The entire basement of the library is dedicated to magical memorabilia and artefacts. Entering is like walking into Hogwarts, right down to the leather-bound book wallpaper lining the walls and the Gothic arched doorways you pass through to get to the different rooms.
The Sorting Hat Song by J.K. Rowling. An extract of an original draft ©J.K. Rowling
The exhibition is arranged thematically around the Hogwarts curriculum, with each room based around a different subject. Teacups hang from the ceiling of the Divination room, which is filled with books on palmistry, scrying mirrors, and an interactive crystal ball. The Charms room comes complete with talismans and the Library’s very own Invisibility Cloak.
Artefacts from J.K. Rowling’s private collection punctuate the exhibition. Highlights include a deleted scene from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets manuscript, the synopsis she wrote when first submitting Harry Potter to publishers, and the spidery scrawl of Rowling’s handwritten outline of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
It’s enough to make any fan of the books tingle. Now Harry Potter is a vast global franchise complete with theme parks, films and fashion lines, this rare insight into the book’s inception feels especially intimate.
Along with this glimpse into Rowling’s imagination, you can see the very real history of magic and wizardry that inspired her. From the Ripley Scroll – a 6 metre-long alchemical manuscript from the 1500s with illustrated instructions on how to make the Philosopher’s Stone – to an Arabic manuscript detailing how to handle a Mandrake, the exhibition showcases the research Rowling put into her work.
Bezoar Stone © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London
Together, the artefacts and books really do cover a history of magic. Those of us who are still waiting for that Hogwarts letter, can finally experience the magic of the Hogwarts library, albeit with the books behind glass. Displays of hand-written spellbooks and medieval images of creatures so magical they would mystify Hagrid line the cases.
But Harry Potter: A History of Magic also looks at the future of magic, thanks to a partnership with Google Arts & Culture. The technological wizardry brings magic to the exhibition with interactive elements: a projector can tell your future in the tarot cards while unicorns pace in front of windows in the Care of Magical Creatures room. You can virtually explore a celestial globe from the 1600s brought to life with augmented reality technology. Visitors can explore the constellations that share their names with characters from the Harry Potter books such as Sirius Black, Draco Malfoy, and Bellatrix LeStrange.
The British Library has already sold a record-breaking 30,000 tickets to the exhibition, and it’s easy to see why. While the Warner Bros. Studios Tour is great for fans of the movies, Harry Potter: A History of Magic is for those who grew up with the books. We solemnly swear; it’s really good.
Culpeper's English physician; and complete Herbal - London, 1789 © British Library Board
Pop down to the nearby St Pancras Renaissance Hotel for a love potion or pint of Butterbeer after the exhibition. The bar will be hosting a Mystic Elixirs and Potions pop-up until February 2018.
An hour-long documentary about the exhibition is set to be broadcast on BBC Two at 9pm on Saturday 28 October. Go behind the scenes with the documentary, which is also called Harry Potter: A History of Magic. It will feature an interview with J.K. Rowling as well as insight into the curation process.
|What||Harry Potter exhibition, British Library review|
96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB | MAP
|Nearest tube||King's Cross St. Pancras (underground)|
20 Oct 17 – 28 Feb 18, Exhibition opening times tbc
|Price||£5 - £16|
|Website||Click here to book via Culture Whisper and See Tickets|