Revisiting Hogwarts in the Books

My grandfather’s health had already been in decline, but in 2021, that decline accelerated. By October, it seemed like he didn’t have much time left.

Then my mom went into the hospital for increasingly severe back/hip pain. She was diagnosed with cancer. A week later, she was gone. My grandfather followed a few days afterward.

This was an absolutely brutal one-two punch for my entire family. Totally sapped my creative energies for a while. These slowly returned with music and photography projects, but I didn’t have any interest in Hogwarts. It certainly didn’t help that Rowling continues to treat the rights of trans women and cis women as if they’re a zero-sum game. So it felt really weird when in August, I briefly started getting intrigued by the literary version of the castle again.

You may remember this post, in which I detailed my inchoate attempts to visually capture Hogwarts as I imagine it in the books.

I didn’t get very far. It’s deeply challenging to reconcile all the details in the books with each other, let alone with my more holistic impressions of the entire place.

And yet here I was again, trying to work out an appealing design solution that contradicted neither the books nor my own imagination. I experimented with digital massing models, trying out different tower positions in 3D:

Ugh. Hideous.

One of the big challenges is the Astronomy tower. We know that it’s got battlements where the class sets up their telescopes. We know that it’s positioned right above the entrance hall. And we know that it’s the castle’s tallest tower. But having the castle’s tallest point be front and center feels kinda weird. And it gets way worse when you give it a flat top.

So I thought to myself, Hmmm, maybe if I can work out satisfactory designs for the towers, the rest of the castle will follow. I experimented with other basic shapes that allowed for flat battlements on the Astro tower, hoping to find something more dynamic and appealing:

Yuck.

I decided to switch back to 2D. Sometimes that’s easier for ideation. Sure enough, I came up with a design I liked better than any other so far: A hexagonal tower with a sloping spire surrounded by corbelled battlements. Next I tried variations on Ravenclaw Tower, followed by the nearby West Tower, home of the Owlery.

Of course, these towers look very different from each other, but by this point, I’d decided that Hogwarts probably drew on a lot of eclectic architectural styles anyway.

Gryffindor Tower is a tricky bastard. As one of the castle’s three tallest towers, it’s a prime position for casting defensive spells in the Battle of Hogwarts. Yet the common room isn’t any higher up than any of the other rooms on the seventh floor. So where are the fighters going that’s so high up? To the dormitories above? That seems unlikely. And speaking of the dorms … how are those laid out? There are separate spiral staircases for the boys’ and girls’ dorms, and Harry’s cohort is in the same room at the top of the boys’ staircase every year. Maybe something like this?

Again … fugly.

So I gave up again. This was in August 2022. A few months later, I got interested in the fascinating and scary world of AI-generated art, and I convinced Midjourney to create these for me. They’re not closely designed to the specifications of the book castle’s architecture, but I think a lot of them capture the overall vibe in nice ways. I’ll round out this post with these. Wish I could paint like this!

Midjourney prompt: castle on a tall cliff over a broad loch, a tall reddish-gray castle with many turrets and towers and spires, castle above a lake, medieval fantasy fortress, parapets, cathedral architecture, blue sky with white cumulus, sunny day, breezy lake with dark water, concept art, realistic, Feng Zhu
Midjourney prompt: Hogwarts castle, retrofuturism, chrome, 1960s aesthetic, magical fortress
Midjourney prompt: huge Scottish castle on a tall cliff that leads to wide lawns sloping down to a broad loch, a tall reddish-gray castle with many turrets and towers and spires, castle above a lake, medieval fantasy fortress, parapets, cathedral architecture, blue sky with white cumulus, sunny day, breezy lake with dark water, concept art, hyper realistic, 35mm film, Feng Zhu

Anyway, I still feel really weird about Harry Potter these days. Not very enthusiastic, thanks to the really disappointing ways the author is using her money and influence. I certainly have no plans to send any further money her way. But I can rationalize whatever interest I still have by reminding myself that she didn’t create the trope of a big fantasy castle.

Still, I wouldn’t judge anyone for being completely done with Potter. Nor would I judge anyone for judging me for not being quite done.

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10 thoughts on “Revisiting Hogwarts in the Books

  1. Hi Joe,

    That’s all totally understandable! You should only do what you feel comfortable with. I love the design ideas you’ve had – it’s really easy to see why the films ended up putting a gazebo roof on their astronomy tower’s lookout. I wonder, is the great hall definitely in the middle of the castle? If it was to one side of it, it might make the tower sit prettier in the skyline. Ravenclaw Tower is nifty too – oddly parallel evolution to some of the elements the new game has come up with, but very much it’s own thing. I recall there’s a big project someone did years ago for a book compliant Hogwarts plan view layout and the footprint of it ended up being just weird.

    With Rowling, as you say, the important thing is not giving her money. Keep or circulate used copies, check out fan creations, that sort of thing. I dimly recall someone on etsy makes pro trans pins to support a pro trans charity, but can’t remember the exact details. Passion for fiction is okay if the author is being awful – what matters is the not giving money part, and highlighting the problem.

    I’d love to see you return to 4D, especially now we have more references for parts like the Quad cloisters, but that’s got to be when you feel like it and no sooner.

    I’m really sorry for your dual loss, but hopefully some kind words do help if only a little.

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  2. Hi Joe,

    I’m really sorry to hear about the sudden loss of your mum, and of your grandfather so soon afterwards. That sounds so difficult. I’m glad that you’re feeling able to re-engage with some creativity again.

    As a trans person myself, I also feel conflict about what JK Rowling is doing and my fascination with Hogwarts castle, but as you say, it’s not something she has a monopoly on, and we can appreciate the complexity and design of a fantasy castle without supporting her as an individual.

    I love your 2D designs for the Astronomy and Ravenclaw Towers! I like that the Astro tower has the fantastical feel of a coned roof but with access to the battlements as well.

    As the Englanderish mentioned, there was someone who created a layout of Hogwarts castle based on very close scrutiny of the books. You can find their design and explanations here:
    http://members.madasafish.com/~cj_whitehound/Fanfic/map_of_Hogwarts/castle.htm

    I’d love to see more of your take on the book version of the castle if you go any further with it.
    Also in my mind the Astro tower was always just to the side of the front doors, so that the battlements might overhang it, without being directly over the Entrance Hall, which would make supporting it from the ground tricky.

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  3. Supporting and enjoying the Wizarding World isn’t supporting transphobia. An artist and their art are separate entities. It’s nonsensical to enjoy something immensely then find out more about its creator and suddenly think that it’s rubbish and supporting it is supporting something unrelated.

    There’s also an important distinction to be made around Rowling’s transphobia. Yes, she’s prejudiced, but that doesn’t make her the devil (“the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters”). I’m sure you like Horace Slughorn, yet he’s clearly prejudiced. He’s a blood supremacist. The difference between his prejudice and that of the Death Eaters’ is that their prejudice is borne out of malice while his is out ignorance. It’s the same for Rowling’s transphobia.

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    1. Well the problem with Rowling directly is she gives to anti-trans charities. So not giving her money is actually important if you care about that. You can still like HP of course, but what’s important is the how.

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  4. I’m not sure what to comment since most things have already been said, so I’ll just say it’s good to see you’re recovering and I’m looking forward to what you’ll be doing with Hogwarts in the future.

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  5. Hey Joe, I wish you much strength!

    Everything you said is very understandable, the magic of the franchise is within the imagination and memories of everyone and that is not connected to the author for me. I am very interested in the book castle!

    Thank you Joe!

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  6. You share so much love and enjoyment on this platform! good to have you back if only for a short time. I hope the healing process continues

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  7. I’ve been struggling with this exact same project for years and run into the same issues.

    What I’ve decided for Gryffindor Tower (and maybe Ravenclaw as well) is that it looks something like the Astronomy Tower you’ve drawn here. There are floors above the common room of the same size and shape, but they are divided by walls into semicircular dorms. Then at the top, in a central turret or spire, is Harry’s room. We never see any dorm room but Harry’s in the books, so it’s entirely possible that his is the only small, round one.

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