By Amanda Morris
“The overhead lights shut off and red lights began flashing. An automatic metal door sealed the entrance. Air vents were locked, and a distinct hissing sound emerged as oxygen was pulled from the room…Sarah gasped, “We need to find that secret exit now!”
At first glance, this scenario appears commonplace to fantasy readers. The description of a hero’s peril when all seems lost just seconds before imminent death or an even worse fate—becoming trapped in an imaginary realm where the human world is being invaded by dastardly villains. The suspense takes away your breath and leaves your mind racing and wondering—will the outcome be different this time?
In this instance, however, all is not quite as it appears. Because in this case, the characters are not confronting a mythical beast or facing a dark sorcerer in the final battle to save an unfamiliar land. No, this fight occurs in a place more scary and much closer–our world.
A Dangerous Royal Tour
Unlike many books in the genre, the entirety of C. R. Stewart’s Britfield series is set against popular tourist destinations like The Louvre in Paris, the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which serves as the perfect spot for a scoop of strawberry gelato and the rare opportunity to escape the turmoil of the day. Readers get to soak in the ever-changing landscape of iconic spots and bask in the experience of traveling the world through words. This refreshing formula could catapult Stewart’s Britfield into one of the world’s most popular fantasy book series. But here Stewart’s young heroes navigate the world, not by broomstick or teleportation, but in the same way many of us do—by train, boat, car and even the occasional hot air balloon.
Another Dickensian Orphanage in Yorkshire
Britfield and the Lost Crown begins at an orphanage in Yorkshire where orphans Tom and Sarah find themselves launched on the adventure of a lifetime as they journey across Europe seeking the truth about Tom’s past. Trying to unlock the truth about his parents and the rumor that he is the rightful heir to the British throne, they find themselves quite literally carried away by a balloon and end up, thanks to the kindness of strangers spending the night in Windsor Castle, running through Oxford, having tea at Brown’s Hotel in London and evading capture in St Paul’s Cathedral before finding sanctuary with the Archbishop of Canterbury. And that is just the first book.
The brief moment of peace does not last long before the second book in the series Britfield and the Rise of the Lion finds them fleeing to France, where their journey takes them from the English Channel to the tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel off the coast of Normandy. The excitement continues through the streets of Paris, to Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower.
The third and most recent installment, Britfield and the Return of the Prince, finds our protagonists weaving through the streets and marble buildings of the Vatican as Tom and Sarah edge ever closer to the truth as the stakes continue to rise.
Inspiring Family Vacations to Europe
Just as remarkable as our protagonists, and as thrilling as their adventures, The Britfield series sweeps the reader into a whirlwind of travel through the UK and across the European continent. Their adventures transcend Tom and Sarah through real places that any family can visit and most readers have heard about. You can take a stroll around Oxford University, explore the town of Windsor, and end up in Canterbury, the home of Chaucer’s famous tale. While there is no doubt that most people wish Hogwarts to be real, one would be hard-pressed to find the wizarding school in Scotland despite taking multiple trips around the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
After spending two hours running from pursuers, London becomes “a maze of mixed matched roads and boulevards” for Tom and Sarah, something that many travelers can relate to when they explore the city, affectionately known as Londontown, or any city for the first time. Of course, however, the trials and tribulations do not end there. There is so much more to come.
The journey continues in the second installment, Britfield and the Rise of the Lion, when the heroes take on new roles as creators of chaos in the Chateau de Chambord. Started in 1518, the massive structure would hold an astonishing 454 rooms by its completion. Sitting on 13,000 acres of woodlands, Tom calls it “brilliant” while Sarah refers to it as a “beautiful city hidden in the countryside.”
Teenage Dreams Amid the Danger
Once inside its walls, they find “a miracle of Renaissance engineering: a spectacular double helix open staircase with each stairway superimposed on each other, so that people could climb or descend simultaneously without ever seeing each other.”
Sarah finds herself transfixed by the tapestries that adorn the walls depicting court life, and the grand ballroom’s “ambiance of a forgotten era with exquisite craftsmanship, the intricate parquet floor, the arched windows with burgundy drapes, the walnut coffered ceiling, crystal chandeliers” has Sarah giving into the fantasy and imagining what it would be like to dance around such a place draped in a beautiful gown and Tom in a handsome tuxedo.
The group continues wandering through endless bed chambers—decked out in fine rich colored velvets and monograms of long-dead French monarchs. The foray into French decadence is short lived when the group wields tasers and smoke bombs to distract hordes of tourists while searching for information on the elusive Britfield family. It is not long before they find themselves among the “Resistance,” a shadowy group arrayed against established power and tasked with protecting the Britfields, the disposed family to which Tom belongs.
The Magic of Reality
According to author Chad Stewart, because these books are based in reality, the reader “is able to relate to them in a way that you can’t in books that are based in magical worlds.”
In addition to being the author of the series, Stewart, a Brown University graduate in British Literature and European History, is an adjunct professor of business at California’s Point Loma Nazarene University. He published the first Britfield book in 2019. However, the story’s idea has been with him for many years and began as a doodle of a boy and a balloon, which is now the cover of the first book.
“I hope parents will read the books to their elementary or middle school children with a map nearby,” says Stewart. “Once a child visualizes a European city in his imagination and then sees the real thing in a photo book or atlas, I think his desire for travel only can grow.”
Student Editors Keep Narratives Real
Stewart takes a different approach to his writing than most. Once he has penned a few drafts, he sends the manuscript to a select number of public and private middle school students to read. He documents their thoughts through surveys. He then follows up with small focus groups and listens to what the students have to say about the story. He assesses what they like and, perhaps more importantly, what they do not like about the story. During this exercise, Stewart says, he is no longer the writer, but the pupil and calls it the “secret sauce” that allows him to really hone in on his target audience. Britfield also connects with students and schools via The Britfield Institute, a not-for-profit organization that “promotes literacy and brings creativity into the classroom.” The institute works directly with schools to help bridge the literacy gap.
Published in 2019, not only has the first book sold over 250,000 copies, but Stewart’s company, Devonfield Publishing, has brought Britfield into over 120,000 middle and high schools as part of the curriculum. Stewart says his ultimate goal is to be in every middle and high school in the United States.
Four more books are slated for release over the next six years and Book Four will take our heroes to the rolling hills of Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Russia. They will cross into Asia and South America in Books Five and Six before going almost completely around the world to the United States in Book Seven, which is set to be published in 2029.
Beyond the books, Stewart and his team also have plans for a seven-part movie series as well as a television series based on the books. Jumping from screen to the stage, a two-act play for children, under the same name as the first novel, Britfield and the Lost Crown has recently been staged by the Mission Viejo Christian School in California. Of course, no book empire is complete without merchandise. Britfield enthusiasts can now purchase their own Britfield tartan to wear on their own adventures.
In some sense, It could be seen as reminiscent of another franchise centering around a famous orphan Mr. Harry James Potter formerly of Privet Drive.
Harry Potter Still Rules
To date, over 500 million copies of the Harry Potter book series have been sold worldwide in over 80 different languages. The Harry Potter series is the third most read in the world behind “Quotations from the Works of Mao Tse-tung”, and the Bible, which comes in at number one. These books are ingrained in the cultural landscape. According to a 2011 survey 31% of Americans have read at least one of the Harry Potter books while 61% have seen at least one of the movies. Meanwhile, 18% of Americans have read all seven books, and 25% have seen all eight films. At the time this survey was conducted, there were only eight films.
Though the seven books and subsequent eight movies that made up the original series are perhaps what come to people’s minds when they think of the Boy Who Lived, there are actually 20 books, eleven films, theme parks, video games, and a theatrical adaptation that complete the wider Wizarding World Franchise. The 11 films have made more than $9.6 billion at the box office with the latest installment, The Secrets of Dumbledore of the Fantastic Beasts Franchise, appearing in April 2022. More films are said to be in production while the first video game from the company, Hogwarts Legacy, arrived in stores this month.
One of the most—if not the most—immersive part of the Harry Potter world for us muggles came to life in 2010 with the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter—Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley followed four years later in 2014 at Universal Studios. Muggles, along with witches and wizards if they are careful and can go undetected, can ride with Harry through Gringotts and wander through the hallowed halls of Hogwarts.
Since 2010, there have been other park expansions in Orlando as well as park openings in Japan and Beijing, China in 2014 and 2021 respectively. According to a 2021 article on LoveMoney.com, the parks have brought in over $11 billion, and attendance is only rising as additional Harry Potter spin off movies are released.
The stage adaptation of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has enjoyed several years on both the West End and Broadway. It was reworked after the pandemic from two parts into one that has a runtime of just under three hours. Not only does it allow for some much-needed diversity in the Harry Potter universe, but also allows fans to see their favorite characters grown up and with children of their own. It’s become the highest-grossing play in Broadway history, making more than $146 million across both New York and London.
Various other official Harry Potter attractions also exist around the world from the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford, England to the Forbidden Forest Experience in Westchester New York not to mention, the Harry Potter Store in Manhattan that consistently has lines around the block.
It is clearly a commercial success, but what keeps fans coming back to Hogwarts over the years? According to Rachel Chang, who has edited several magazines about the franchise, “Beneath all the magic, it is a human story and there is something in it everyone can relate to. Who hasn’t felt like the boy under the cupboard who didn’t belong at some point in their life?” It is like a secret language that “those who know, know” remarks Chang. If you go up to someone and ask, “What house are you in?” Most will know you are asking not about their actual house but about their Hogwarts house.
It’s been over 15 years since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published, and the question lingers: Will anything ever be able to top it?
Britfield vs. Hogwarts
Other Young Adult novels like the books and films comprising the Twilight Saga and Hunger Games have reached high levels of success in their day, but none have reached the iconic status of the boy with the lightning bolt scar. But with growing momentum and increasing availability around the world, could Sarah and Tom join the ranks of literature’s favorite orphan? Only time will tell.
With four more books on the way, readers will have the opportunity to see Tom and Sarah continue to grow from the 14-year-olds they are in the third book to young adults in much the same way an entire generation watched Harry and his friends grow up over the course of several decades. Readers will bear witness to all the challenges that accompany adolescence—from the changing bodies, teenage angst, and maybe a hint of love—as they continue their journey around the world.
The Britfield Series is currently available for purchase on Amazon in over 20 countries as well as online at https://www.britfield.com
Amanda Morris graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in December 2021. Her past EWNS articles include a profile of Galveston’s Juneteenth celebration and an essay on female solo travel.