In this day and age literature is becoming more of a virtual art with most books, past and present, available online and downloadable to iPhones, iPads and a whole array of other devices. You might not know that Edinburgh was the first UNESCO City of Literature and is home to many world-famous novelists, three of which are mentioned in this article. You might be more familiar with Edinburgh’s excellent pubs but did you realise that several of the best drinking establishments are named after classic novels or are featured in modern Scottish fiction. There are also numerous ‘Literary Pub Tours’ to take around Edinburgh to combine these two important aspects of Edinburgh life – beer and books!
One of the most famous and successful novelists in the UK of the last decade is J.K. Rowling who wrote the Harry Potter novels and who’s fame and fortune has escalated since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. The nationwide hype and hysteria surrounding each of Rowling’s novels encapsulated the UK’s love of literature. Each time a new Harry Potter novel was released people queued overnight outside bookshops and read the novel whatever they were doing (commuting, eating, walking down the street) but were petrified in case they overheard someone on the bus discussing a part of the book that they had yet to reach! Rowling did a lot of her writing in cafes around Edinburgh and The Elephant House on George IV Bridge proclaims that it is ‘The birthplace of Harry Potter’ in its window as Rowling wrote a lot of her first novel in here. The view of Edinburgh Castle is stunning from The Elephant House and it has been suggested that this was Rowling’s biggest inspiration for Hogwart’s school.
Edinburgh is also the birthplace of one of the most well-known children’s adventure stories (until Rowling’s Harry Potter series, of course), namely Treasure Island by Edinburgh-born Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson wanted to create an adventure novel where the action, danger and excitement were the main focuses so as to entertain his audience of young boys. However, despite his insistence that the characters must come second in adventure stories one of the most famous villains of all time was imagined by Stevenson; the pirate Long John Silver. Stevenson wrote another ‘boy’s adventure story’ called Kidnapped about a young man who finds himself in the midst of a dangerous escapade. First published in 1886 the novel was re-released in three modern versions in 2007 to celebrate Edinburgh being named the first UNESCO City of Literature. The novel’s re-publication shows the longevity of Stevenson’s work and the passion that Scotland, and the UK, has for literature throughout the ages. There is a pub in Edinburgh which pays tribute to another of Stevenson’s novels The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the pub is aptly named Jekyll and Hyde’s, and its quirky, dark theme (with cocktails named after the Seven Deadly Sins, the entrance to the toilets hidden in massive bookshelves and weekly ‘Comedy in the Crypt’ sessions) comes straight from the horror of Dr Jekyll’s alter ego the monstrous Mr Hyde. Stevenson’s novel reflects the duality of Edinburgh with its streets lined with beautiful buildings whilst a darker past lies beneath in the ‘underground city’ in his depiction of his main character’s split personality.
Another one of Edinburgh’s famous contemporary literary exports is crime writer Ian Rankin who has made his name writing the Inspector Rebus series which, to date, numbers 17 novels and numerous short stories about his famous protagonist. Rankin began writing his first novel whilst he was studying a PhD in Scottish Literature at The University of Edinburgh and he subsequently became a literature tutor at the University after graduating. Over the years Rankin has won many awards including the Chandler-Fulbright Award, two Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Dagger prizes for short stories and the CWA Macallan Gold Dagger for Fiction for Black and Blue in 1997 along with a large and loyal fan base. Rankin depicts Inspector Rebus drinking in The Oxford Bar on Edinburgh’s Young Street throughout his novels, this seems to be the place to find Rebus when he is not
down at the police station, and it is also Rankin’s favourite watering hole. Many of the pub’s regulars are featured in the Rebus novels and there is even an opportunity for punters and fans to add their contributions to a crime story begun by Rankin on the Oxford Bar’s website. Rankin keeps his fans very much involved in his writing and thus fuels their enthusiasm in literature in general, clearly a throwback to his University tutor days.
Authors like Rankin and Rowling, who excited her audience so much that they clamoured to get copies of her new releases, along with regular book signings by top authors (an important part of contemporary British literary culture) ensure that the UK’s passion for literature is upheld and is kept an important part of modern life despite the new technological distractions. All of this along with Edinburgh’s annual Book Festival cements Scotland’s capital city as a literary hub. After all, J.K. Rowling wouldn’t be able to sign your laptop screen.