Harry Potter: A History of Magic by JK Rowling, British Library

pb history of magic.jpgTitle: Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Author: JK Rowling, British Library

Genre: Exhibition Catalogue/Non-Fiction/Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 18th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $34.99

Synopsis:Harry Potter: A History of Magic is the official book of the record-breaking British Library exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and a team of brilliant curators. As the spectacular show takes up residence at the New York Historical Society from October 2018, this gorgeous book – available in paperback for the first time – takes readers on a fascinating journey through the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from Astronomy and Potions 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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I first reviewed the hardcover edition of this book when it came out in 2017, coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and now, have read and reviewed the same book in paperback to coincide with the upcoming twentieth anniversary of my favourite book in the series, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban because not only do we get the fantastic Professor R.J Lupin, but Harry gains a godfather – Sirius Black. To help write this review, I have used some parts of my last review, as many of my previous comments and appreciations are the same.

Since 1997, Muggles around the world have been captured by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, starting with the immortal lines of number four Privet Drive. Since 2017, to celebrate each twentieth anniversary, House Editions for each book, and this year, the House Edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner pf Azkaban will be released.

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Harry Potter: A History of Magic is an exhibition that ran at the British Library, and this book gives those who have been unable to visit the exhibition a chance to see the artefacts that inspired the magic behind the series. It shows a whole literary and historical world of magic that influences the fictional worlds.

Each subject at Hogwarts is based on a real-world example of magic – Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Divination and so forth. Each culture around the world had their own traditions that had similarities and differences, and reading about these was fascinating, especially ancient traditions, such as curse tablets from Ancient Greece. Exploring these aspects of magic in the real world, and exploring what they meant to the cultures they emerged from, is interesting and intriguing from a historical and literary perspective, and these traditions could be used to shape many a magical or fantastical world other than just Harry Potter.

Allowing people who could not physically get to the exhibition to experience it through the book is a good idea, and a good resource to start with if you’re researching historical aspects of magic, and many of the historical aspects were familiar to me as I have done a historical course called the Art of Magic.

This review is shorter than my hardback one, as they have the same content, but my previous review can be read here.

Beauty in Thorns Revisited – And Stepping into the World of The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Canberra.

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In 2017, I was lucky enough to be approached by Penguin Random House to review Kate Forsyth’s book, Beauty in Thorns, the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and in particular, William Morris (Topsy), Ned Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the women who inspired them:  Janey Burden, Lizzie Siddal, and Georgie MacDonald, and in the final section, Georgie and Ned’s daughter, Margot. Ned, Dante and William used the women in their lives as models for their paintings based on myths, literature and fairy tales – amongst other themes. Some of the most famous paintings by these artists feature in the story, and it opens with John Everett Millais painting one of the most well-known Pre-Raphaelite works, Ophelia, based on a character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

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Kate Forsyth is my go-to author, the one I will always read and devour within days – her adult, young adult and children’s fiction. Beauty in Thorns focusses on the stories of the women – and how they affected the art, what they themselves created, and why they created what they did. The men still have a role and voice, but it is Lizzie, Janey, Georgie and Margot whose voices are at the front and centre of the novel. The intricate links between all these people and those who come in and out of their lives, end in tragedy in some cases, but happiness in others. The art they created was seen as radical for their time, and Kate Forsyth hints at this when the artists discuss progress and reviews and shows. Reading this the first time was magical, but when I found out that a selection of the paintings were going to be shown in Canberra, I knew I wanted to see them – and not just as images on a screen or in a book (though I did buy the guide and a book of Christina Rossetti’s poetry), and we headed down for a few days.

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Ophelia, by John Everett Millais, featuring Elizabeth Siddal.

Starting from many paintings I was unfamiliar with, I saw the progression of subject matter, from the everyday themes, to modern life, faith, truth to nature, romance, portraits, and the ones I knew about, the ones linked to myth, fairy tale and literature, the latter themes being the ones focussed on in Kate’s novel, and the ones that everyone heading to the Tate or this exhibition likely knows about, but all their art is exquisite and it’s easy to see why they chose to paint in this style, and why Kate Forsyth was drawn to them.

2019 BadgeSeeing the paintings for myself, and reading the book during my visit, brought them to life more than ever before. The book coming to life in this way was magical and enriching, and brought a new dimension to the novel, knowing what the end result of what had occurred in the novel, and knowing the stories behind the paintings, and the names of the models that weren’t always credited on the placards, but are mentioned in the guide, was very enjoyable.

I’ve linked back to my original review here too but being able to visit the world Beauty in Thorns is based on was amazing, and I have bought a few post cards to display in my room of my favourite paintings.

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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