REVIEW: Harry Potter: A History of Magic, British Library

Marking the 20th anniversary since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published, the British Library explores the real life history behind the magic of the Harry Potter novels. 


“There was a lot more to magic, as Harry quickly found out, than waving your wand and saying a few funny words” – and so it proves with this imaginatively designed exhibition that gives a detailed history of magic dating back hundreds of years.

Featuring numerous illustrations of characters from the Harry Potter stories created by Jim Kay as well as cauldrons, books and interactive elements, A History of Magic helps visitors to piece together how J.K Rowling was inspired (and used) a number of historical facts and elements to create one of the best loved children’s books of all time.

Divided into eight main sections including: potions, herbology, astronomy, divination, defence against the dark arts, charms and care of magical creatures, visitors really feel like students of Hogwarts as they wonder around exploring the may different elements of magic that feature in the books.

The way in which the exhibition is designed and laid out, really keeps visitors engaged as well as making them feel surrounded by real magic. Of course, all sorts of magical equipment and items are on display – from a a very colourful broomstick to expensive bezoar first used by Arabic physicians and even an invisibility cloak! Each item allows the visitor to piece together just how the Harry Potter universe was created.

But also on display are a number of drawings created by J.K Rowling herself, that reveals a real insight into the way in which her mind created the characters, while early (and radically different versions) of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are equally fascinating with all of the author’s side notes.

Visitors are soon able to piece together the ways in which J.K. Rowling used what is known about magic – including alchemy and the creation of the philosopher’s stone to weave and create a magical new world that continues to fascinate readers.

Everything about the exhibition is richly detailed, with nothing left to chance so much so that it is easy to lose track of time in this immensely engaging exhibition that has something to offer for those of all ages.

It picks out all kinds of details that perhaps even super fans of the books hadn’t noticed – particularly when it came to choosing names for characters that offer up a new depth and understanding of the book.

Eight year Alice Newton’s reader report (also on display) on first reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone really sums up the enduring popularity of J.K Rowling’s own magical world: “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.” But in turn it has also ignited interest from children and grown ups alike in magic – which is sure to be continued thanks to this exhibition.

There is certainly plenty to be enjoyed at this exhibition, which leaves you with deeper understanding of both the books and the magical history it was inspired by.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic is on display at the British Library until the 28th February. 

Rating: ❤❤❤❤❤


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