Fact in­fic­tion

BBC History Magazine - - Out & About -

Mug­gle­sand wizards alike will be flock­ing to the Bri­tish Li­brary this month to ex­plore the his­tory be­hind JK Rowl­ing’s best­selling Harry Pot­ter se­ries, 20 years after the pub­li­ca­tion of the first book, Harry Pot­ter and the Philoso­pher’s Stone.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is themed around the sub­jects stud­ied by Harry Pot­ter at Hog­warts School of Witch­craft and Wizardry, from po­tions and her­bol­ogy to astronomy and care of mag­i­cal crea­tures. It uses rare books, manuscripts and ob­jects from the Bri­tish Li­brary’s col­lec­tions to ex­plore the magic and folk­lore his­tory that sit at the heart of the nov­els.

Among the items on show is one of the Ri­p­ley Scrolls, a six-me­tre-long al­chem­i­cal man­u­script from the 16th cen­tury that de­scribes how to make the Philoso­pher’s Stone – a leg­endary sub­stance sup­pos­edly ca­pa­ble of turn­ing metal into gold.

Other promised trea­sures in­clude his­tor­i­cal texts on the safest way to har­vest a man­drake or dis­pose of a cursed ring; a ce­les­tial globe dat­ing from 1693; and an early writ­ten record of ‘abra­cadabra’, used as a charm to cure malaria. Visi­tors can also see orig­i­nal Harry Pot­ter art­work and a mer­maid, al­legedly caught in Ja­pan in the 18th cen­tury.

ABOVE: A phoenix ris­ing from the ashes in a 13th­cen­tury bes­tiary LEFT: A page from Ja­cob Mey­den­bach’s Or­tus San­i­tatis, 1491, one of the first nat­u­ral his­tory en­cy­clo­pe­dias

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