Delving into 'Harry Potter: A History of Magic' at Potter After Hours
Oh look, it's another Harry Potter themed post. I think my blog might be starting to become slightly fandom biased…
But I’ll make an exception today, as this is regarding a long-awaiting event that I’ve been dying to see for a while now. It of course, the fabled and famous, Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition at The British Library.
The entrance hall to The British Library, and the setting to the stage of this post
But this visit was a unique one, as it was in collaboration with Pottermore. Part of the “late nights” sessions across museums and other cultural institutions in the city, Potter After Hours featured a number of additional activities alongside the main event itself, giving all Potterheads a chance to interact and have fun with one another.
I kicked the evening off with the exhibition, being far too eager to wait any longer. It goes without saying, but it was absolutely stunning. The overall theme of the journey had so many nods to the lore of the franchise, with decorations hanging from the ceilings such as the flying keys from Philosopher's Stone, to books popping out of the walls just like in the Hogwarts library.
Each section was dedicated to a different Hogwarts subject, featuring old lore and historic artefacts that gave a deeper and more insightful look into the topic. These ranged from ancient books from the BC times, to artistic renders and drawings of the characters and settings, to a 6 metre-long scroll that took up nearly half a room.
My personal favourite items from the collection were pages and sketches by J.K. Rowling herself, which were drafts and thoughts of the books in the earlier stages. It was wonderful to see living proof of her creative process, and also intriguing to see where possibly the books could have been different. One item that stands out are the notes for the Sorting Hat. Rowling had multiple ideas for how children could be sorted. Should the hat sing? Should it dance? Should it just get on with it?
Oh how I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall when she was making these decisions.
At the end of the exhibition, this wall allowed visitors to leave their own memento. If you look closely, some have a lot of artistic chops!
The whole tour is a free-roaming experience, allowing visitors to view things at their own pace and leisure. It also catered to all age-types, with various interactive elements for younger (or easily-amused people such as myself) to enjoy. This included a potions making game, where players could “mix” ingredients in a cauldron on a screen to create their own concoction.
And yes, I waited for the six-year old to finish his turn before having a go, thank you very much.
My main point is that this exhibit captured both the insightful and playful natures of the Harry Potter series. Whilst it is informative and thoroughly researched to a high-degree, it manages to surround visitors with that unique magical nostalgia that is so special to this fandom. This exhibition is only in London until the end of this month, but it has recently just been announced for New York for a four month stint, and who knows where it may go next?
If you can’t get your hands on these gold-dust tickets, then never fear. The exhibition has been condensed into a paper version that you can read from the comfort of your own home! I have my own copy, and it's my current bedtime binge-read. Alternatively if you are more of a visual learner, the BBC recorded a documentary on the making of the event. You can view some clip snippets right here.
As I mentioned previously, this night was not just about the exhibition. I managed to squeeze in a few of the extra activities alongside my visit. My first included making my very own house badge. The kind staff at the venue were assisting visitors in cutting out their own label (four different types for each house), before using a nifty little badge-maker so you could leave with your own souvenir of the evening.
I will never ever turn down any Slytherin merchandise, under any circumstance.
The next part was rather popular, the Patronus quiz. Now, I won’t lie. I actually thought that this would be a quiz to determine your own Patronus, like the one on Pottermore. Whilst I already have mine chosen, I thought I wouldn’t mind giving it another crack.
It turns out however that I was way off the mark! This was in fact a quiz to test your knowledge of the subject of Patronuses, and oh Merlin, it was not easy at all. We were under a time limit to answer 26 questions, which were extremely specific about the quiz subject. We were also put under extra pressure by the quiz master, who would yell spontaneously “YOU ONLY HAVE FIVE MINUTES LEFT! OH NO!”.
It was safe to say even though I lost miserably, I walked away with a grin on my face.
A little glimpse into the amulet making process on one of the optional activities!
There were a few other bits on the night that I must mention, including an amulet craft workshop, cocktails of each Hogwarts house served at the bar and talks from guest speakers in the main hall. The organisers did a great job at making such a packed schedule, allowing for all the fans to come and see a wide variety of Harry Potter themed experiences.
When I go along to these sort of events, I remember what I love about fandom in the first place. From seeing little fans in their own Harry Potter cosplays, right up to older fans donning their house scarfs and giving a smile of approval to any fellow students.
It seems like environments such as this bring out the enthusiasm and friendliness in people, and make us realise that we all have something in common. We all fell in love with the magic of Harry Potter, and we want more ways to keep that community spirit alive. I hope that other venues take notice of this unique venture, and look into more geeky experiences for fans worldwide.
The Slytherin badge to add to my personal house collection ( and Is it just me, or have their been quite a few candles in this post?)