As a self-confessed Potterhead, I didn’t know what to expect from the British Library’s Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition, which mixes J K Rowling and her publisher Bloomsbury’s personal collections with the library’s own archives. Would it tell me anything new about the series? More importantly, would it live up to my expectations? As I entered, I realised that I needn’t have worried at all.
A lot of time and thought has obviously been put into every aspect of the exhibition. The layout is designed around the subjects taught at Harry’s school Hogwarts, with special little touches added, such as a “starlit” ceiling in the Astronomy room and suspended teacups hanging over the Divination room.
The British Library team has done an excellent job of choosing items from its collections and other museums that complement the magic and mythology in the Harry Potter series, such as the tombstone of the real-life Nicolas Flamel, cauldrons and historical manuscripts about magical plants, creatures and practices from all over the world. Rather than being dry, they provide context and depth to the stories, making it feel like you have stepped into a Hogwarts lesson.
Beautiful artwork by Jim Kay and hands-on elements, such as interactive potion-making and tarot reading, help to bring the exhibition to life and will be particularly fun for younger visitors.
The real star of the show for Harry Potter fans though will, of course, be the items donated by J K Rowling herself and her publisher Bloomsbury. These include: early handwritten drafts of some of the books; plot plans for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; her annotated sketch of Hogwarts; and the synopsis of the first book she sent out to publishers. I was particularly impressed by Rowling’s sketches of some of the characters and scenarios from the books – she’s a good artist and I would have liked to read the series with her artwork included.
The two books that Bloomsbury has published to accompany the exhibition – official companion book Harry Potter: A History of Magic and Harry Potter: A Journey Through a History of Magic, which is aimed at a family audience – provide more information about all of the exhibits on display and they are beautifully produced. They are not the sort of books you are likely to read cover-to-cover in one sitting, but I think they are a great addition to the bookshelf of any Potterhead that wants to gain more insight into the world of the original books and Rowling’s creative process.
I would highly recommend a trip to Harry Potter: A History of Magic to anyone who wants to learn more about the mystical traditions that inspired Rowling or to fans who simply want to relive the magic of Harry Potter and have yet to receive their Hogwarts acceptance letter in the post…
We share a sneak peek of what to expect from the British Library's Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition here.