Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow

mr learTitle: Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense

Author: Jenny Uglow

Genre: Non-Fiction/Biogprahy

Publisher: Faber/Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th October 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 560

Price: $49.99

Synopsis: A beautifully illustrated, literary appreciation of Edward Lear – best-known for his poem ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ – and his ‘nonsenses’ by one of Britain’s most highly regarded historians.

Edward Lear’s poems follow and break the rules. They abide by the logic of syntax, the linking of rhyme and the dance of rhythm, and these ‘nonsenses’ are full of joy – yet set against darkness. Where do these human-like animals and birds and these odd adventures – some gentle, some violent, some musical, some wild – come from? His many drawings that accompany his verse are almost hyper-real, as if he wants to free the creatures from the page. They exist nowhere else in literature, springing only from Lear’s imagination.

Lear lived all his life on the borders of rules and structures, of disciplines and desires. He vowed to ignore politics yet trembled with passionate sympathies. He depended on patrons and moved in establishment circles, yet he never belonged among them and mocked imperial attitudes. He loved men yet dreamed of marriage – but remained, it seems, celibate, wrapped in himself. Even in his family he was marginal, at once accepted and rejected. Surrounded by friends, he was alone.

If we follow him across land and sea – to Italy, Greece and Albania, to The Levant and Egypt and India – and to the borderlands of spirit and self, art and desire, can we see, in the end, if the nonsense makes sense? This is what Jenny Uglow has set sail to find out.

~*~

Jenny Uglow’s latest biogpraphy examines the life, art and nonsense poetry or Edward Lear. Born in 1812, Lear was the youngest boy of seventeen, nineteen or twenty-one children (depending on which source is consulted, Uglow suggests that Lear claimed it was twenty-one). As the second to last born child, he was passed off to a much older sister to care for and raise. Lear’s life led him into an adult life of travel, nonsense and art, and through his struggles with his identity and epilepsy, he wrote and created watercolours, limericks and one of the best loved poems known today: The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (1871), and his numerous limericks that appear to hint at dark outcomes for the Old Men and other characters that populate his limericks from a variety of places. It is not merely the story of Lear’s life, but how his art, travels and writing shaped his life, and how the people he interacted with throughout his life. such as the Pre-Raphaelites, including William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris, and their infamous exhibit that caused a scandal because of the nature of their paintings. Lear spent much of his adult life travelling across Europe, especially to Greece and Corfu, painting and writing for children of friends, whilst never marrying himself, despite coming close. At the same time, Lear grappled with his sexuality and who he was attracted to, as well as his asthma, and epilepsy that hindered him in some ways.

I had previously encountered Edward Lear in a university course about Children’s Literature, where I studied the classics and some of the most well-known works from what is known as The Golden Age, through to modern day literature from Australia and America, as well as fairy tales. So, this was a special treat for me, and something I wished I had had back then. I knew of his large family, his writing and his epilepsy and sexuality – what I did not know was how extensively he travelled and just how much his sister, Ann, meant to him – how much of a mother she was to him over his own mother, and I didn’t know anything about his relationship with the Pre-Raphaelites. On this account in the book, I would have liked to have known more about this time he spent with them and whether he knew the women in the Pre-Raphaelite circle as well as their husbands. This biography is beautiful, traversing Lear’s life in travel, art and nonsense, opening each chapter with a limerick and peppering them throughout in places where each one relates to what has just been written.

Uglow also incorporates the Owl and the Pussy-Cat, and part of the solemn, depressing Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo. Of these two, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat is my favourite, and his limericks are full of whimsy, delight and the nonsense that Lear and his contemporary, Lewis Carroll, perpetuated in their early works that introduced entertainment over didacticism and morally uplifting stories to children, thus ushering in what is known as The Golden Age of Children’s Literature. What this biogpraphy offers is a colourful and well-rounded view of the life of Edward Lear, flaws and all are recognised as he travels and through his encounters of world events and hearing about them.

Through a life lived on the borders of convention, a life that helped bring the delightful nonsense to life, Lear’s life lived in the margins, accepted by some, and yet alone amongst friends, a life that was not lived in a conventional or normal manner, where he gave drawing lessons to Queen Victoria, and at the same time, used his nonsense to mock imperial attitudes, we can perhaps begin to understand how his nonsense verses emerged.

Authors of Children’s Literature today owe much to people like Lear and Carroll – they opened the door to literature for children as entertainment, using nonsense, magic and humour to entertain and potentially teach rather than didactic texts and primers that had abounded up until the 1860s, when their first works were published. Lear was one of the first authors of children’s literature to push these boundaries, and this biogpraphy shows that he was more than this, that he led a fascinating life in a time when there were different expectations for everyone.

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After I’ve Gone by Linda Green

after i'VE GONE.jpgTitle: After I’ve Gone
Author: Linda Green
Genre: Thriller/Crime
Publisher: Quercus/Hachette
Published: 25th July 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 440
Price: $29.99
Synopsis: You have 18 months left to live . . . On a wet Monday in January, Jess Mount checks Facebook and discovers her timeline appears to have skipped forward 18 months, to a day when shocked family and friends are posting heart-breaking tributes to her following her death in an accident. Jess is left scared and confused: is she the target of a cruel online prank or is this a terrifying glimpse of her true fate?
Amongst the posts are photos of a gorgeous son she has not yet conceived. But when new posts suggest her death was deliberate, Jess realises that if she changes the future to save her own life, the baby boy she has fallen in love with may never exist.

~*~

After abrasively brushing off someone who gropes her on public transport, Jess Mount has a chance encounter with someone who seems too good to be true: too good-looking, too polite – he seems too perfect, and at the time, Jess is in no mood to be hit on whilst she heads to work with her best friend Sadie as a cinema hostess. After encountering this man – Lee – she begins seeing strange posts and messages on her Facebook, eighteen months into the future, hinting at her death, and a child she hasn’t even imagined having yet. Only she can see these posts though, and the people around her begin to question her state of mind as the novel goes on, delving into past events that have had an effect on her since she was fifteen. As she enters a relationship with Lee, she ignores warning signs and threats, until the messages begin to make sense, and she makes moves to change her fate, including how she refers to her unborn child.

Using first person narrative, and told through the eyes of Jess and Lee’s mother, Angela, the novel moves through the months that lead up to the birth of the child the future posts hint at, the courtship, a wedding and Lee’s changing attitudes towards her. The world is shown through the eyes of Jess and Angela, both not wanting to see the bad side to Lee, both trying to cover up what is really happening, but with one looking for an ending that will not be what her Facebook feed determines it will be.

It is a thriller that has a twisted romance within it, and it was a rather strange storyline – for example, the if, why and how the future and messages appear are not dealt with, and perhaps this works best. Perhaps what has been hinted at from Jess’s past is what has her seeing them. However, as we are not given an answer, the reader is left to speculate and fill in any gaps in the alternating chapters themselves.

Whilst not my usual genre to read, I gave this a decent try, and read it with an open mind. At first, I felt it was slow but the last half or so I read quickly to find out what happened. I did find it a strange, creepy and perhaps interesting premise given how much people live their lives on social media these days, and it did work for the novel. I may pass this on, as I don’t think it is my cup of tea. I am confident that Linda’s fan base and readers of this genre will enjoy it though, and I hope that they do.

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Murder on Christmas Eve edited by Cecily Gayford

murder on xmas eve

Title: Murder on Christmas Eve

Author: Various Authors, Edited by Cecily Gayford

Genre: Crime, short stories

Publisher: Profile Books

Published: 22nd November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The follow up to the bestselling crime collection Murder under the Christmas Tree

Christmas Eve. While the world sleeps, snow falls gently from the sky, presents await under the tree … and murder is afoot. In this collection of ten classic murder mysteries from the best crime writers in history, death and mayhem takes many festive forms, from the inventive to the unexpected.

From a Santa Claus with a grudge to missing diamonds spirited away by a mysterious visitor, these are stories to enjoy – and be mystified by – in front of a roaring fire, mince pie to hand – or at the beach!

 

~*~

 

In Murder on Christmas Eve, some of the best crime authors have had stories with a Christmas theme collected into one volume. From Ellis Peters and the Trinity Cat, whose inexplicable appearance at the scene of a murder on Christmas Eve has the police and witnesses scratching their heads, wondering what the cat could know – and what exactly happened, to the clever stories by authors such as Ian Rankin, who invite well-known characters such as John Rebus into the fold of Christmas, where what appears to be an innocent Christmas party soon becomes a little more sinister. Some authors are British, such as Ian Rankin, some American, such as John Dickson Carr, mixed in with well-known authors – Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and G.K. Chesterton and some that I had not been aware of, and that perhaps are not as well-known as some of the others.

 

Nevertheless, they are all collected together, with a common thread of crime and Christmas linking them. They are stories that make you think and more often than not, leave you scratching your head at what had driven someone to commit the crimes depicted in the story, that have flawed characters of all kinds that make you question the human condition.  Though each story is set at Christmas, it is not always immediately obvious – sometimes it is mentioned, sometimes there are subtle clues about the setting, and all are blanketed in snow and the feel of winter that sends chills throughout the story.

 

Each story is unique, and the intrigue in each ensures that the reader will be kept guessing, and the assumed outcome will not necessarily be what happens – in clever twists, the authors hint at what could have happened, what some characters might have been driven to or were driven to – not redeeming the criminals but showing the complexity of right and wrong and how, as humans, we navigate these two factors in the world around us.

 

This was an intriguing collection of short stories, a tiny taste of each of these authors and their characters to please current fans and introduce new fans to the authors and their detectives. It showed that crime doesn’t stop just because of the season or holidays, and through these crimes, sometimes the true nature of people is revealed, and that there are times, that even the people we think we know can understand what has driven another to crime and murder. All in all, a very interesting set of stories that even though the show a darker side to humanity, make for great holiday reading alongside Charles Dickens.

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Facing the Flame by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #7)

Facing the Flame.jpgTitle: Facing the Flame (Matilda Saga #7)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 20th November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 292

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: There have been fires before, but not like this. Heartbreaking and powerful, FACING THE FLAME is a story of the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.

‘The perfect read for anyone who loves immersing themselves in Australian fiction. Gripping, emotional and moving, Facing the Flame is a great book to curl up with on a warm spring night.’ – New Idea

There have been fires before, but not like this.

In 1978, as the hot wind howls and the grass dries, all who live at Gibber’s Creek know their land can burn. But when you love your land, you fight for it.

For Jed Kelly, an even more menacing danger looms: a man from her past determined to destroy her. Finding herself alone, trapped and desperate to save her unborn child, Jed’s only choice is to flee – into the flames.

Heartbreaking and powerful, Facing the Flame celebrates the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.

~*~

Seven books in, and the Matilda Saga is getting better with each book. From the late nineteenth century to 1979. From the slums of Grinder’s Alley to Gibber’s Creek, Moura and Drinkwater, the journey of young Matilda O’Halloren to find her father after her mother’s death is what kicked off this series, and the ongoing relationships between the families of Drinkwater, Overflow and Rocky Valley, the Thompsons, the Clancys, the McAlpines and the Macks have all watched seasons come and go, watched generations grow up, and new life enter the world. Picking up two years after If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, Facing the Flame opens with a wedding, and an announcement that will change Jed’s life forever.  As her pregnancy progresses in its final days, Gibber’s Creek and the neighbouring areas become threatened by a devastating bushfire, and someone from Jed’s past determined to eke revenge and destroy her. With the life of her unborn baby at stake, and encouraging her sister Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara to head off into town to help those sheltering there after evacuation, Jed must flee into the flames, back towards her house as she tries to save two lives. As the fire eats away at the paddocks and earth, the community of Gibber’s Creek will not allow itself to be beaten. Regardless of age, gender and ability, these courageous women will fight to save their land.

aww2017-badgeFire and the land are as much characters as the humans, and in many chapters, we end with the perspective of the fire as it ravages the land. It effectively sets the scene and you can feel the threat of the flames as they progress to their final fate towards the end of the book, where there are a few secrets left unsolved, and where there is hope for the future of Jed and her family.

Moura, Drinkwater, Dribble, Rocky Valley and Overflow are the key homes that have helped to link the series together, and link the families of these places together. A few books ago, we were introduced to River View, a rehabilitation place for disabled and ill children whose parents needed help, or where children like Scarlett would live, receiving specific care for disabilities that impacted their lives, but that the children, and Scarlett in particular, did not use to define themselves. Scarlett has come a long way since we first encountered her in Ghost by the Billabong, becoming independent and able to care for herself and live in the city to attend university. Now, River View is home to a few kids seeking specific help. Lu Borgino is blind, and feels at a loss for what she has been told or made to feel her life will become. But with the help of the Gibber’s Creek clan, she realises she can still achieve her dreams. It is characters like these girls that the Matilda Saga has given a voice to – the forgotten, the ones left out of history books.

Throughout the seven books, Jackie French’s main characters have been primarily women, who in each of their respective time periods, have faced different challenges and obstacles because of gender, or race – Aboriginal – Nancy Thompson, Chinese – Mah McAlpine, or disabled – Scarlett, and Lu. Each woman has had to fight against prejudices of gender and race, and sometimes poverty, to have their voices heard. These interlocking and diverse families provide an insight into the history that we are not taught in school, the history of those that are not often heard from, but might be heard about more – a carefully hidden history that would make any historical account richer and more interesting than what might be on offer. Jackie French has uncovered some of Australia’s secrets through fiction, raw and bare, and created a strength of character and story that anyone can relate to, even if they explore stories that can hurt and harm, we need to remember them.

As an author with a disability herself – dyslexia – Jackie’s passion in these characters having their voices heard and the lengths she goes to for accuracy and research is admirable. These lengths make the story all the more engaging and full of life. Flinty and Lu, who acquired their disabilities, have fought through – Flinty recovering (The Girl from Snowy River), and Lu learning what she is capable of, and learning new ways of seeing, show the power of the human spirit, as have characters climbing out of poverty – Matilda, and escaping abusive homes – Blue, Mah and Jed, not letting racism define her – Clancy and Mah, and, the irrepressible Scarlett, who refuses to let her disability rule her life, and pushes on towards doing what she dreams of doing. Even though Old Matilda is gone, her spirit remains, and is there to give her family a good kick into gear when they need it from the beyond.

Each of the first six books were based on a poem written by some of Australia’s best-known poets:

A Waltz for Matilda – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson

The Girl from Snowy River The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Paterson

The Road to Gundagai – by Banjo Paterson

To Love a Sunburnt Country – My Country by Dorothea MacKellar

The Ghost by the Billabong – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson (links in with A Waltz for Matilda)

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle – Freedom on the Wallaby by Henry Lawson

The final book, Facing the Flame, includes a poem written by Jackie herself, titled A Land of Love and Flame, and can be found at the beginning of the book. In doing so, Jackie has tied each book to a tradition of Australian poetry, and taken the hidden stories of these poems and given them life. The latest book in the Matilda Saga ends on a note of mystery, that will hopefully be answered in the next one.

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Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn

into the worldTitle: Into the World

Author: Stephanie Parkyn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st December 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Abandoned by her lover and fleeing the wrath of her family, Marie-Louise must make a desperate choice. Find a man or become one.

  1. In the midst of the French Revolution, unwed mother Marie-Louise Girardin takes one last look at her baby son before entrusting him to her friend, the revolutionary Olympe de Gouges. She must escape, and only the most daring plan will bring her both the anonymity she needs and the independence to return one day for her son.Marie-Louise disguises herself as a man and joins a voyage of exploration employed as a steward on the Recherche, one of two ships commissioned to journey to the Great Southern Ocean to find the missing explorer La Perouse.

    Protecting her identity throughout, Marie-Louise forms friendships among the eccentric naturalists. But tensions rise between the royalist officers and the revolutionaries, and Marie-Louise’s position becomes precarious when she discovers someone on board knows the secrets of her past. When the expedition docks in Java, chaos erupts as they learn of King Louis XVI’s execution and are imprisoned by the Dutch. Marie-Louise seems certain to be unmasked. Will she ever return to France and be reunited with her child?

    Inspired by a true story, Into the World is a compelling novel of the amazing life of Marie-Louise Girardin battling perilous seas, her own self-doubt, and finding unforeseen loves on a journey to reclaim her child.

~*~

Marie-Louse Giradin lives in a time of turmoil, where revolutionaries – the Jacobins – and royalists, the supporters of Louis XIV and his Austrian queen, Marie-Antoinette, are at loggerheads as the Jacobins petition for the removal of the King, and a new, more egalitarian government. In 1791, Marie-Louise finds herself alone, and a single mother, she fled during the early days of the revolution, and found herself aboard a ship, disguised as a young man named Louis. The Recherche and the rest of their fleet are charged with finding out what happened to explorer La Pérouse. As they follow his path in the Great Southern Ocean, exploring the Cape of Good Hope, various Pacific Islands, New Holland and Van Diemen’s land, Marie-Louise must find a way to hide her true identity. Only a few senior officers know, the captain, Kermadoc and a few others, and she is at the mercy of their protection during the perilous journey that has separated her from her son. Far from home, and unaware of the dangers of the revolution, Marie-Louise is fighting her own battle – abandoning her son, and where she fits in the world. As a man, she is still mocked in some ways, and finds herself caught between the royalists and the revolutionaries aboard the ship as they navigate the Southern Hemisphere and what was at the time, in the 1790s, the unknown and exotic. Told through Marie-Louise’s eyes in third person, the reader can experience her horror at the way islander tribes and Aboriginal people are treated, and the awe that she has when coming into contact with these people who appear to be wary, but at times happy and helpful – for a woman in the 1790s to have these experiences would have been extraordinary and her reactions reflect how she coped with the unknown, whilst reflecting the attitudes of the time, and coupling them with the horrified reactions and emotional outpour from Marie-Louise.

As they journey home after their experiences in Van Diemen’s Land and New Holland, unsuccessful at finding La Pérouse, they are taken hostage in the Dutch East Indies, where they hear what has happened back home during the revolution and the end to the monarchical system. But to Marie-Louise, the fear of being unmasked and unable to return home to her son looms overhead.

aww2017-badgeIt is always refreshing to read a novel where the central female character isn’t driven by romantic love, but rather, the love for son and country, and where she heads off into the unknown because of this love. It is as much about the journey and subsequent history as it is about Marie-Louise herself, and what she went through and endured to return to France in 1793-4. A quick Google search spat back some resources from various state libraries, the national library and the Australian Dictionary of Biography, in total, 245,000 results, with the most relevant appearing to be at the top. Stephanie Parkyn’s book takes a look at Marie’s journey and what she went through, in an eloquent and interesting way, perhaps hinting at romance between another crew member and Marie-Louise, but not explicitly stating it. In doing so, Parkyn has recreated a historical figure, who, had she submitted to society’s expectations as her father demanded, might never have set foot in Australia and we might never have known her story. Stephanie’s story has provided readers with a strong, determined character who flouts convention and manages on her own, a refreshing characteristic in historical fiction, and a trend I have been observing. Allowing the characters like Marie-Louise to be strong in many ways but at the same time of their time is a feat that when done well, results in an engaging and intriguing story that sparks interest in these characters beyond the pages of the book they appear in.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which has sparked an interest in the French Revolution and finding more about Marie-Louise Giradin and her fate at the end of the expedition. Each character is a real person, giving the story a colour that ensures the history as it is retold feels as real as it would when reading about it in a history book, with a little more colour to it that is engaging and enjoyable. I found this book hard to put down, and it is one that will show what women were capable of and achieved in a time when the people around them expected less of these women.

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Harry Potter: A Journey Through The History of Magic

journey through a history of magic.jpgTitle: Harry Potter: A Journey Through The History of Magic

Author: The British Library

Genre: Fiction/Exhibition Catalogue

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 144

Price: $21.99

Synopsis: An irresistible romp through the history of magic, from alchemy to unicorns, ancient witchcraft to Harry’s Hogwarts – packed with unseen sketches and manuscript pages from J.K. Rowling, magical illustrations from Jim Kay and weird, wonderful and inspiring artefacts that have been magically released from the archives at the British Library.

This spellbinding book takes readers on a journey through the Hogwarts curriculum, including Herbology, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, Divination and more. Discover the truth behind making the Philosopher’s Stone, create your very own potion and uncover the secret of invisible ink. Learn all about the history of mandrake roots and dragons, discover what witches really used their brooms for, pore over incredible images of actual mermaids and read about real-life potions, astronomers and alchemists.

The perfect gift for aspiring witches and wizards and any Harry Potter fan. Celebrating twenty years of Harry Potter magic, and produced in association with the British Library to support their major exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

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~*~

 

In this family-oriented volume of the exhibition catalogue, Harry Potter’s world is revealed in an interesting and accessible way. The previously reviewed volume, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, contains essays and more facts and images of artefacts that are geared towards the historically minded. In this volume, the same chapters have been condensed for a younger audience, and peppered with some of the more interesting artefacts, such as character portraits by Jim Kay, scans of original drafts by JK Rowling and mostly, historical artefacts that relate directly to things in the book. This edition also has activities peppered throughout, aimed at children to try with their parents. As with Harry Potter: A History of Magic, this book is divided into the following sections that follow the subjects undertaken at school, with a few additional ones In place of the longer introduction and essays in the longer, more in-depth volume: The Magical World of Harry Potter, The Journey, Potions and Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, Past, Present and Future, The British Library, and JK Rowling.  Each chapter has a brief synopsis of the type of magic, specific to Harry’s world, with real world and Wizarding World examples, presented in less depth but no less interest and magic than in the longer version. In fact, it is hard to decide which I prefer more – as a historian, the other one gives greater insight to the history, whereas this one has a hint of whimsy and fun about it for a younger audience. That said, fans of any age will enjoy both these volumes immensely.

hp20_230For those Harry Potter fans who are unable to attend the exhibition themselves, these books allow them to take the journey themselves, and imagine that they are there. It would be lovely to see this in person, but I can at least experience a taste of it through this volume, and its companion, Harry Potter: A History of Magic. I hope we get more insight into this world through other text books, such as Hogwarts: A History.

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Harry Potter: A History of Magic

A history of magicTitle: Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Author: British Library

Genre: Exhibition Catalogue/Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th November 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 256

Price: $49.99

Synopsis: Harry Potter: A History of Magic is the official book of the exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and the brilliant curators of the British Library. It promises to take readers on a fascinating journey through the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – from Alchemy and Potions classes through to Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures.

Each chapter showcases a treasure trove of artefacts from the British Library and other collections around the world, beside exclusive manuscripts, sketches and illustrations from the Harry Potter archive. There’s also a specially commissioned essay for each subject area by an expert, writer or cultural commentator, inspired by the contents of the exhibition – absorbing, insightful and unexpected contributions from Steve Backshall, the Reverend Richard Coles, Owen Davies, Julia Eccleshare, Roger Highfield, Steve Kloves, Lucy Mangan, Anna Pavord and Tim Peake, who offer a personal perspective on their magical theme.

Readers will be able to pore over ancient spell books, amazing illuminated scrolls that reveal the secret of the Elixir of Life, vials of dragon’s blood, mandrake roots, painted centaurs and a genuine witch’s broomstick, in a book that shows J.K. Rowling’s magical inventions alongside their cultural and historical forebears.

This is the ultimate gift for Harry Potter fans, curious minds, big imaginations, bibliophiles and readers around the world who missed out on the chance to see the exhibition in person.

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~*~

For twenty years, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Hogwarts have charmed the world, adults and children alike. From the very first lines about the perfectly normal Dursleys in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to the final words of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows as a new generation begins Hogwarts, millions of people have been captivated by Harry and his friends. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary, new House editions, and various related books have been published. To coincide with this anniversary, The British Library has curated an exhibit of Harry Potter memorabilia, and related historical and literary items that have been associated with magic across the world throughout history, and influenced the subjects and the world of Harry Potter. Harry Potter: A History of Magic is a journey not just through Harry’s world but an entire historical and literary world of magic and beliefs in magic.

hp20_230From Potions to Magical Creatures, Herbology and Charms, this book has it all. The world of magic is varied, diverse and complex, and the history behind it is fascinating. Covering the power of words – Charms and the origins and ideas behind some of the magical creatures in Fantastic Beast’s and Where To Find Them, such as dragons and their eggs, the phoenix and unicorns, and their real life counterparts and imaginings as shown in ancient and medieval texts, which are part of the curated exhibit, from various museum collections, and give insight into a pre-science understanding of the world that is fascinating and intriguing.

The exhibition catalogue is separated into several chapters: The Journey, Potions and Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and Past, Present and Future. Transfiguration is spoken about in Charms, and each chapter begins with an essay relating to the topic, where the Harry Potter subject is outlined, and a brief history given before historical, literary and Harry Potter specific images of artefacts are presented with notes, such as images of drafts of chapters in some books, and information about Fantastic Beasts and The Cursed Child.

Being able to read this book meant I was able to experience the exhibit from the page. Whilst I would love to go over to London and see this in person at the British Museum, the magic is not lost experiencing it on the page. You still get to see the images of the artefacts, and read the essays and notes, and see Jim Kay’s illustrations. It allowed me to immerse myself in the world beyond the books, and imagine being at the British Library, looking at the hand-written pages by JK Rowling that hold the first hints of the magic to come that charmed the world and that continues to do so.

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