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Potty for Harry at the British Library

Last updated on March 6th, 2019

Can you believe it’s been 20 years since ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was first published? And just in time for Halloween, there’s an enchanting exhibition opening at the British Library. Harry Potter: A History of Magic is a treasure trove of rare books, manuscripts, magical objects and illustrations that will bewitch even the most cynical muggle.

Harry Potter, British Museum, History of Magic, London

The Boy who Lived. Illustration by Jim Kay (Bloomsbury Publishing)

‘Cause it’s Witchcraft

The exhibition is organised into some of the subjects you might study at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These include Potions, Herbology, Divination, Defence against the Dark Arts and Magical Creatures. Original material from J.K. Rowling’s own archives are on display for the first time, as well as objects from the British Library collection.

Harry Potter, British Museum, History of Magic, London

Thank you Alice

‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was rejected eight times before it made its way to the desk of Bloomsbury founder, Nigel Newton. Thank goodness he had the good sense to take it home to his eight-year old daughter, Alice, whose scribbled review is on show. Her critique led to the publication of the book, and abracadabra! The most successful children’s book series to ever fly into bookshops was born. What a very clever girl Alice was!

“The excitement in this book made me feel warm inside. I think it is possibly one of the best books an 8/9 year-old could read.”

Exhibition Highlights

There are so many spellbinding highlights, it’s hard to list even a fraction of them. A History of Magic will appeal to Harry Potter fans, bibliophiles, lovers of magic and for those who dare to imagine. You’ll come across mandrake root, a celestial globe, a Parisian tombstone, a witch’s broomstick, a 16th century magical scroll and original artwork including paintings of Harry Potter’s professors.

Harry Potter, British Museum, History of Magic, London

Professor Dumbledore by Jim Kay (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Jim Kay is the man behind the Harry Potter illustrations, and what a wizard he is. Here, he captures Albus Dumbledore who is tucking into a bag of sherbet lemons. Dumbledore was eating one of these on the night he left the infant Harry Potter with the Dursleys. I wonder what’s inside the vial on the right? Dragon’s blood, perhaps.

Harry Potter, British Museum, History of Magic, London

Apothecary’s shop in a surgeon’s manuscript, 14th century (Sloane MS 1977)

‘Bald’s Leechbook’ is a manual for medicine and named after its owner, a 10th century physician. This chapter explains how to make potions against poison (one of these powerful potions has even been used to combat the MRSA virus). ‘The Apothecary’s Shop’ dates from the 14th century. This beautifully illustrated manuscript once belonged to Henry VIII.

Harry Potter, British Museum, History of Magic, London

Harvesting a Mandrake (Wellcome Trust) and a Mandrake Root

One of my favourite exhibits is the Mandrake Root specimen. The root really does look human, and this one looks like it had a good scream as it was being pulled from the ground. In medieval medicine, mandrake roots were used to cure earache, headache and insanity.  In Harry Potter, a mandrake root draught is used to revive those who have been petrified, or turned into stone.

Harry Potter, British Museum, History of Magic, London

Tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, Musee de Cluny, Musee national du Moyen Age

This is Nicolas Flamel’s tombstone, a scribe who lived in medieval Paris. Following his death, rumours started flying that he was an alchemist and that he had discovered the Philosopher’s Stone. His tombstone was uncovered in a Parisian grocery shop where it was being used as a chopping board!

Harry Potter, British Museum, History of Magic, London

Edward Topsell, ‘The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes’

‘The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes’ was the first book about animals to the published in English. This chapter describes a sphinx: an animal of a “fierce but tameable nature…having his body rough like Apes.”

Harry Potter, British Museum, History of Magic, London

Mermaid (Trustees of British Museum)

It might be a fake, but it’s very convincing. This mermaid was thought to have been caught in Japan in the eighteenth century and was presented to the British Museum in 1942. It is, in reality, a conjoined monkey and fish.

Harry Potter, British Museum, History of Magic, London

‘The Ripley Scroll’, England, 16th century (British Library Board)

The Ripley Scroll is a 6 metre-long manuscript from the 16th century that describes how to make the Philosopher’s Stone.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic

The exhibition is on from 20 October 2017 to 28 February 2018 at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB.

Tickets from £5.50 to £16.00 (under 4s go free). A Family Day on 2 December will include a range of activities for 900 visitors.

You can book tickets here

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