Major Harry Potter fan that I am, I was so excited when two of my friends presented me with this gorgeous book. I’m yet to visit (or book tickets for) the exhibition at the British Library, but this book is a fantastic introduction and companion to it.
One of the first things I noticed when I opened the book was a gorgeous illustration of Hogwarts that covers both the front and end matter. The detail of the castle and the glorious atmospheric surroundings captured the tone of the books so well: the sense of scale, of mystery, and of wonder. Jim Kay, the illustrator of the latest editions of Harry Potter, is a genius. His drawings grace so many pages of this book, adding a really unique touch to it.
One of the many reasons I found this book enjoyable was that, as much as possible, it recreated the form of an exhibition. Every page was primarily taken up with an image – a photograph of an artefact, a scanned in document, or an illustration. Accompanying these were captions and small paragraphs, explaining their history, and their place in the display.
It was very comprehensive and accessible – perfect for dipping in and out of when I had a spare few minutes in the day.
It’s fascinating how various cultures throughout history and across the globe have followed similar beliefs – such as divination and prophecy – but done so in such different ways. Whereas people living in certain Chinese dynasties looked to oracle bones for guidance, more recent British oracles used crystal balls. The cross-overs and differences were presented really well.
The boundary between magic and science is also explored – before scientific practice became grounded in verification through experiment and observation, so many ‘discoveries’ were attributed to spiritual or magical causes. Even today, though, scientific progress is often explained in almost magical language, so the distinction between the two concepts remains fluid.
The teams at The British Library have clearly worked incredibly hard to research and create this exhibition, while the teams at Bloomsbury Publishing have excelled at transferring it to this beautiful volume. This book has definitely piqued my interest in magic. I will add some more histories on the subject to my TBR!
Most enjoyable for me, though, were J.K. Rowling’s manuscripts, notes, and doodles that are interspersed throughout the chapters. It’s amazing how much of her magical universe she had plotted before the first installment was published, and I loved seeing these original notes presented in the book.
Not only was it awe-inspiring from the perspective of a lifelong Harry Potter fan, but also as an insight into the writing and editing processes that books go through.
It’s my aspiration to become an Editor in the book publishing industry, so seeing a glimpse of how drafts were changed, with scenes and characters moved around or cut completely, was great. The relationship between an author and their editor is so important because the editor can often pick up inconsistencies in the narrative that the author may not realise are there.
Editors are there to offer suggestions that will make the narrative the best it can be, be it changing a character’s name, or tweaking the arrangement of plot points. They have to have a trusting relationship with the author so that they can make any necessary changes together.
So yes, I loved Harry Potter – A History of Magic from beginning to end. It was a great read, full of fascinating facts, stories, as well as stunning images and illustrations. Whether you’re a proud Hogwarts alumni, or intrigued by magical thinking, this is a really accessible and well-presented exploration of how magic has developed across time and place.
Now all that’s left for me to do is book tickets to the exhibition itself!
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