Holiday in Hell… uh, Cokeworth

Before we get to Cokeworth, here are some previous posts on Chapter 3: “The Letters from Nowhere,” focusing largely on the chapter’s slapstick elements:

As we will soon see, it is thanks to Cokeworth that the Dursley parents rarely address Harry by name. To them, he is generally “you” or “the boy” or “one” (as in “one of them”). The Hogwarts letters don’t address him by name either. Instead, they use the more formal first initial but still give him the respected title of “Mr.” We can probably assume that Hogwarts addresses each 11-year-old letter recipient according to the same formula. Here are the addresses:

Letter 1 –

Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
Little Whinging

Letter 2 –

‘Mr. H. Potter, The Smallest Bedroom, 4 Privet Drive —’”‘

Letter at the hotel –

Mr. H. Potter
Room 17
Railview Hotel

Part of the joke of the chapter is that as Harry moves, the letters track his location and include it in their address. Though the Dursleys suspect they are being watched, the truth more likely is that the charm used in creating the letters is simply tracking Harry – and tracking him quite precisely from the “Cupboard under the Stairs” to “The Smallest Bedroom” to the “Railview Hotel.”

Let’s take a closer look though at that final location.

Photo from Harry Potter Wiki

On first glance, Cokeworth seems just some throwaway place with no real significance. In reality, it hints at a rich backstory. The address tells us that the hotel has a view of a railroad in the fictional industrial town of Cokeworth – a place we will see later in Harry’s Occlumency lessons with Snape, in Chapter 2 of Half-Blood Prince, and in Chapter 33 of Deathly Hallows. In other words, Spinner’s End is in Cokeworth. So is the swingset where Lily first met her young wizard friend Severus Snape.

Somehow, whether by chance or instinct or even providence, Vernon’s random driving has landed him in “a gloomy-looking hotel on the outskirts” of one of the most important pre-Hogwarts locations in the Harry Potter series: the home-town of Harry’s mother Lily, his Aunt Petunia, and his Potions Master, Severus Snape. In the larger plot of the saga, this is the town where Petunia learned to hate magic – because her sister had it and she did not. It is the town also where Snape learned to despise Muggles – because his Muggle father treated his mother abusively and Lily’s Muggle sister held him in contempt. And likewise, young Severus’ disdain for Muggles feeds into Petunia’s hatred of magic. In other words, many of Harry’s struggles, both at home with the Dursleys and soon at school with Snape, link back to Cokeworth.

Earlier, on reading the first letter,

[Vernon’s] face went from red to green faster than a set of traffic lights. And it didn’t stop there. Within seconds it was the grayish white of old porridge. “P-P-Petunia!” he gasped.

And when aunt Petunia’s reads the first line of Harry’s letter,

it looked as though she might faint. She clutched her throat and made a choking noise. “Vernon! Oh my goodness — Vernon!”

Petunia’s childhood experiences in Cokeworth elicited these exaggerated responses and have brought them back, perhaps unthinkingly, to Cokeworth, on the run from the ghosts of Petunia’s past and Vernon’s fears of “that dangerous nonsense.”

Meanwhile, at their hotel in Cokeworth,

Harry stayed awake, sitting on the windowsill, staring down at the lights of passing cars and wondering. . . .

To be continued

At-Home Video Reading: If you want to hear / watch this chapter read by Eddie Redmayne, check out Chapter 3: The Letters from No One at Wizarding World.

Note: J.K. Rowling has written about Cokeworth on Wizarding World, confirming the location’s significance. I’m not really sure when I first realized that Spinner’s End and the Evans sisters’ asphalt playground were in Cokeworth, but I think it was well before Rowling’s 2015 write-up because I was fairly surprised recently on re-reading my 2010 posts and realizing that I had not included that information then.

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