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Harry Potter: A History of Magic

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by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Event: -
Journey Back to the Beginning
The British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


It has been twenty years since we first read about The Boy Who Lived. Published on 26th June 1997, J.K. Rowling's book about a boy wizard charmed the world. Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone saw six book sequels, eight film adaptations, and a play. It is the best selling series of all time.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


A generation of muggle children grew up wishing they could go to Hogwarts, and although we may never get that long-awaited letter,The British Library is giving fans the chance to explore the magical world through various texts, interactive activities, and imagery.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


In celebration of Harry Potter's twentieth anniversary, The British Library is holding an exhibition that allows visitors to walk through the classrooms of Hogwarts and learn all about the history of the series and the ancient origins of magic itself.

Running until 28th February 2018, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, provides opportunities to delve into Divination, create your own potions, and attend seminars.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic, gift shop


After buying tickets in March, I waited patiently for seven months for the event to finally arrive, and was giddy with excitement on my way there, happily ignoring the strange looks I received for wearing my Slytherin robes on the train. As the library requires bag checks, there is usually a queue to get in, so it is best to arrive a little early. Another piece of advice I'd give is that if you are booking for the weekend, try to get a time slot of 2 o'clock at the latest. I had booked for 3 o'clock, thinking the organisers would have taken into account how long it takes to go round the exhibition. Cleary, they did not. I was only a third through when an announcement over the tannoy warned that there was only twenty minutes until closing (5pm), and I had to rush through the rest of rooms. This meant that I did not have enough time to look at everything, and missed out on some of the best things in the exhibition that I would have loved to have spent time studying. Admittedly, at ten minutes to close, I was the only one left in the exhibition, so everyone else seemed to have enough time. Perhaps I am just slow.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


The exhibit is, unsurprisingly, very popular, so book early to avoid disappointment. Tickets are 16 for adults, 11 seniors, 8 children, and 5 for registered unemployed and disability. Whichever category you fall into, I consider it good value for money. Everyone who enters gets a mini information brochure, while children receive a family activity trail to fill in as they go round.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic, gift shop


I arrived early, so went into the gift shop first. It is full of wondrous merchandise that varied in quality. There are your bog standard pin badges, keyrings, sweets (chocolate frogs and every flavour beans, of course), stationary, etc, but there are also items that to be cherished as well. I was humorously tempted to get a plaque saying 'Room of Requirement' to hang on the bathroom door. Somehow I doubt that would have gone down well with the rest of the household.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic, gift shop


Before the exhibition, I pre-ordered the companion book from Amazon, which is available in two versions (one for adults and one for children). I did this because it was 10 cheaper than it would have been at the library. Everything in the gift shop was, as expected, over-priced, which is why I, although tantalised, was not persuaded to buy anything. Wands are 34 (I've seen the same brand elsewhere for 24), notebooks are 19.50, a plush phoenix 45. You've then got deluxe editions of the illustrated Harry Potter books for 150 and house colour-coded satchels for 160.



The exhibition is divided into ten rooms, each themed around a certain school subject. The journey begins with a video from J.K. Rowling and reveals the early stages of inspiration and publishing process. I was able to read a synopsis of the Philosopher's Stone that J.K. Rowling sent to Bloomsbury, along with the initial chapters. I saw the first review of the book and a blueprint of Hogwarts grounds. One of my favourite things about the exhibition was being able to see J.K. Rowling's own sketches of the characters. It was fascinating to see how the author of the books imagined her characters to look like. I had no idea she was such a good drawer, and I have to wonder why on earth her sketches were not included in the Philosopher's Stone when it was originally published. My favourite sketch was of Harry, but I was intrigued by Argus Filtch, who I thought looked more like a mad scientist than a caretaker.

The British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


As well as J.K Rowling's sketches, the other main pieces of artwork on display are by Jim Kay, the artist of the illustrated Harry Potter editions. If you have those books, then you will have seen the pictures already, but they are even more impressive when seen in as large framed portraits.



The exhibition is not just about the Harry Potter series, but also about the real history of magic. There are dozens of bookstand artefacts from the British Library archive on display, featuring witchcraft, sorcery, and more.



The first classroom you enter is Potions, where you can have a go at brewing your own potions. This seamlessly melds into the Alchemy room, the focus of which is on a six-metre scroll by George Ridley, who has written detailed instructions on how to create your own philosopher's stone. All you need is a toad, a dragon, and a couple of lions. I mean it's so simple, I don't know why everyone isn't doing it.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


One of the most interesting rooms is Herbology, which goes into detail about the real plants that have been used in medicine throughout history, and how they correlate with the potions made by students at Hogwarts.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


While I didn't find it the most interesting room of the exhibition, Divination is definitely the best designed. Teacups hang from the ceiling, there's frilly pink fabrics, puffy armchairs, and the chance to get your tarot card reading. Apparently, I had a challenging opportunity, but went into it full steam ahead without taking the consequences into account, and in the future, I will learn how to deal with this. Wish me luck.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


It was at this point, where I had to rush through the last three rooms, which I was sad about, because Care of Magical Creatures was the room I was most excited about seeing. To my dismay, I saw an unpublished draft from Chamber of Secrets that I had no time to read. It had Harry and Ron crash the Ford Angela into the Black Lake rather than the Whomping Willow.

the British library, Harry Potter, a history of magic


The final room brought everything to a conclusion, showing the front covers of Harry Potter books from around the world. I had seen most of them online before, but there was one beautiful edition that was new to me. At that moment the lights on the exhibition went out, and I had to leave. Apart from the missing out on some exciting bits at the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and all the detail that went into it.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic also has several scheduled talks that can be booked as well. These usually take place after the Library has closed to the general public. See here for a full listing.
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Why? Discover the Real Magic Behind Harry Potter
When: 20th Oct - 18th February 2018
Phone: 44 (0)1937 546546
Where: The British Library, Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB
Cost: Adult 16, Senior 11, Child/Student 8
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