A History of Magic AND A Journey Through the History of Magic

A History of Magic AND A Journey Through the History of Magic

Following on from my blog post about the British Library’s Exhibition, this is a review about the two books that were released by Bloomsbury and the British Library in conjunction with the Exhibition. Full of information about the artefacts displayed at the Exhibition, Rowling’s process of creating the Potter stories, as well as Jim Kay’s magnificent illustrations. 

Harry Potter: A History of Magic ★★★★★

This book is by far the more information orientated of the two, and is perhaps aimed at the now adult Potter fans given that the series has been going for 20 years this year. A History of Magic gives detailed descriptions of the various objects included in the exhibition, as well as the history concerning said objects. For the history buffs among you, this book is perfect for you as you get to see the inspirations behind Rowling’s masterpiece, and how she dipped into to history in regard to classes, storylines and even the title of her books.

Beneath the widely recognisable dust jacket of the red phoenix, is a gorgeous illustration of a light green, brown and black snake with a golden tongue. It spans the front and back and it is taster of what is to come inside, as snakes, particularly the basilisk, are now synonomous with Harry, Voldemort and the series. 

The chapter on Astronomy has an opening section written by Tim Peake! TIM PEAKE! The Astronomy chapter is one of my favourites, with objects such as the Dunhuang Star Atlas:

In 1907, a Hungarian-British archaeologist called Aurel Stein was searching for artefacts in the desert on the southern Silk Road. He entered a cave in Dunhuang, Central China, that had been sealed for thousands of years…the cave was a treasure trove containing 40,000 ancient Buddhist manuscripts, paintings and documents. This paper scroll was among them, the oldest preserved star atlas from any civilisation.

Throughout the book there is a smattering of annotated drafts, handwritten notes and edits from Rowling’s editor. The chapter, Past, Present and Future is particularly good in this regard. These parts are the most special to me. Given that I spent the past week or so doing this Harry Potter Week, it is to no surprise to you all that these snippets from Rowling’s personal collection have the greatest effect on me. To read her own scrawl on notepads and her annotations on early drafts brings me closer to Potter than ever before as I can see her thoughts on the page before it becomes the final product. This for me, makes this book an extra special part of the Potter world that I love.

The book details every item at the British Library Exhibition, so for those that don’t get the chance to visit, the book is pretty much the best thing to get.

Harry Potter: A Journey Through A History Of Magic ★★★★★

The more child-friendly book of the two. Plenty of colourful illustrations, follows the same format as the other book (chapters sorted by classroom subjects), and there is information allocated to each of them, but in a much more conciser way, and there are less artefacts mentioned here, but more of how the artefacts are connected to Rowling’s wizarding world.

Yet again there is examples of Rowling’s notes, the best of these, which is displayed in full at the British Library is her “Planning the Order of the Phoenix”. The plans are set out in a grid which shows how the storylines intertwine with one another, there are columns for; dates, chapter titles, plot, prophecy link, Cho/Ginny romance, Dumbledore’s Army, Order of the Phoenix, Snape/Harry/Father, and Hagrid and Grawp. The complexities that accompany such a masterpiece are evident in these plans as Rowling tries to manage all these details and pull them together in her book.

The above double-page spread is a typical example of the layout of the book. The images on the left hand side are Jim Kay’s illustrations, which are slightly different to a real mandrake root that is shown on the previous page (Egland, 16th or 17th century), but there are plenty of similarities that Rowling that utilised. There are some facts pertaining to the real mandrakes, again on the previous page, about its medical potential, how they were harvested and the danger it poses to those digging them up…sadly, they don’t scream, that was something Rowling added to them for her book, Chamber of Secrets. The green segment on the right-hand page is an activity section which is great for the kids- there plenty of these scattered in the book.

The Escape From Gringotts was written down on paper many years before Rowling got round to writing the Deathly Hallows book. On the second page of her notes, Harry destroys a cup (the Hufflepuff Horcrux) while the trio are still in the Lestrange’s vault, an event that changed for the published book. Little snippets like this makes these books fascinating to read as there could have been a different version of events from the ones we have read, seen and have become accustomed to.

A Journey Through A History of Magic is a great companion guide, with plenty of colourful images, interesting information, and best of all, a chapter dedicated to all the notes from Rowling. Although I do prefer A History of Magic because of the detailed information given to the artefacts in the exhibition, this book is a great one to look at and flick through.

6 thoughts on “A History of Magic AND A Journey Through the History of Magic

    • I wish Rowling would tell me the final number of books devoted to her wizarding world will be released so I can make a bookcase to house them all! I keep moving them about to fit them all in together. 😀

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