I love The Amazing Race franchise, and I adore Anne of Green Gables. So when The Amazing Race Canada made a pit stop at Prince Edward Island this season, I was thrilled, and my bucket list grew. From the cliffs of Cavendish, to rolling green pastures as far as the eye can see – I want to go there. But it also got me thinking about this strange phenomenon of literary tourism – the settings, characters and their creators that draw us like lodestones to otherwise obscure locations.
Literary tourism refers to visiting places from fictional works, as well as the lives of authors. This form of cultural tourism sees people visiting the graves of deceased writers, their historic homes, favourite writing spots or places referenced in their famous works.
I wondered about youth literature tourism in particular, given the passionate YA readership has created so many fandoms that relish breaking down barriers between real and make-believe (like Harry Potter’s Quidditch now being played as a real sport, for instance). How has literary tourism taken on new dimensions and greater capitalism, thanks to youth literature – both old and new, book and film?
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Lucy Maud Montgomery was born and raised in rural Prince Edward Island, which became the setting inspiration for her series, Anne of Green Gables. Montgomery’s birthplace is a tourist attraction, the town of Cavendish (which has also been the filming location for just about every Anne of Green Gables adaptation) has become a famous tourist trek, and houses like the one that inspired the fictional Green Gables are heritage-listed by Parks Canada. The Island’s Centre of the Arts also puts on the Anne of Green Gables musical every summer.
There’s reason to rejoice when John Green – arguably the most popular young adult author writing today – decides to set his latest literary juggernaut, The Fault in Our Stars, in your capital city. Suddenly gas stations become literary landmarks, and young readers are familiarising themselves with the work of Joep Van Lieshout because a favourite scene took place around his ‘Funky Bones’ artwork.
Melina Marchetta is beloved both in Australia and overseas; she’s particularly popular in America, where she’s one of the few YA authors to have won the prestigious Printz Award for ‘best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit.’ And with all of her contemporary YA novels set around inner city Sydney (which is also Marchetta’s hometown) there’s an argument to be made that she can do for American YA-lit tourists what Home & Away does for British travellers and sea-changers. And for those who are interested in retracing the worded steps of books like The Piper’s Son and Looking For Alibrandi, Australian bloggers Annette & Rachel have created ‘The Tome Travellers’ – a blog journey through the locations of various Australian based YA novels – including Marchetta’s. When the film adaptation of her award-winning Printz novel On the Jellicoe Road is finally realised, I predict a tourism boom!
The next time someone writes a YA-bashing article that inevitably cites the awfulness of Twilight as evidence of the whole readership’s unworthiness (*ahem*) tell them that Stephenie Meyer’s vampire franchise (for all its faults) also single-handedly revitalized an entire town. Forks’ economy was fuelled by the local timber industry, which was in decline when Stephenie Meyers’ first Twilight book was published in 2003. By the time the movie adaptation hit cinemas in 2008, the town was experiencing a tourism boom thanks to Meyers’ franchise being set there, and now Twilight tourism is a legitimate economy for the town. Jessica Crowe from the Southern Illinois University has even written a report on: The effect of social infrastructure on film tourism and community development in Forks, WA.
Sure, there’s the Warner Bros. Studio Tour and the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios – but if you want a real Muggle experience of Harry’s London, look no further than Muggle Tours! Touted as the No 1. Harry Potter Tour in London, you get to see London landmarks mentioned in the books and filmed for the movies. There’s also plenty of author tourism around JK Rowling – Harry Potter fans can pay up to £1,000 a night to stay in Scotland’s The Balmoral hotel room where Rowling secreted herself away to finish writing final book ‘Deathly Hallows’ (as seen in the TV documentary ‘J. K. Rowling – A Year In The Life’). But if £1,000 a night is too steep, you can visit The Elephant House café and restaurant in Edinburgh, where JK Rowling wrote many of her early novels and which is now promoted as a ‘place of inspiration to writers.’
Do you want a fan-experience of the dystopian, post-apocalyptic nation of Panem that sees children fight to the death for the amusement of the bloodthirsty Capitol Bourgeoisie? Relax: it’s not quite that dire – there’s no live-action Hunger Games going on! A Hunger Games ‘unofficial tourism’ company in Atlanta takes you around various filming locations and offers ‘Archery 101’. There are also walking tours of Katniss’ forest.
Lake District, England
Not only did she provide the narrative backdrop for many a childhood, Beatrix Potter was also a passionate conservationist who campaigned to preserve her (and Peter Rabbit’s!) beloved Lake District in North West England. By the time of her death in 1943 she had left 15 farms and over 4,000 acres to the National Trust, a conservation charity that protects historic and green sites – so when you visit the Lake District you can quite literally walk in Potter’s footsteps, because she wanted it that way. She also left a majority of her original illustrations to the same National Trust, which can be viewed at the Beatrix Potter Gallery. You can also see the books and characters brought to life at the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction (my seven-year-old self [right] can attest to its awesomeness!).
Stephen Chbosky and his YA novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, entered into the pop-culture zeitgeist with flourish in 1999. It became a simultaneous bestseller, and one of the most banned books in America. Sadly, for the legions of teen readers who made a cult following out of Perks, Chbosky hasn’t written another novel since – instead turning his pen to screenplays. But then, a mere 13 years after the book’s release, Chbosky wrote and directed the movie adaptation – which was filmed in his old hometown of Pittsburgh. As well as bringing this cult-teen classic to a new generation, the near perfect film adaptation made Pittsburgh into a teen trek. Chbosky even apologised in advance to his hometown, for turning the Fort Pitt Tunnel into a potentially tourist-clogging icon: ‘But I think that when everyone sees Emma Watson flying out of the tunnel – standing up on a pickup truck – I think they’ll agree that it was worth it.’ Totally.