Magic In Mind

I went to London to see the queen... well, the queen of children's fiction, J.K. Rowling.

The British Library opened their Harry Potter A History Of Magic exhibition last month, and today on Sirius Black's birthday, I went to see it.

Muggles wouldn't think anything of it, but when you enter the exhibition you have your bag search by a group of wizards... how did I know this? Well the "security guards" have wands with lights on the end to poke through your bags... I mean, I didn't hear them say lumos, but you've got to imagine that they're so good at it that they don't need to say it out loud anymore.

Look up

One of the things I like to remember is to always look up. If you don't look up while you're in the gallery then you're going to miss something quite magical.

When you queue for entry, look up and you'll see a swarm of winged keys. In the journey portion of the exhibition look up and you'll see open books flying across the ceiling. In Alchemy you'll see flasks filled with coloured potions. Herbology has floating plant pots. Charms has broomsticks and hats. Astronomy has a sky of stars. And Divination has cups and saucers.

Just imagine what you've missed your whole life because you didn't look up.

Be the best wizard you can be

Some of you may never have tried making a potion before, but you can do that at the exhibition, as well as listening to a flower pot, you can hear spells in the Charms room, a table will tell your future in Divination (I'm not going to comment on the accuracy of the fortune I received), and in Care Of Magical Creatures you can see some of your favourite creatures passing by outside the windows.

J.K. Rowling artefacts

Throughout the exhibition there are pieces of original Rowling. At the very beginning you're confronted with her typed (on a typewriter, it's like a computer keyboard with a printer attached that live prints as you work, just in case you youngsters were wondering) synopsis of Harry Potter that she sent to publishers, her own idea of what the Dursleys and Harry would look like as a family, and what she saw Hogwarts as in her head, including a giant squid in the lake.

As well as draft pieces and annotated works there are more of Rowling's illustrations. Brainstorming notes, handwritten pages and the planning process for Order Of The Phoenix. It's all a wonderful insight into the world behind Harry Potter.

The illustrator's life

Jim Kay's illustrations obviously feature heavily through the rooms, and I'm about to voice a possibly unpopular opinion now... I don't enjoy the colourised version of his work very much. Don't get me wrong, they are amazing, and I really love some of the pieces within the illustrated tomes. The Knight Bus is truly amazing. But the pencil drawings are stunning. The potion bottles all lined up, Fluffy's heads in a dogpile, those were beautiful.

The other opinion I'm going to share isn't just one of mine, I heard more than a few people saying the same thing as we were wandering round.

Why didn't we get to see more of J.K. Rowling's illustrations? While they're wildly different from that of the cover illustrations that we're all familiar with, they have a fun and genuine feel to them. This is what she saw the characters as. I'm not saying having the illustrated editions done by her is what I have in mind, but set pieces in the books would have been a lovely addition.

Magic in the making

But this wasn't just a Harry Potter exhibition, the British Library's archives and outside museums have pieces on display too.

There are so many bits to mention, but I don't have the time, and even if I did it would probably be quicker for you to just go to the exhibition while it's still on. The books are beautifully crafted. The typography of the pieces is incredible, and it's always interesting to see how published works have evolved over the years. The quality of the pieces is impeccable. both in execution and preservation. It is breathtaking to think that all of those illustrations were painstakingly hand done all those years ago and still look like the ink could be wet.

The most incredible piece there, for me, was the 16th century Ripley Scroll that shows imagery of the Philosopher's Stone. It's surprisingly easy to follow and read, which was refreshing as a lot of old works are either in an ancient language or in such detailed calligraphy that even in modern English you wouldn't be able to understand it. It's amazing to think that these pieces are the ancestors of modern chemistry.

Further reading

There were a lot of things that caused me an on going interest, so here's a quick list of things that you too might have an interest in...


Oh, and did you find the Golden Snitch?


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