To me, there is little more festive than snuggling up with the family in the week before Christmas to watch the entire Harry Potter franchise, usually on one-per-day, a little after lunch time and culminating in the finale on Christmas Eve. This year will probably include “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” too. Someone usually falls asleep in a pile of mince pie dishes (probably me!), and my little brother will poke me awake just in time to see Harry save the day. For this reason, my visit to the opening of the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition at the British Library, even though its still only October, deserves a place on this blog as an absolute must visit if you’re in the area!
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Friday 20th of October 2017 to Wednesday 28th of February 2018
£16 per adult / £8 for a child under 18 yrs / Free under 4 yrs
I was fortunate enough to attend the grand opening, where a night of music, magic and mystery marked this fantastic event. The Tiger Lillies performed their “Cold Night in Soho” show, a dark and haunting tribute to an area in London that inspired countless pages of Rowling’s books. Set to a powerful double bass, a wailing theremin, and cabaret accordion, the sounds reverberated throughout the shadowy halls of the library. It was beautiful! What more can I say?
Unfortunately, no actual photographs were allowed in the exhibition itself – which makes sense, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for you! But what I can say is that they’ve recreated various part of Hogwarts, theres an astronomy tower with a thousand twinkling lights above the giant “Orbis Coelestis Typus” Paris 1693 (see right. Photograph (pd) The British Library). There featured a Herbology section, of which everything looked as if it would be totally at home in an alchemy recipe book. The Care of Magical Creatures section, amongst beautiful books and illustrations of dragons, featured a mummified mermaid presented to the British Museum in 1942 by Princess Alexandra having been caught some 200 years previously in Japan. (See Below. Photograph (cc) The British Museum)
Another exhibit which took my breath away was The Ripley Scroll (see below, a portion (cc) The British Library), 6 meters in length and which features a series of verses, beautifully illustrated, on the Elixir of Life. It looked rich with symbolism and drawings of, well, fantastic beasts! There are winged serpents, fire breathing dragons, and magical figures stooped over cauldrons.
Perhaps the main attraction of the Harry Potter: A History of Magic however is the work by JK Rowling herself. Here you can see original sketches of all of the characters, and piles upon piles of pages of her handwriting detailing plot points, character arcs and edits to the manuscripts. This is something, at least for me, that feels detached from the process of reading a novel. I often believe novels are produced from thin air in one go, and published on the spot. Way to make me feel bad about my own writing! …But what this exhibition highlighted was that this is not the case. Not even close. It takes years. A History of Magic gives us chapters and pages that never saw the light of day, from ‘You-Know-Who’ being described by Fudge as a “Red-Eyed Dwarf”, to Harry and Ron crashing the flying Ford Anglia into the Great Lake instead of the Whomping Willow, only to be saved by Merpeople…
Now, I could talk about this exhibition for hours and hours, which means its probably a moment to stop. But one thing is for sure, I cannot recommend this enough as a special, alternative Christmas event this winter full of magic and wonder! If you do visit, please tell me how your day went and what your favourite thing to see was!