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Saturday, 16 December 2017

Harry Potter: A History of Magic, British Library

As soon as you step into the exhibition space you know you’re in for a treat – books hang from the ceiling, the walls are decorated to look like you’re in Hogwarts, and before you’ve even got your bearings you’ve already seen the synopsis J K Rowling sent out to prospective publishers and the note from the publisher’s daughter giving it a glowing review. The British Library have clearly put a lot of effort into getting the aesthetics right. Each room focuses on a specific subject that Harry and his friends study, and the décor fits beautifully – a large celestial globe with pricks of light on dark material above, a Divination room that makes you feel as though you are in Trelawney’s classroom, and a Herbology area draped with fake plants. These touches help transport the visitor to the world of magic.

The content itself is carefully balanced between historic artefacts and books, and items from Rowling’s personal collection that no fan will want to miss. The vast sixteenth century Ripley Scroll shows you how to make your very own Philosopher’s Stone, a 3000 year old cauldron takes pride of place in Potions, and Nicolas Flamel’s gravestone is tucked unassumingly into a corner. Sadly this is accompanied by a note that will disillusion anyone under the impression that he really was an alchemist.

The glut of Jim Kay artworks on display are quite something to behold, seeing the originals a special experience. We’re also treated to early drafts of scenes from the books, and annotated manuscripts. There’s even some hand-drawn pictures by Rowling from the early days when she wanted to be able to see the world she was creating. Last but not least comes an impressive chart over multiple pages of her plotting for The Order of the Phoenix. Knowing that she had all seven books planned before Philosopher’s Stone made it to bookshelves is mind-blowing.

I cannot recommend this exhibition highly enough. Well thought out and beautifully achieved, you’ll find real treasures within, and a couple of interactive opportunities that adults and children alike will enjoy. Running until 28th February, if you love Harry Potter you need to get a ticket. For more details, visit the British Library's website

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