When In Doubt, Go to the Library

By Wendy C Tuxworth, on 4 November 2017

This guest post was written by Brittany Yost.

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In a move that would make Ms. Granger proud, The British Library has curated  it’s very own Harry Potter exhibition. Harry Potter: A History of Magic will run until February 28th, 2018 giving plenty the opportunity to make their way through the truly enchanting showcase. Naturally, the UCL Publishing students wasted exactly zero time in snatching up tickets to see a new side of the story. We were not disappointed.

A brief warning to those HP fans among us that fall more on the movie side of things: this exhibit focuses heavily on details from the novels. While most aspects are very much accessible to both movie watchers and book readers there will be little in the way of adorable Daniel Radcliffe  pictures. I know, I know, he was super cute. But don’t be disappointed. You will not be let down with how much precision the library curators employed in establishing both the space and the items to be presented.   

The exhibition is fittingly in the downstairs of the library, invoking all our fondest memories of our favorite moody professor Snape. The area is split into sections relating to potions, divination, astronomy, herbology, and magical creatures. Each section physically played to its theme beautifully, with star lit ceilings and floating potion bottles. There are interactive elements to some displays, including a station to digitally make a potion and a digital tarot card table. I will fully admit that we spent a lot of time at that tarot card reading station in the hopes someone would get an answer to whether we would pass our dissertations. Alas, it just told us general fortunes of strength and doom. Hey, we tried.

The history portion of the exhibit comes into play in two ways. The first are the items donated from the grand creator  herself, JK Rowling, relating to the process of how Harry Potter first came into existence. You can see query letters, the original notebooks with hand scribbled story notes, and story flow charts. There was glass in between me and the page that JK Rowling touched but it was the closest I have ever been to her so I will take it. I love her, ok?! I am not ashamed. The second element are pieces pulled from the library relating to real life references in the Harry Potter novels. Yes, much to our surprise, Nicolas Flamel was real and apparently lived in 15th century France. Alchemy? Real! Study of phoenix? Real! Belief in mandrakes? Real! There were a lot of “no ways” springing up from around the room. It truly was unbelievable to see how much research was put into weaving magical elements from history into the magical world of the books.

Overall, the exhibit is a glorious look behind the veil of details that exist in the seven books of Harry Potter. Proving that magic is not as far away from us as we think. If only we know where to look.