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Broomsticks and Dragon Bones

November 8th, 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the British Library’s Harry Potter exhibition recently. Fans of the books and films will love it but it will also be of interest to anyone fascinated with the history of magic. Here is an article by Maev Kennedy from the Guardian about the show and a short film to give you a taster…

Broomsticks and dragon bones in British Library’s Harry Potter magic show

Manuscripts for JK Rowling’s books mix with a centuries-old mermaid and a witch’s crystal ball in hotly anticipated exhibition.

Even JK Rowling, on a preview visit to the exhibition combining a history of magic with her creations, was astonished to come face to face with the tombstone of one of her characters. She tweeted the image, writing: “Guess what this is? I’ve just seen it and was mesmerised …”

The lead curator, Julian Harrison, explained that it was a memorial to the alchemist and suspected wizard Nicolas Flamel, who died in 1418 and whose grave, when opened centuries later, contained no trace of a body. His tombstone, borrowed from the Musée de Cluny in Paris, is said to have been rediscovered in a Parisian grocery in the 19th century, upside down and being used as a chopping block.

The curators have borrowed from national and international collections and from the archives of JK Rowling and her publishers, including her fanatically detailed plotting for the books, with grids of every character on every day. There is also a scrap of paper that proved as magical as any potion: the pencilled opinion of Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of the founder of Bloomsbury, after eight other publishers had rejected Rowling’s proposal. Alice wrote: “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.” The consequence was 400m books sold in 68 languages, and still rising daily.

There are several pages that never made it into the final version of the first Harry Potter book, where Ron and Harry were to have crashed the flying car into a mermaid-infested lake rather than the Whomping Willow. “Not as pretty as they look in books, are they, mermaids,” Ron remarks – which is certainly true of the neighbouring mermaid on loan from the British Museum, ingeniously stitched together centuries ago in Japan from a monkey and a fish.

The exhibition includes the oldest objects in the British Library: scorched, cracked bones used for fortune-telling in China more than 3,000 years ago, when they were widely believed to come from dragons. A book from the collection records a more recent sighting: a “monstrous dragon” that crash-landed in a field in Bologna, Italy, on 13 May 1572, and was on display in a local museum for a century after…to read the entire article click here.



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