Harry Potter: A History of Magic (British Library) – REVIEW
‘Harry Potter: A History of Magic’ is the official book of the exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and the brilliant curators of the British Library. It promises to take readers on a fascinating journey through the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – from Alchemy and Potions classes through to Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures.
Each chapter showcases a treasure trove of artefacts from the British Library and other collections around the world, besides exclusive manuscripts, sketches and illustrations from the Harry Potter archive. There’s also a specially commissioned essay for each subject area by an expert, writer or cultural commentator, inspired by the contents of the exhibition – absorbing, insightful and unexpected contributions from Steve Backshall, the Reverend Richard Coles, Owen Davies, Julia Eccleshare, Roger Highfield, Steve Kloves, Lucy Mangan, Anna Pavord and Tim Peake, who offer a personal perspective on their magical theme.
Readers will be able to pore over ancient spell books, amazing illuminated scrolls that reveal the secret of the Elixir of Life, vials of dragon’s blood, mandrake roots, painted centaurs and a genuine witch’s broomstick, in a book that shows J.K. Rowling’s magical inventions alongside their cultural and historical forebears.
For those who don’t get the chance to visit the exhibition in London, this accompanying book is full of fascinating information, unseen manuscripts, and magical artefacts. As you can see from the above photo of a bezoar stone, the myriad photos allow the reader to examine a range of objects in great detail. From alchemical manuscripts to cauldrons and broomsticks, from fortune telling teacups to mermaids and mandrakes, the book is packed with some of the items, myths, and legends that inspired J.K. Rowling when creating Harry’s world. Whilst I imagine seeing the items at the exhibition is more satisfying, the book still allows the reader to envisage the artefacts and the history surrounding them.
Some of my favourite items were the original manuscripts and notes made by J.K. Rowling. They reveal the thought-processes and the creative journey she took when writing, and the incredible research and planning that went into the books. It was fascinating to read some of the original plans and character sketches, whilst being aware of how they developed into the books we know. I think that the book is preferable to the exhibition for these items as you can peruse them at your leisure. Depending on the crowds, it may be difficult to take the time to read the manuscripts and the cramped annotations surrounding them.
Apart from the illustrations in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, I hadn’t realised how many drawings J.K. Rowling had created when planning the books. There are illustrations of a number of the main characters but Peeves has to be my favourite as it’s exactly how I imagined him. Each chapter focuses on a different magical subject taught at Hogwarts and opens with an essay by people such as Tim Peake and Steve Backshall. The level of detail included in the book is incredible, and I learned so many new things about J.K. Rowling’s creation of Harry’s world. It was an accessible read and enhanced by the numerous photographs. I would also recommend the BBC programme focused on the exhibition that aired recently, featuring commentary by J.K. Rowling. If I don’t get the chance to see the exhibition, I would be satisfied with the in-depth offering of this book.
A wonderful addition to the Potterverse and a must-read.