Harry Potter: A History of Magic | Exhibition Review

“You’re a wizard, Harry!”

Ready to feel old? This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone  – yep, I can’t believe it either – and to mark this very special occasion, the British Library have curated a very special exhibition to celebrate all things magical. I’m sure I do not have to tell you how much Harry Potter and co mean to me, and the role the series has had in shaping me into the reader that I am today, as this is the case for many and I’m sure it will continue to be so. When the news of the exhibition reached my ears I knew I had to get myself down to London and experience the magic for myself, so a few weeks ago I hopped on a train (sadly not the Hogwarts Express, dissappointing I know…), unleashed my inner Hermione and spent the afternoon exploring the treasures on display. It was wonderful! 

The exhibition is centred around the various subjects taught at Hogwarts, and as this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to attending a lesson in Charms, Potions and Defence Against the Dark Arts myself I spent a good few hours completely absorbed in the artefacts on display. Perfectly blending Rowling’s Wizarding World that we all know and love with the history and practice of magic throughout history in our own world, each room is themed around a particular subject, so there really is something for everyone. Whip up a potion, learn about the constellations, or even learn how to make your very own Philosopher’s Stone after taking a look at the Ripley Scroll, which provides instructions on how to do just that! The scroll, and many of the other items included in the exhibition, are certainly older than Dumbledore himself, and it was fascinating to see how far back human’s interest with all things magical goes. Within each section there are also pieces of work by J. K. Rowling that link to that particular subject area, in addition to an annotated draft of the Fantastic Beasts script, a day-by-day schedule of Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts and bits and pieces from the Cursed Child production. It really is a complete treasure trove that will delight any Potter fan, and I recommend allowing yourself enough time to full explore the exhibition and take a look at everything on display. Some of the sections were rather busy and a little queuing was involved, but I promise, they are worth the wait!

Some of my favourite parts of the exhibition were the numerous pieces of artwork by Jim Kay, who has recently started illustrating the series for Bloomsbury. I recognised some of the art from the books, but some where early drafts or unpublished portraits of the Hogwarts teachers and students, and they were ever so beautiful and wonderful to see in person – I wish I could have purchased a couple to take home with me! Another highlight was, of course, the never-before-seen chapter from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets! Yes, as if the exhibition wasn’t magical enough, they have also included a deleted chapter from Chamber of Secrets that no-one other than Rowling and her publishers have read. I won’t give away any spoilers, but it involves mermaids, and quite frankly it’s worth going to the exhibition for alone!

Don’t forget to take a look at the gift shop as you leave! There is a small pop-up shop as soon as you leave the exhibition, selling items produced for the British Library featuring the exhibition artwork such as bookmarks, pens, pencils, pin badges and, of course, the accompanying guidebooks. There is also a larger Harry Potter themed gift shop in the main entrance hall, which sells a wider selection of Hogwarts inspired gifts, including house scarves, notebooks and MinaLima products. There were so many items that I wanted to take home with me, but in the end I settled on a bookmark and badge featuring the beautiful Fawkes artwork, a handful of postcards and Harry Potter: A Journey Through a History of Magica beautifully produced book giving more information on the items in the exhibition. You can take a look at some of the items on offer over at the British Library shop here.

If, like me, you’ve been awaiting the arrival of your Hogwarts letter since your eleventh birthday, then I highly recommend that you get yourself down to Harry Potter: A History of Magic between before February 28th, 2018 – tickets are available here. I hope that you love it just as much as I did; it’s a truly magical experience, and gives a whole new meaning and depth to the series that we all know and love.

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