist, Sherlock Holmes, puffed his pipe and deconstructed the supernatural from a small terraced house in Baker Street, North London. Now, you can find a small museum tucked away in an 1815 townhouse on the street, which is carefully faithful to many of the small details mentioned in the books. A firelit study looks down on Baker Street, and you can sit in the armchair before the fire, mosey into the adjoining bedroom and inspect Holmes’s scattered aides to intensive thought: his pipe, notebook, violin, deerstalker, magnifying glass, and various disguises.
At the end of the 1800s, Les Deux Magots was thrust to the heart of Saint-Germain des Prés’s budding literary life. Symbolist poets such as Rimbaud and Mallarmé were among the first to make the café their chosen haunt, and they were followed by the itinerant writers and travelers who flocked to Paris in the 20s and 30s. Hemingway and Joyce twirled their pens above its coffee cups. André Gide lounged at the terrace tables, eyeing the passing boys before bending to scrawl another page of sensuous prose. Sartre and de Beauvoir mused on the absoluteness of human freedom and its relation to the constraints of circumstance, as a poor-born waiter refilled their wine glasses. Today, it’s a little hard to imagine any writer laboring among the vocal tourists thronging the café, but it’s still worth a look as you amble among the luminous landmarks of literary Paris.
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In the classic Canadian novel, Anne of Green Gables, lively and imaginative Anne is taken from her orphanage and sent to live in a small rural community on Prince Edward Island. She engages intensely with her new home, growing and learning and changing among its people and places. This vividly-evoked world can be explored at the Green Gables Heritage Place, on Prince Edward Island, which contains the green-gabled house itself as well as other settings that played a significant role in Anne’s childhood, such as Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood. Nearby, there’s a recreation of Avonlea Village, where you can partake in the day-to-day life of a 19th-century farming community, a key background to the action of the novel.
The Hemingway House is located in Florida’s Key West, where Hemingway moved from Paris via Cuba in 1928. Built in the Spanish colonial style, it is full of small details that evoke aspects of the writer’s life. Many of the furnishings are antiques collected during his time in Paris. The walls are adorned with trophy mounts and animal skins, hunted by Hemingway in the American West or during safaris in Africa. And the house is home to a remarkable 60 cats, most of whom are descendants of Hemingway’s own brood, as evidenced by the number of the felines that have six toes. There’s also the study where Hemingway worked on a number novels, including For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and To Have And Have Not, the latter a story about Key West during the Great Depression.
The Eagle and Child is a lovely little pub in the center of Oxford, with a maze of small wooden alcoves near its entrance and a large open room at the back. It’s a great place for a pint, particularly on a chilly day, and has been for some time – legend has it that Tolkien converted C.S. Lewis to Christianity here. Both were professors at Oxford University, and the two discussed their great works of fantasy over the pub’s broad selection of hoppy English ales. Tolkien, despite spending hours converting Lewis, would later be fiercely critical of Lewis for using a children’s story to preach. In The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Christ-like Aslan sacrifices himself to save sinning Edmund, but is subsequently resurrected so he can return and save Narnia. Tolkien studiously avoided such religious allegory in The Lord of the Rings, which contrasts a peacefully pastoral Shire with the industrialized hell of Mordor. In the pub’s conversation-encouraging atmosphere, lubricated by copious streams of alcohol, it’s easy to imagine these and many other discussions unfolding during the decades the two professors passed together in Oxford.