Andrea here, The holidays are a magical time of year, especially for children. So it seems a perfect time to talk about something truly magical—in every meaning of the word! I just saw the wonderful exhibit at the New York Historical Society entitled Harry Potter: A History of Magic. (It’s the U.S. stop for the show that originated at the British Library, and the linked article from the NY Times shows some wonderful pictures of the display rooms.)
Now of course, Harry isn’t just for kids—I’m a huge fan, even though I’m not usually one for fantasy or paranormal. The magic of J. K. Rowling and her books is the storytelling and how she weaves together the powerful elemental themes of friendship, love, courage in the face of loss and adversity as she tells a riveting tale of Good vs Evil.
As both a reader and a writer, I love learning about the inspiration behind a book or series. And the exhibit does a marvelous job at showing the different explorations into magic throughout history and how they influenced Rowling and her creation of Harry and Hogwarts. It’s very cleverly arranged in sections that correspond to the subjects Harry studies in school: potions, herbology, divination, charms and magical creatures.
In other words, it’s not just an ode to Harry, but it showcases many rare books, manuscripts and artifacts that highlight the history of folklore and magic from a number of different cultures. The curators have put together an impressive array of from museums and libraries around the world—this is serious stuff!
Beautifully illustrated herbals, intricate astrolabes and globes, fanciful drawings of mythical creatures and actual cauldrons from witch covens are part of the displays! There’s even the actual tombstone of Nicholas Flamel, a famous alchemist from the 15th century.
One of my favorites is the 16th century Ripley Scroll, a nearly 18-foot long treatise on the making the Philosopher’s Stone. The illustrations are mind-boggling—weirdly creative creatures and symbols twined with arcane writing. One can just imagine a mad alchemist laboring over this amazing document, thinking he had discovered the secret to eternal life!
Another fascinating thing is the chance to see some of Rowling’s original drafts for the stories (how do those neatly written notebooks have so few cross-outs!) Even more astounding are her own drawings for the characters and scenes. I never knew she was such a talented artist, so this was a real revelation!
Another fact that fun to learn is that she was very influenced by folklore and the actual history of alchemy and magic, but that she also decided she was free to alter it all to fit her version of the story. They are inspiration for her own world, which she felt free to imagine as she pleased.
I don’t think anyone—young or old—leaves the exhibit without feeling the real magic is imagination . . . that Rowling has inspired so many people to experience the joy being swept away into a story is something to truly celebrate! (If you’re going to be anywhere near New York City before January 27th, I highly recommend you make a point of seeing the exhibit.)
How about you? Are you a J. K. Rowling/Harry Potter fan? Are there other authors who you find magical because they can transport you out of the everyday reality to the special storybook world for a few hours? Please share!