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Harry Potter in Scots is exactly what you English and Americans need

Let's talk about David Beckham for a bit

Published: Tuesday, 23rd January 2018 at 7:00 am

The short version: there's an edition of Harry Potter that's written in the Scots language. If you want a write-up that fusses over Scottish words and pronunciations like they're indecipherable broadcasts from Venus, there are plenty of English and American writers that will provide that on other websites. Instead, I'm gonnae talk about the Highland Clearances for a bit.


Scotland used to be a nation of 'crofts' – small farms rented by families from landowners, who were often their clan chiefs. The Highland Clearances are the name we gave to a process in which landowners realised there was more money in using the land for grazing sheep and, later, for staging hunts. The land itself was more valuable than the people who lived on it.

Families were forced out of their homes by rent hikes and sometimes by violence. Many emigrated to countries like the US and Canada in search of a better life. In their place, wealthy lowlanders and the English aristocracy would stay in Highland estates and stalk deer over the hillsides, and wear kilts and drink whisky and have a great time. The 'desolate beauty' of Scotland – the sheer emptiness of the Highlands– is a byproduct of this.

History lesson over. I'm going to talk about the Harry Potter book.

But first I'm going to talk about David Beckham's whisky.

Whisky is Scotland's national drink. Haig Club, on the other hand, was a brand of whisky launched in 2014, in association with former England football captain David Beckham and English music producer Simon Fuller. The expensive advert was directed by English film director Guy Ritchie, and features Beckham and his friends arriving at a Scottish estate via seaplane and motorbike, then wearing kilts and drinking his horrible whisky with ice and and generally having a great time in their tartan playground.

Right, OK, time to talk about Harry Potter.

First, a quick question about the Hogwarts Express.

If you're a Muggle and you board a normal train going North from King's Cross Station in London, in what country do you end up? Who lives there? What do you expect the people to sound like?

Another question: if you board the Hogwarts Express and head North, where do you end up? Is it a huge big castle and estate, where normal people are banned?

And who lives there? What do they sound like? Do they sound like nice English stage children?

None of this is a swipe at JK Rowling, who's a favourite daughter of Edinburgh. It's just to say that considering it's a series that is primarily set in Scotland, an edition of Harry Potter in the Scots language should not be as much of a curiosity as it is.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stane, released last November and translated by Matthew Fitt, is an official version of the story in the Scots language. (Yes it's a language. No, mercifully, I'm not going to get into it here.) A photo of its first page has been doing the rounds online recently.

While most have been genuinely enthusiastic, it's still irritating that it's seen as a bit of a novelty. There's a habit of treating anything to do with Scots as inherently 'fun' – putting on a silly voice and not quite speaking properly. Scots culture is alternately degraded then sold back to us as a joke we internalise. After the Jacobite revolution, wearing a kilt was banned. Later, when Queen Victoria turned her Balmoral estate into a Highlan' theme park – plaid everywhere, Highland games in the grounds– Victorian woollen mills saw a marketing opportunity and designed a different kilt pattern for every clan to buy. We now wear them to weddings. From 'Scottish Twitter' to ceilidhs to The Philosopher's Stane, it's all a way of turning a culture into a playground.

(Or, possibly, I just thought it would be funny to teach Harry Potter fans some Scottish history they didn't want to know. Who's to say? Scots are gallus like that.)


The book is available to buy now, and you should; you might start to understand a wee bit about the Scottish condition. It even improves on the original in some ways: forget Dumbledore and Quidditch, we're aw aboot Dumbiedykes and Bizzumbaw noo.


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