After an acclaimed stop in London, the “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibit has made it to New York.
It’s now open in Manhattan’s New York Historical Society. And it’s an essential visit for any “Harry Potter” fan. It’s also being released in conjunction with a book that features parts of the exhibit.
“A History of Magic” isn’t just a collection of J.K. Rowling trivia and movie props. It situates “Harry Potter” in the tradition of global fantasy and magical literature. Curated by the British Library, it features centuries-old books, artwork, and artifacts from different countries about different magical traditions.
Here’s what it’s like inside.
At the entrance is a giant steamer trunk that diehard “Harry Potter” fans might recognise.
In 2005, before the release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” Scholastic allowed 9,000 libraries to get the first author-signed copy of the book in the US. It placed the book in this massive padlocked steamer trunk and sent it on a week-long voyage to New York, where it ultimately went to a library in North Carolina. The exhibit curators brought it back to New York for the display at the exhibit entrance.
The entrance before the exhibit also features flying books.
You might miss them at first, but there are books suspended from the ceiling.
Before entering the exhibit, there’s also a wall featuring the work of different book illustrators.
You can see the work of Jim Kay, Mary GrandPré, Kazu Kibuishi, and Brian Selznick, as well as interviews with them.
One of the coolest sections of the exhibits itself is the area dedicated to Nicolas Flamel, the only “Harry Potter” character who’s a real person.
Nicolas Flamel was a French scholar and bookseller who lived in the 14th and 15th centuries making a fortune as a landlord. After his death in 1418, he acquired the reputation of an alchemist who managed to figure out how to make the Philosopher’s Stone, granting him immortality. He plays an important role in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and will appear in “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
It even has his real-life tombstone.
The real Flamel was buried in the Church of Saint Jacques-de-la-Boucherie in Paris. The “History of Magic” exhibit has his actual tombstone. His body, though, is long gone – maybe he’s still alive?
It also has illustrations of him and recreations of the books he supposedly wrote.
For years, fake versions of Flamel’s alleged books with recipes for gold and immortality circulated throughout Europe.
For the most part, the rooms in the exhibit are organised around Hogwarts classes: potions, divination, care of magical creatures, and so on. Here’s part of the section for herbology.
It has illustrations of mandrakes from antique texts, and drawings of plants that appear in the “Harry Potter” series, like Devil’s Tongue, which may have inspired Devil’s Snare.
In the divination room, there’s a tarot card game you can play.
It’s projected onto a table, but you can interact with it just by tapping on the projection. According to the cards, I’ll have a lot going for me in the future. Cool!
Almost every room has props you’ll recognise from the movies. Take a look at these broomsticks.
Quidditch, of course, is essential to any “Harry Potter” exhibit.
There’s even the invisibility cloak.
You can see the hanger right through it.
One of the best features of the exhibit are illustrations that didn’t make the cut into books.
Here, for example, is an unpublished pastel by Mary GrandPré of the Sorting Hat process.
In includes comments from Rowling. Her favourite cover, she said, is the one for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
You can see it in its full glory, unadorned by typography.
The exhibit also has a lot of notes from J.K. Rowling, like this early list of Hogwarts teachers and their subjects.
Rowling’s notes and drafts are probably what fans would appreciate the most.
The exhibit also includes a discarded few pages from “The Sorcerer’s Stone” where a Dursley family member, then known as Didsbury, meets Cornelius Fudge, who’s the muggle prime minister. Elsewhere, there’s a version of a scene in “Hary Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” where Harry and Ron crash into the lake and are rescued by Merpeople instead of flying into the Whomping Willow.
There’s also a handwritten draft of the “escape from Gringotts” scene from “Deathly Hallows” that illustrates Rowling’s rush to get all the action on page, and organise the dialogue and details later. In another part of the exhibit, there’s an enormous seven-page table plotting out every major event of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” She’s impeccably organised.
Overall, the exhibit draws from cultures all over the world.
For example, here’s an illustration of a kappa, a sort of Japanese river demon, from a book published in 1855.
There’s a plaster copy of an Egyptian sphinx.
It’s based on an original one, now in the British Museum, from around the year 100. Sphinxes had a role in the Triwizard Tournament in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”
As you leave the exhibit, stop by the costume display.
It features the costumes designed for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which is also now in New York.
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