Harry Potter exhibit marks 20th anniversary of first book British Library staff pose for a picture at the "Harry Potter - A History of Magic" exhibition at the British Library, in London, Wednesday Oct. 18, 2017. The exhibition running from Oct. 20, marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, showing items from the British Library's collection, and items from author J.K Rowling and the book publisher's collection. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
Harry Potter exhibit marks 20th anniversary of first book

Harry Potter fans owe a debt of gratitude to Alice Newton.
Alice was 8 years old when her father brought home a new manuscript for her to read. He was a Bloomsbury Publishing executive. 

"The excitement in this book made me feel warm inside." That is the message she scrawled in a note to her dad. "I think it is probably one of the best books an 8/9 year old could read."

Alice's glowing review made a difference. Bloomsbury published "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,” launching a literary juggernaut that brought magic to a generation of children.

Alice's penciled note is part of the British Library's new exhibition. The exhibition,called "Harry Potter: A History of Magic,” coincides with the 20th anniversary of the publication of J.K. Rowling's first book. The show is an unabashed celebration of the stories and their antecedents.

"There are some rich historical traditions behind the magic in the Harry Potter stories. J.K. Rowling was aware of, them." That's according to Alexander Lock, one of the exhibit curators. He  added that he was impressed with Rowling's ability to layer information and offer depth. "They go into the stories and make them so rich."

The exhibit opened last Friday. It includes Rowling's outline for the book. It also includes her personal drawings of characters and a map of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

It also looks at magic and the nature of belief. It reveals that many of the things Harry Potter fans thought were imaginary were actually based in fact - or folklore. It includes rare books and manuscripts from around the world. It also includes cauldrons, broomsticks, crystal balls and potion manuals. These offer insight into Rowling's inspiration and how the books came to be.

"I've taken liberties with folklore." That's what Rowling says in a video that opens the show.

The show is divided into rooms based on the subjects studied at Hogwarts. Hogwarts was the setting for Rowling's novels following the adventures of Harry. He is the orphan who learns at age 11 that he is a wizard. Sections include Potions, Herbology, Divination, Care of Magical Creatures and Defense Against the Dark Arts.

Each section touches on the legends and beliefs that Rowling wove into her stories. Historical objects illustrate the scholarship behind the narrative.

The potions section, for example, features a Bronze Age/Iron Age Battersea Cauldron on loan from the British Museum. It sits beneath cauldron light fixtures that flicker in the subdued light. They offer the viewer a chance to get into the Halloween-like aura of it all.

There is also a discussion of alchemy, the medieval forerunner of chemistry, and features the Ripley Scroll. The scroll is a six-meter (yard) long manuscript from the 1500s that describes how to make a Philosopher's Stone.

Nearby is the tombstone of Nicolas Flamel, a real alchemist who features as a character in Rowling's first book, and various witch accoutrements.

An astronomy display includes a celestial globe made in 1693 - as well as 21st-century augmented reality technology supplied by Google Arts & Culture. This is to help visitors examine the ancient constellations that gave their names to key Harry Potter characters, such as Sirius Black and Draco Malfoy.

Being hosted at the British Library meant the exhibition featured some amazing books - on palmistry, tea leaf reading and, of course, witches.

Tanya Kirk, another co-curator, said working on the exhibit gave her a whole new appreciation of witches.

"I think all of the things I learned about witches is that they get quite a bad rap through history, and it was quite hard to find positive accounts," she said with a laugh. "The Harry Potter books have done a lot to change that."

The exhibition runs from Oct. 20 to Feb. 28, 2018 and has already sold some 30,000 tickets - the highest amount of advance tickets ever sold for a British Library exhibition. It will then travel to New York to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the book's title in the United States.

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Why do Harry Potter fans owe their thanks to Alice Newton?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • Alexis-moo
    10/25/2017 - 12:17 p.m.

    I thought the article was very interesting and I liked it.

  • Cody-moo
    10/25/2017 - 12:17 p.m.

    The article was pretty cool. I think it's so cool to think that that note that she wrote is so cherished now!

  • Lane-moo
    10/25/2017 - 12:18 p.m.

    Great article, I have read the first and second book. They are very enjoyable books.

  • Kathryn-moo1
    10/25/2017 - 12:18 p.m.

    This would be very fun to see.

  • Kyle-moo1
    10/25/2017 - 12:19 p.m.

    I can' believe an 8 year old read that book

  • Anna-moo1
    10/25/2017 - 12:19 p.m.

    I really enjoyed this article. I liked how they separated the sections.

  • McKaila-moo
    10/25/2017 - 12:19 p.m.

    I haven't read Harry Potter, but I liked this article.

  • AvaG-moo
    10/25/2017 - 12:20 p.m.

    The article was good, I watched the movies with my little cousins and they were good. Great article.

  • Alex-moo1
    10/25/2017 - 12:21 p.m.

    I think it was a well artical and that it had facts about the books.

  • Jacob-moo3
    10/25/2017 - 12:21 p.m.

    The library must've been great to go to and see all that stuff.I thought the article was okay.

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