Harry Potter: A History of Magic – an exhibition at the British Library

The British Library’s Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition is a great treat for all Harry Potter fans: young and old.

Children will love the interactive cauldrons that allow them to brew magical potions, and grown-ups will wonder at the Anglo-Saxon manuscript of Bald’s Leechbook which features a remedy that has recently been proved to kill MRSA. 

Each room of the exhibition features one of the magical subjects taught at Hogwarts: from Potions to Defence Against the Dark Arts. Every detail has been planned with love- the ceilings are decorated with books, potions, and even broomsticks. The exhibition displays the real and the fictional artifacts side by side – Jim McKay’s beautiful portraits of Hogwarts professors look on renaissance manuscripts describing (among other things) 5 different species of unicorns and the uses of the bezoar. 

The exhibition shows how J.K.Rowling mixed old stories with her own imagination to create the world of Harry Potter. 

But possibly my favourite artifacts in the whole exhibition were sketches J.K. Rowling created when she was writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – witty, charming and at times hilarious,  they make one wonder why she hasn’t released the book with her own illustrations. 

Rowling’s plan for Order of the Phoenix shows her meticulous attention to detail. Rowling’s early drafts for the Harry Potter books are equally fascinating. The first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone has been changed almost beyond recognition –Cornelius Fudge was a Muggle prime minister (instead if Minister of Magic) and Voldemort was described as an evil-looking red-eyed dwarf. There could be no better artifact to inspire writers to ‘revise, revise and revise again’. 

This exhibition is rumored to be one of the most sought-after exhibitions in the British Library – and for once I feel the hype is deserved. 

The only comment I would have is that I was unimpressed by the merchandise available at the exhibition shop. There were no postcards if Rowling’s drawings, and hardly any of the most important exhibits. This is very disappointing – as there is no photography allowed in the exhibition. And not many people can afford to rip out a page from the costly exhibition catalogue and frame it on their wall. 


Image credit: https://www.bl.uk/events/harry%20potter%20a%20history%20of%20magic

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