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35 Things You Might Not Know About Harry Potter

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1. ROWLING AND HARRY SHARE A BIRTHDAY. 

They both blow out candles on July 31 (happy birthday, JKR!). And that’s not the only influence Rowling had on her characters: She’s said that Hermione is a bit like her when she was younger, and her favorite animal is an otter—which is, of course, Hermione’s patronus. Plus, both Dumbledore and Rowling like sherbet lemons (Rowling said that the wizard’s “got good taste”).   

2. SHE INVENTED THE NAMES OF THE HOGWARTS HOUSES ON THE BACK OF A BARF BAG. 

In 2000, Scholastic gave schoolchildren across the U.S. the opportunity to ask Rowling questions about Harry Potter. When one student asked her, “What made you think of the people's names and dormitories at Hogwarts?” Rowling responded, “I invented the names of the Houses on the back of an airplane sick bag! This is true. I love inventing names, but I also collect unusual names, so that I can look through my notebook and choose one that suits a new character.” 

3. EARLY ON, ROWLING WROTE A SKETCH OF THE FINAL CHAPTER OF THE FINAL BOOK. 

Rowling calls the idea that she had the first chapter of Deathly Hallows written and locked away in the safe “rubbish.” But there was a small element of truth to it: “I had, very early on—but not the first day or anything, probably within the first year of writing—I wrote a sketch for what I thought the final chapter would be,” she told Harry Potter's big screen portrayer, Daniel Radcliffe, in an interview for the Deathly Hallows Part 2 DVD extra features. “I always knew—and this was from really early on—that I was working toward the point where Hagrid carried Harry, alive but supposedly dead, out of the forest, always. I knew we were always working towards a final battle at Hogwarts, I knew that Harry would walk to his death, I planned the ghosts—for want of a better word—coming back, that they would walk with him into the forest,  we would all believe he was walking to his death, and he would emerge in Hagrid’s arms.” 

And that mental image is what kept Hagrid alive, despite the fact that he “would have been a natural to kill in some ways,” Rowling said. “But because I always cleaved to this mental image of Hagrid being the one carrying Harry out … That was so perfect for me, because it was Hagrid who and took him into the world, and Hagrid who would bring him back … That’s where we were always going. Hagrid was never in danger.” 

4. THE DEMENTORS ARE BASED ON ROWLING’S STRUGGLE WITH DEPRESSION AFTER HER MOTHER’S DEATH. 

Rowling’s mother, who had multiple sclerosis, died in 1990, after which Rowling suffered a period of depression. She would use the experience to characterize the Harry Potter’s dementors, creepy creatures that feed on human emotion. “It's so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who's never been there, because it's not sadness," Rowling told Oprah Winfrey. “I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it's that cold absence of feeling—that really hollowed-out feeling. That's what Dementors are.” 

5. SHE CREATED QUIDDITCH AFTER A FIGHT WITH HER BOYFRIEND. 

“If you want to create a game like Quidditch, what you have to do is have an enormous argument with your then-boyfriend,” Rowling said in 2003. “You walk out of the house, you sit down in a pub, and you invent Quidditch. And I don't really know what the connection is between the row and Quidditch except that Quidditch is quite a violent game and maybe in my deepest, darkest soul I would quite like to see him hit by a bludger.” 

6. THE WIZARDING WORLD’S PLANTS COME FROM A REAL BOOK. 

“I used to collect names of plants that sounded witchy,” she told 60 Minutes, “and then I found this, Culpeper's Complete Herbal, and it was the answer to my every prayer: flax weed, toadflax, fleawort, Gout-wort, grommel, knotgrass, Mugwort." The book was penned in the 17th century by English botanist and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper; you can read it here.

7. A PROPOSED TITLE FOR THE AMERICAN VERSION OF PHILOSOPHER’S STONE WAS HARRY POTTER AND THE SCHOOL OF MAGIC

Rowling turned that down, saying, according to American publisher Arthur Levine, “No—that doesn’t feel right to me … What if we called it the Sorcerer’s Stone?” (The French edition, Levine points out in J.K. Rowling: A Bibliography, is called Harry Potter a L'ecole Des Sorciers.)

8. ROWLING MADE COMPLICATED OUTLINES FOR THE BOOKS. 


Click to enlarge.

You can see a partial outline for Order of the Phoenix above. The outline has chapter titles, a general outline of the plot, and then more specific plot points for certain characters. (Based on this outline, it looks like Rowling thought about calling Dolores Umbridge Elvira Umbridge instead!)

9. ARTHUR WEASLEY WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE. 

In a battle between good and evil this epic, not everyone would make it through alive—that would have led to “very fluffy, cozy books,” she told Meredith Vieira. “You know, suddenly I [would be] halfway through Goblet of Fire and suddenly everyone would just have a really great life and … the plot would go AWOL.” 

Which is not to say that Rowling knew exactly who was on the chopping block. She thought about killing Arthur Weasley after he’s attacked by Nagini in Order of the Phoenix, but instead opted to save him, partly because “there were very few good fathers in the book. In fact, you could make a very good case for Arthur Weasley being the only good father in the whole series.” (She also “seriously considered” killing Ron, then thought better of it.) 

Instead, Lupin—a character she had no intention of killing when she began the books—and Tonks died during the final Battle of Hogwarts. “I wanted there to be an echo of what happened to Harry just to show the absolute evil of what Voldemort's doing,” she said. “I think one of the most devastating things about war is the children left behind. As happened in the first war when Harry's left behind, I wanted us to see another child left behind. And it made it very poignant that it was [Lupin and Tonks's] newborn son.” 

10. TO KEEP DEATHLY HALLOWS FROM LEAKING EARLY, BLOOMSBURY GAVE IT CODENAMES. 

You probably wouldn’t have been so interested in reading Edinburgh Potmakers or The Life and Times of Clara Rose Lovett: An Epic Novel Covering Many Generations

11. HALEY JOEL OSMENT COULD HAVE PLAYED HARRY. 

When Steven Spielberg was attached to direct the film adaptation, he wanted Sixth Sense star Haley Joel Osment to play Harry. But the director eventually left over a creative clash with Rowling, and new director Chris Columbus had to find his star. Some 300 kids tested for Harry Potter over a period of seven months; Jonathan Lipnicki (Jerry McGuire) even expressed interest. “There were times when we felt we would never find an individual who embodied the complex spirit and depth of Harry,” Columbus said

Then, one night, Heyman went to the theater with screenwriter Steve Kloves (who ended up penning all but one of the Potter scripts). “There sitting behind me was this boy with these big blue eyes. It was Dan Radcliffe,” he told HeroComplex in 2009. “I remember my first impressions: He was curious and funny and so energetic. There was real generosity too, and sweetness. But at the same time he was really voracious and with hunger for knowledge of whatever kind.” He persuaded Radcliffe’s parents to let their son audition, and the rest is history.

12. RUPERT GRINT’S AUDITION WAS UNUSUAL. 

Nine-year-old Emma Watson’s first audition for the role of Hermione took place in her school gym; she auditioned a total of eight times. Grint, then 10, sent in a video audition, and went in a rather unusual direction: “I found out that you could audition by sending a picture of yourself and some information to Newsround,” he said in 2002. “I did my own video with me, first of all, pretending to be my drama teacher who unfortunately was a girl and then I did a rap of how I wanted to be Ron and then I made my own script thing up and sent it off.” 

He had some competition, though: Tom Felton auditioned for both Ron and Harry before ultimately being cast as Draco Malfoy.

13. THERE’S A VERY GOOD REASON HARRY’S EYES AREN’T GREEN IN THE MOVIES.

In the books, Harry’s eyes are described as “bright green”—but Radcliffe’s are blue. When Sorcerer’s Stone was in pre-production, Heyman called Rowling and told her their options: They’d tried green contacts; they could also trying making Radcliffe’s eyes green in post-production. How important was it, he wondered, for Harry’s eyes to be green? 

Rowling said that the only thing that was really important was that Harry's eyes looked like his mother’s eyes, so whoever played Lily Potter would need to have some resemblance to Radcliffe. This was a relief for Radcliffe, who had an an extremely adverse reaction to the contacts. (He was also allergic to the glasses, which made him break out in acne.) 

14. THE BROOMS USED IN THE SERIES AREN’T REGULAR BROOMS. 

They were made by modeler Pierre Bohanna using aircraft-grade titanium. “People think of them as a prop the kids are carrying around, but in reality, they have to sit on them,” Eddie Newquist, chief creative officer of the firm Global Entertainment Services, which puts on Harry Potter: The Exhibition, told Popular Mechanics. “They have to be mounted onto motion-control bases for green-screen shots and special-effects shots, so they have to be very thin and incredibly durable. Most of these kids weighed 80 pounds, 90 pounds [at the beginning]. Now they're all adults, so they're up over 120, 130 pounds, and you have to really make sure your brooms can withstand that.” 

15. THE ROLE OF PEEVES WAS CAST AND FILMED—THEN CUT. 

British comedian Rik Mayall was cast as Hogwarts’s prank-happy poltergeist in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. He showed up and shot the scenes, which were later cut when director Chris Columbus decided he didn’t like the look of the ghost. Mayall described the experience in a 2011 interview:

I got sent off the set because every time I tried to do a bit of acting, all the lads who were playing the school kids kept getting the giggles, they kept corpsing, so they threw me off.

Well, they asked me to do it with my back to them and they still laughed. So they asked me to do it around the other side of the cathedral and shout my lines, but they still laughed so they said they’d do my lines with someone else. So then I did a little bit of filming, then I went home and I got the money. That’s significant. Then a month later, they said: ‘Er, Rik, we’re sorry about this, but you’re not in the film. We’ve cut you out of the film.’ … But I still got the money. So that is the most exciting film I’ve ever been in, because I got the oodle and I wasn’t in it. Fantastic. 

He didn’t tell his kids his part had been cut, though, and when they went to see it, “they came back and they said: ‘Bloody good make up. You didn’t look like yourself at all dad,’” Mayall said. “They thought I was playing Hagrid, Robbie Coltrane’s part.” 

16. THE ACTRESS WHO PLAYED MOANING MYRTLE WAS MUCH OLDER THAN A STUDENT.

Shirley Henderson was 36 when she played the bathroom-haunting ghost of a 14-year-old student who was killed by a basilisk’s stare in Chamber of Secrets. Playing a ghost was tougher than playing a real person, she told the BBC, “because of all the technical stuff it involved. I had to be strapped up to this harness so it looked as if I was flying and so I could be pushed through the air and twisted and turned over and over again. It's physically very tiring on your body. It also requires a lot of concentration, because there's all kinds of people shouting stuff like 'Turn, do this, look at this' so they can do all their stuff with the computer effects while I'm trying to act it out. But once you block all that out, it's great fun. Really good fun.” 

17. PRISONER OF AZKABAN DIRECTOR ALFONSO Cuarón ASKED THE TRIO TO WRITE ESSAYS ABOUT THEIR CHARACTERS. 

Alfonso Cuarón wanted Watson, Radcliffe, and Grint to write essays about their characters from a first person point of view. According to Heyman, “they all responded very much in character … Dan wrote a page, Emma wrote 10 and Rupert didn't deliver anything.” Grint told Entertainment Weekly, “I didn't do mine, because I didn't think Ron would. Or that was my excuse. At the time, I was actually quite busy with the real schoolwork involved with my exams, and I just didn't do it. But in the end, it felt right because that's what Ron would have done.” 

18. ROWLING SHOT DOWN ONE OF Cuarón’S IDEAS. 

Rowling wasn’t precious about all of the details of her books (see: Harry’s eye color). “Inevitably, you have to depart from the strict storyline of the books,” she told Radcliffe. “The books are simply too long to make into very faithful films.” But that didn’t mean she’d let everything slide: “Sometimes I would dig my heels in on the funniest things,” she said. “I’d say yeah, change the costume, that’s not a problem … And then all of a sudden I’d say, ‘Why would they do that spell? They wouldn’t do that there.’”

Take, for example, one shot that Cuarón wrote into Prisoner of Azkaban, which Rowling called “rather bizarre.” “I think Flitwick was conducting, and there were miniature people in an orchestra inside something,” she told Radcliffe. “I said to him, but why? I know it’s visually exciting, but part of what I think fans really enjoyed about the literary world is that there was a logic that underpinned it. There was always a logic to the magic, however strange it became. And I know it’s intriguing to go through the mouth of whatever it was and see these little people, but why have they done it? For you to film it, that’s just what it feels like. Normally, with the magic, there’s a point. So we had a bit of discussion.” 

19. ROWLING TIPPED ALAN RICKMAN OFF TO SNAPE’S MOTIVATIONS. 

“I told him really early on that Snape had been in love with Lily, that’s why he hated James, that’s why he projected this amount of dislike onto Harry,” Rowling told Radcliffe. “So he knew that. Then you told me that he’d been saying … ‘I just don’t think Snape would do that, given what I know.’” She laughed, continuing, “And I thought, ‘Alan, are you really milking this now?’” 

She also tipped Radcliffe off to Harry’s (partial) fate after seeing him in Equus. Radcliffe asked her, point blank: “Do I die?” 

“You get a death scene,” Rowling told him. 

“I saw you double-take,” Rowling said. “Neal, my husband, afterward, said, ‘What did Dan ask you?’ And I said ‘He wanted to know if he’s going to die.’” When he asked what she’d said, Rowling told him, “I’m not telling you!” Though her husband was tipped off to Dumbledore's fate ahead of time, Rowling kept Harry’s ultimate fate a secret till the end.

20. THE ACTORS COULDN’T PLAY CONTACT SPORTS.

Instead, they played golf. ''[At Leavesden Studios], Rupert Grint and my brother [James] and I would hang out at the driving range downstairs quite a bit,” Oliver Phelps, who played George Weasley, told EW. “I mean, I say driving range, but it was a mat and a 150-yard cone at the other end. Golf was one of the only sports we were allowed to do in our contract because it was relatively quite safe. We couldn't do any contact sports.”

21. THE MOVIES FEATURED SOME HIGH TECH VISUAL EFFECTS … 

Visual effects artists were tasked with bringing many of the fantastic magical elements of Harry Potter to life, including everything from fire-breathing dragons and club-swinging giants to zombie-like Inferi and Voldemort’s snake-like face (which was created by using practical makeup and digitally removing Ralph Fiennes’s nose). One of their most challenging sequences came early in Deathly Hallows, when members of the Order of the Phoenix arrive at Privet Drive to whisk Harry away to a safe spot. Multiple Harrys, Mad-Eye Moody says, will confuse the Death Eaters on their trail—so some of the wizards chug Polyjuice Potion and transform into Harry.

The transformation was tough for visual effects artists to pull off. "We needed to have a little bit of the attributes of Harry, and a little bit of the attributes of whoever we started with—George, Fred, Ron, Hermione," Nicolas Aithadi, VFX supervisor at Moving Picture Company, told Popular Mechanics. "The tricky part is you have to be able to read the Harry part and the George part. What we keep from each of these characters has to be perfect." They accomplished it by coating the actors’ faces in UV paint, then having them make faces in the Mova Contour Reality Capture system, which has 29 cameras and can capture 50,000 points of information, creating a 3D mesh cloud they could use as a basis for the transforming faces. 

According to Phelps, it was completely different than anything they’d ever done before. “There are probably 30 different facial expressions they tried to get you to do,” he told Popular Mechanics. “I never realized how wide I could open my mouth until we did that scene, so that was quite cool.” Because of the UV paint, the VFX artists had one piece of advice, Phelps said: “They were quite keen to say, ‘Just don't go to any nightclubs tonight, because you'll look like a floating head.’” 

22. … BUT NOT ALL THE EFFECTS WERE COMPUTER GENERATED. 

Animatronics were made for the actors to interact with on set, including baby mandrakes, Hedwig, the Monster Book of Monsters, and Buckbeak, which was used on-set for close ups. “He could stare at you, his eyes could follow you, he could bow, and every one of his feathers was dyed and put in by hand,” Newquist told PopMech. “There are tens of thousands of them, and they look absolutely gorgeous.”Other creatures were built to give the animators reference for lighting, like the giant Jack-in-the-Box from Prisoner of Azkaban and house elf Kreacher. 

23. THE FILM’S MAKEUP ARTISTS APPLIED THE LIGHTNING BOLT SCAR MANY, MANY TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF EIGHT FILMS.

Five thousand eight hundred times, to be exact. In our 2014 interview with Radcliffe, he told us, “The lightning scar, on the first two films, we essentially painted it on, and after that we used Pros-Aide, which was like a glue [to put it on]. It was very simple.” The scar was applied to his face 2,000 times; the rest went on film and stunt doubles. Radcliffe also went through 160 pairs of Harry’s round-frame glasses. 

24. HELENA BONHAM CARTER KEPT HER BELLATRIX TEETH.

“I loved my [fake] teeth!” the actress told EW. “I kept them because they're not going to fit anybody else. I keep them in a blue plastic thing in the bathroom and bring them out when I miss [Bellatrix].’”

25. THERE COULD HAVE BEEN AN OFFICIAL HARRY POTTER MUSICAL.

Rowling has turned down a lot of proposed Harry Potter ideas—including, she told Winfrey, a musical that Michael Jackson wanted to do. Earlier this year, Rowling announced that she’s working with a team to bring a new Harry Potter story to the stage; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will hit the West End in 2016.

26. DUMBLEDORE WAS GAY.

In 2007, when asked by a fan whether or not Hogwarts’s favorite headmaster had ever been in love, Rowling responded, “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” She revealed that he had fallen in love with Grindelwald, “and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was.” 

Rowling said she found the reaction to the news very interesting. “To me it was not a big deal,” she told Radcliffe. “This is a very old man who has a very terrible job to do. And his gayness is not really relevant. Very relevant to him as a character, because I always saw him as a very lonely character. And I think that there is in fact a hint of it in [Deathly Hallows] because of the relationship he has with Grindelwald. He fell very hard for this boy ...  And don’t you think it was perfect that Dumbledore, who is always the great champion of love … his one great experience of love was utterly tragic.”

This led to one very necessary tweak to the Half-Blood Prince script. “In an early draft of that script, Dumbledore said to Harry … I remember a young woman with eyes of flashing whatever, raven-haired… and I read this and I scribbled on my copy of the script, ‘Steve, Dumbledore is gay,’ shoved it up the table,” she said. “And Steve [said,] ‘Oh.’ So that’s why that line didn’t make the film.”

27. ROWLING ACKNOWLEDGED THAT A HARRY/HERMIONE PAIRING MIGHT HAVE WORKED.

In an interview with Emma Watson for Wonderland magazine in 2014, Rowling said that “I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment,” saying that they ended up together “for reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it … The attraction itself is plausible but the combative side of it … I’m not sure you could have got over that in an adult relationship, there was too much fundamental incompatibility.” 

She noted that “in some ways Hermione and Harry are a better fit,” and that she felt that “quite strongly” when she wrote a particular scene in Deathly Hallows, where Harry and Hermione are in the tent. “I hadn’t told [Steve] Kloves that and when he wrote the script he felt exactly the same thing at exactly the same point,” she said.

28. BACK IN THE DAY, THE MALFOYS HUNG OUT WITH RICH MUGGLES.

“Until the imposition of the Statute of Secrecy in 1692, the Malfoy family was active within high-born Muggle circles, and it is said that their fervent opposition to the imposition of the Statute was due, in part, to the fact that they would have to withdraw from this enjoyable sphere of social life,” Rowling wrote on Pottermore. In fact, one Malfoy might have had designs on the British Throne: “There is ample evidence to suggest that the first Lucius Malfoy was an unsuccessful aspirant to the hand of Elizabeth I, and some wizarding historians allege that the Queen's subsequent opposition to marriage was due to a jinx placed upon her by the thwarted Malfoy,” Rowling writes. The Malfoys gave up their Muggle fraternizing when the Ministry of Magic, “the new heart of power,” was founded.

29. MOANING MYRTLE HAS AN INTERESTING INSPIRATION.

Rowling wrote on Pottermore that the whiny, bathroom-dwelling ghost was inspired by “the frequent presence of a crying girl in communal bathrooms, especially at the parties and discos of my youth. This does not seem to happen in male bathrooms, so I enjoyed placing Harry and Ron in such uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

30. MUGGLES CAN’T MAKE POTIONS.

And that’s because you can’t make potions without wands. “Merely adding dead flies and asphodel to a pot hanging over a fire will give you nothing but nasty-tasting, not to mention poisonous, soup,” Rowling wrote on Pottermore. Though her least favorite subject in school was Chemistry, she admitted that “I always enjoyed creating potions in the books, and researching ingredients for them. Many of the components of the various draughts and libations that Harry creates for Snape exist (or were once believed to exist) and have (or were believed to have) the properties I gave them.”

31. ROWLING’S EDUCATION CAME IN HANDY.

At university, she minored in Classics, and she put that education to good use, peppering the books with Latin. “It just amused me, the idea that wizards would still be using Latin as a living language, although it is, as scholars of Latin will know,” she said in 2000. “I take great liberties with the language for spells. I see it as a kind of mutation that the wizards are using.” Expelliarmus, for example, combines expellere, meaning “drive out” or “expel,” with arma, meaning “weapon,” and knocks weapons from an enemy’s hands. Incendio, which lights a fire, comes from incendiarius, or “fire-raising.” And Hogwarts’s motto is Draco Dormiens Numquam Titillandus—“Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon.”

32. THERE WAS ONE HARRY POTTER QUESTION ROWLING FEARED THE MOST.

It was “What was Dumbledore's wand made of?”

“That would have been quite a telling question,” Rowling told Time. “Because I had this elder thing in my mind, cause elder has this association in folklore, it's the death tree. I thought, ‘What am I going to say?’” Thankfully, no one ever asked.

33. STEPHEN KING THOUGHT DOLORES UMBRIDGE WAS A GREAT VILLAIN.

In his review of Order of the Phoenix for Entertainment Weekly, King said, “The gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and clutching, stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter” [PDF].

34. YOU CAN SPOT A CRUMPLE-HORNED SNORKACK IN THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER ...

It’s on the second story of the Magical Menagerie. Luna’s father, Xenophilius Lovegood, claimed it was a real creature, but it was never found. Rowling said that Luna, who became a naturalist, had to eventually “accept that her father might have made that one up.”

35. … AS WELL AS ARTHUR WEASLEY’S FLYING CAR.

The flying Ford Anglia—which Harry and Ron flew into the Whomping Willow and later saved them from Acromantulas in the books—can be found in line for the Dragon Challenge roller coaster, just over the bridge and before entering the castle.

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The Charming English Fishing Village That Inspired Dracula
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Whitby as seen from the top of the 199 Steps
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The train departed King's Cross at 10:25 a.m. on July 29, 1890. Bram Stoker settled wearily into the carriage for the six-hour journey to Whitby, the fashionable and remote seaside village in North Yorkshire. The sooty sprawl of London gave way to green grids of farmland and pasture, and then windswept moors blanketed in heather and wild roses.

Stoker needed this holiday. The 42-year-old manager of London's Lyceum Theatre had just finished an exhausting national tour with his employer, the celebrated but demanding actor Henry Irving. The unrelenting task of running the business side of Irving's many theatrical enterprises for the past decade had left Stoker with little time for himself. When the curtains fell at the end of each night's performance, he may have felt that the energy had been sucked out of him.

Now he looked forward to a three-week getaway where he would have time to think about his next novel, a supernatural tale that harnessed the sources of Victorian anxiety: immigration and technology, gender roles and religion. In ways he didn't foresee, the small fishing port of Whitby would plant the seeds for a vampire novel that would terrify the world. Stoker started out on an innocent and much-deserved vacation, but ended up creating Dracula.

A photo of Bram Stoker
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Stoker emerged from the train station in Whitby, the sounds and smell of the sea would have restored him after the long trip. He loaded his trunk into a horse-drawn cab for the journey up the West Cliff, where new vacation apartments and hotels served the crowds of holidaymakers. He checked into a flat at 6 Royal Crescent, a half-circle of elegant Georgian-style townhomes that faced the ocean.

He often felt invigorated by the seashore: "He's finally on a holiday, away from the hustle and bustle of London, the Lyceum Theatre, and Henry Irving's dominance over him," Dacre Stoker, a novelist and the author's great-grandnephew, tells Mental Floss. "The ocean and the seaside play into Bram's life, and, I believe, in stimulating his imagination."

Stoker's wife Florence and their 10-year-old son Noel would join him the following week. Now was his chance to explore Whitby on his own.

The East Cliff with Tate Hill Pier in the foreground
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"A curious blend of old and new it is," wrote a travel correspondent for the Leeds Mercury. The River Esk divided the town into two steep halves known as the West and East Cliffs. Down a tangle of paths from the brow of the West Cliff, Stoker found himself on the town's famed beach, where people gathered to watch the many vessels at sea or walked along the gentle surf. At the end of the beach was the Saloon, the nucleus of Whitby's social whirl.

"The enterprising manager engages the best musical and dramatic talent procurable, whilst on the promenade a selected band of professional musicians gives performances daily," wrote Horne's Guide to Whitby. Holidaymakers could purchase a day pass to the Saloon and enjoy afternoon tea, tennis, and endless people-watching.

Next to the Saloon, the West Pier featured a long promenade parallel to the river and a three-story building containing public baths, a museum with a collection of local fossils, and a subscription library. Shops selling fish and chips, ice cream, and Whitby rock lined the winding streets. Visitors could watch all kinds of fishing vessels discharging their daily catch, and even hop aboard a boat for a night's "herringing" with local fishermen.

Whitby's East Cliff had a more mysterious atmosphere. Across the town's single bridge, tightly packed medieval cottages and jet factories leaned over the narrow cobbled streets, "rising one above another from the water side in the most irregular, drunken sort of arrangement conceivable," the Leeds Mercury reported.

Above the ancient Tate Hill Pier, a stone stairway of 199 steps (which pallbearers used when they carried coffins) led up the cliff to St. Mary's parish church and its graveyard full of weathered headstones. Towering over the whole scene—and visible from nearly any spot in town—were the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a 13th-century pile of Gothic arches that had been built upon the remains of a 7th-century monastery.

"I think [Stoker] was struck by the setting. He's thinking, 'This is perfect. I have the ships coming in, I've got the abbey, a churchyard, a graveyard'," Dacre Stoker says. "Maybe it was by chance, but I think it just became that perfect scene."

Whitby Abbey
Whitby Abbey
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In Dracula, chapters six through eight kick the narrative into frightening action. By then, real estate agent Jonathan Harker has traveled to Transylvania to negotiate Dracula's purchase of a London property and become the vampire's prisoner. His fiancée Mina Murray, her friend Lucy Westenra, and Lucy's mother have traveled to Whitby for a relaxing holiday, but Mina remains troubled by the lack of letters from Jonathan. She confides her worries and records the strange scenes she witnesses in her journal.

On the afternoon of his arrival, according to a modern account compiled by historians at the Whitby Museum, Stoker climbed the 199 Steps to St. Mary's churchyard and found a bench in the southwest corner. The view made a deep impression on Stoker, and he took note of the river and harbor, the abbey's "noble ruin," the houses "piled up one over the other anyhow." In his novel, Mina arrives in late July on the same train as Stoker, mounts the 199 Steps, and echoes his thoughts:

"This is to my mind the nicest spot in Whitby, for it lies right over the town, and has a full view of the harbor ... It descends so steeply over the harbor that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed. In one place part of the stonework of the graves stretches out over the sandy pathway far below. There are walks, with seats beside them, through the churchyard; and people go and sit there all day long looking at the beautiful view and enjoying the breeze. I shall come and sit here very often myself and work."

The churchyard gave Stoker a number of literary ideas. The following day, Stoker chatted there with three leathery old Greenland fisherman who likely spoke in a distinct Yorkshire dialect. They told Stoker a bit of mariner's lore: If a ship's crew heard bells at sea, an apparition of a lady would appear in one of the abbey's windows. "Then things is all wore out," one of the sailors warned.

Stoker ambled between the headstones that sprouted from the thick carpet of grass. Though most of the markers' names and dates had been erased by the wind, he copied almost 100 into his notes. Stoker used one of them, Swales, as the name of the fisherman with a face that is "all gnarled and twisted like the bark of an old tree," who begins talking with Mina in the churchyard. Mina asks him about the legend of the lady appearing in the abbey window, but Swales says it's all foolishness—stories of "boh-ghosts an' barguests an' bogles" that are only fit to scare children.

St. Mary's churchyard
St. Mary's churchyard, which Mina calls "the nicest spot in Whitby."
iStock

For the first few days in August, Stoker was occupied by the summer's social calendar. He likely enjoyed dinner with friends arriving from London, and went to church on Sunday morning. On the 5th, Stoker's wife and son joined him at 6 Royal Crescent. The next several days may have been spent at the Saloon, promenading on the pier, and making social calls, as it was the custom for newly arrived visitors to visit with acquaintances in town.

But Whitby's infamous weather had the ability to turn a sunny day somber in an instant. August 11 was a "grey day," Stoker noted, "horizon lost in grey mist, all vastness, clouds piled up and a 'brool' over the sea." With Florence and Noel perhaps staying indoors, Stoker set off for the East Cliff again and chatted with a Coast Guard boatman named William Petherick. "Told me of various wrecks," Stoker jotted. During one furious gale, a "ship got into harbor, never knew how, all hands were below praying."

The ship was the Dmitry, a 120-ton schooner that had left the Russian port of Narva with a ballast of silver sand. The ship encountered a fierce storm as it neared Whitby on October 24, 1885, and aimed for the harbor.

"The 'Russian' got in but became a wreck during the night," according to a copy of the Coast Guard's log, which Petherick delivered to Stoker. The crew survived. In a picture taken by local photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe just a few days after the storm, the Dmitry is shown beached near Tate Hill Pier with its masts lying in the sand.

'The Wreck of the Dmitry' (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
The Wreck of the Dmitry (1885), by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe
Courtesy of the Sutcliffe Gallery

Petherick's account gave Stoker the means for his vampire's arrival in England, the moment when the mysterious East disrupts the order of the West. Mina pastes a local newspaper article describing a sudden and ferocious storm that hurled Dracula's ship, the Demeter from Varna, against Tate Hill Pier. The Coast Guard discovered the crew had vanished and the captain was dead. Just then, "an immense dog sprang up on deck and … making straight for the steep cliff … it disappeared in the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight," the article in Mina's journal reads. The dog was never seen again, but townsfolk did find a dead mastiff that had been attacked by another large beast.

Mina describes the funeral for the Demeter's captain, which Stoker based on scenes from an annual celebration he watched on August 15 called the Water Fete. In reality, thousands of cheerful spectators lined the quays as a local band and choir performed popular songs and a parade of gaily decorated boats sailed up the river, with banners fluttering merrily in the breeze, according to the Whitby Gazette's report. But through Mina, Stoker transformed the scene into a memorial:

"Every boat in the harbor seemed to be there, and the coffin was carried by captains all the way from Tate Hill Pier up to the churchyard. Lucy came with me, and we went early to our old seat, whilst the cortege of boats went up the river to the Viaduct and came down again. We had a lovely view, and saw the procession nearly all the way."

The final week of Stoker's holiday elicited some of the most important details in Dracula. On August 19, he bought day passes to Whitby's museum library and the subscription library. In the museum's reading room, Stoker wrote down 168 words in the Yorkshire dialect and their English meanings from F.K. Robinson's A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighborhood of Whitby, which later formed the bulk of Mr. Swales's vocabulary in his chats with Mina.

One of the words was "barguest," a term for a "terrifying apparition," which also refers specifically to a "large black dog with flaming eyes as big as saucers" in Yorkshire folklore, whose "vocation appears to have been that of a presage of death," according to an account from 1879.

"I do think Stoker meant for that connection," John Edgar Browning, visiting lecturer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and expert in horror and the gothic, tells Mental Floss. "Moreover, he probably would have meant for the people of Whitby in the novel to make the connection, since it was they who perceived Dracula's form as a large black dog."

Downstairs, Stoker checked out books on Eastern European culture and folklore, clearly with the aim of fleshing out the origins of his vampire: Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, a travelogue titled On the Track of the Crescent, and most importantly, William Wilkinson's An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldovia: with Various Observations Relating to Them.

The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
The library building where Stoker discovered Dracula
Courtesy of Dacre Stoker

From the latter book, Stoker wrote in his notes, "P. 19. DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions, or cunning."

The Wilkinson book gave Stoker not just the geographical origin and nationality for his character, but also his all-important name, redolent of mystery and malice. "The moment Stoker happened upon the name of 'Dracula' in Whitby—a name Stoker scribbled over and over on the same page on which he crossed through [the vampire's original name] 'Count Wampyr,' as if he were savoring the word's three evil syllables—the notes picked up tremendously," Browning says.

By the time Stoker and his family returned to London around August 23, he had developed his idea from a mere outline to a fully fledged villain with a sinister name and unforgettable fictional debut.

"The modernization of the vampire myth that we see in Dracula—and that many contemporary reviewers commented upon—may not have happened, at least to the same degree, without Stoker's visit to Whitby," Browning says. "Whitby was a major catalyst, the contemporary Gothic 'glue', as it were, for what would eventually become the most famous vampire novel ever written."

Bram Stoker visited Whitby only once in his life, but the seaside village made an indelible mark on his imagination. When he finally wrote the scenes as they appear in Dracula, "He placed all of these events in real time, in real places, with real names of people he pulled off gravestones. That's what set the story apart," Dacre Stoker says. "That's why readers were scared to death—because there is that potential, just for a moment, that maybe this story is real."

Additional source: Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, annotated and transcribed by Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller

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This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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Warner Bros.

As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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