Harry Potter at the British Library: A History of Magic

The British Library puts on an enchanting exhibition to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, which explores the diverse inspirations for JK Rowling’s Hogwarts.

Designed very much like an open day for prospective Hogwarts students, the exhibit at the British Library is divided into ten rooms. Each one is devoted to a different subject students might study at the famous fictional school. The wonderfully decorated rooms provide an exciting atmosphere to peruse the various pieces presented in the exhibit. If the books and films meant a great deal to you growing up, expect to feel a wave of nostalgia whilst you explore this sample of Harry’s world.

Most features of the exhibition are real texts and artefacts that have inspired modern portrayals of magic, and in particular Rowling’s Wizarding World. These include a five-metre long alchemist’s scroll, botanical books from the 18th century, and a bezoar. The contents of the exhibition faithfully highlight the wide range of cultures and myths that inspired characters’ names, magical creatures and spells.

Like many museums today, the History of Magic exhibition features some endearing interactive elements. This allows visitors to brew their own potions and have their past, present and futures interpreted in the Divination class room. Visitors of all ages were unashamedly willing to use these pieces, as I’m sure they imagined doing many times during their childhoods.

Some of the most striking elements of the exhibition, quite unexpectedly, were Jim Kay’s stunning artwork of characters and scenes from the books, including a meticulously exquisite panorama of Diagon Alley. Kay has recently provided the artwork to accompany the original text in the newly released illustrated editions of the first three books. Also scattered around the exhibit are charming original drawings by JK Rowling that she produced whilst writing the books.

Acting almost like bookends for the exhibit are rooms dedicated to the initial journey to publication and the future of the Wizarding World. You can read the original synopsis for “Philosopher’s Stone”, famously rejected by many publishers before it was picked up by Bloomsbury, along with insights into Rowling’s creative writing process.

You can extend your Harry Potter experience by visiting the nearby Platform 9 ¾ shop at King’s Cross Station. The exhibition remains open until the end of February 2018, and student tickets are priced at £8. Even casual fans can expect to enjoy themselves in this immersive exhibition.


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