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Wingardium Leviosa! Harry Potter: A History of Magic Coming to the New-York Historical Society

August 14, 2018 - by Evan Levy
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Gather round ye muggles and wizards, squibs and witches, tourists and natives: magic is on its way. “It,” of course, is Harry Potter: A History of Magic, coming to the New-York Historical Society this fall, commemorating the beloved series's 20th anniversary. One of the most eagerly anticipated exhibits to hit the city since, well, ever, the show comes straight from the British Library in London, where, not surprisingly, it was the institution's most successful exhibition.

Harry Potter A History of Magic

Phoenix illustration by Jim Kay. © Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 2016.

The exhibit, which runs from October 5, 2018-January 27, 2019, features manuscripts, books, and even artifacts from the collections of museums including the British Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Yale University, as well as the New-York Historical Society itself. In addition to these—and why there will be lines around the block—there will be original materials from J.K. Rowling’s archives, as well as from Scholastic, publisher in this country of the Harry Potter series.

harry potter leonardo da vinci

Astronomical notes and sketches, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook, © British Library Board.

The exhibit, cleverly, is organized around the Hogwarts subjects taken by students.

“Charms,” for instance, offers the first written record of the classic magic word “abracadabra,” while “Astronomy” showcases pages from notebooks compiled by Leonardo da Vinci that show the sun and moon revolving around the earth. We’re especially looking forward to "Care of Magical Creatures," which showcases a 14th century bestiary manuscript, and "Divination," with ancient oracle bone fragments on view.

The exhibit will also feature materials that have not previously been on view, including Mary Grand Pre’s cover illustrations for the original Scholastic editions; new artwork from Brian Selznick, to be published this summer in conjunction with the anniversary editions of the books; early letters between J.K. Rowling and Arthur Levine, the American editor of the series; and the steamer trunk that was used to carry a signed edition of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on the Queen Mary’s journey to the United States.

Also included: handwritten first drafts from two of the books; Rowling’s hand-drawn sketch of the Hogwarts landscape; and an array of sketches of Hogwarts professors and magical creatures by British Illustrator Jim Kay. Costumes and set pieces from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, now on Broadway, will also be included.

The exhibition goes beyond Harry Potter to look at the very origins of myths and magic, and will be fleshed out with other artifacts and publications, such as a study of the Woolworth Building, which features in Fantastic Beasts; as well as a 1693 publication that defended the Salem Witch trials.

harry potter crystal ball

Small black crystal ball, used by Paignton witch ‘Smelly Nelly’ © Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle.

The exhibit will also include family programs, such as one on the history of each house, as well as a Harry Potter family book club and trivia contests. You can find a complete list of the exhibit's complementary events here. (Note some are for families, some are for adults!)

A History of Magic joins the growing list of exhibits at the NYHS that offer a more popular approach, from "Superheroes in Gotham," which looked at the birth of comic-book superheroes in New York, to "Eloise at the Museum," which focused on the famous children’s book protagonist.

This one, however, is clearly the cherry on the sundae. (Not to mention the ice cream and all the toppings.) For Harry Potter fans that mourn the days of waiting eagerly for the next book or movie, there’s a new excitement with Cursed Child, the Fantastic Beasts movies, and now, "Harry Potter: A History of Magic."

All we can say is: accio, exhibit! For more information, visit nyhistory.org.

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