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The Wizarding World Takes Manhattan

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Looking for fantastic beasts? The New York Historical Society might just be the place to find them. This past fall, Harry Potter: A History of Magic opened, offering the perfect place for Potterheads to get their magical fix.

Up until the end of the month, this exhibition showcases an enthralling mix of ancient historical artifacts and materials from J.K. Rowling's personal archives. From early texts that depict the first examples of witches to interactive games where patrons can read their own tarot cards, there is certainly no shortage of magic within the Hogwarts-esque corridors of this exhibit.

Muggles travel from classroom to classroom, as the sections of the exhibit are themed by their subject and professor such as Potions, Herbology, and Care Of Magical Creatures. It is hard to imagine that anything from the wizarding world could derive from history, but by examining the artifacts on display, one gains insight as to the extensive research J.K. Rowling conducted when creating her iconic series.

Museum-goers are invited for an up-close viewing of Nicholas Flamel’s tombstone, the Alchemist who tried to create a stone that could turn any object into gold and provide eternal life. Fans will also recognize terms like “Mandrake Root” in 13th-century botanical references, and spell books that provided the names for many of the charms we hear in the films.

Fact melts into fiction, however, as the show also displays witty exhibitions like the real-life “Cloak of Invisibility” and portraits of Hogwarts faculty by illustrator Jim Kay and Rowling herself. “I had the urge to actually see these characters that I was carrying around in my mind” Rowling states in a quote accompanying an early doodle she did of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville during their first year at Hogwarts.

Although the larger than life paintings of magical creatures like Fawkes the Phoenix and virtual cauldrons where one can mix their own Memory Potion are sure to make any Potterhead giddy with excitement, it is the original drafts and outlines of the beloved series that makes one’s heart flutter. To see the Escape-from-Gringotts scene scribbled in an old notebook, or the line edits from the original draft of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is to experience true magic.

With Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling invited us to jump into the world of magic, to experience the unimaginable, to find a place we could call home, and it all began with a few simple words on a page. As Professor Dumbledore states in the final book of the series, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.”

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Illustration by Mya Wang

written by
Aliza Pelto
January 14, 2019