Welcome to inside the world of magic

Words: Haonan Yuan | Subbing: Claudia Jackson

“The best-selling Harry Potter exhibition ever”: To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter’s first publication, British Library is running an exhibition called A History of Magic with collections and original documents penned by J.K. Rowling.

Queuing people outside of British Library by Haonan Yuan

One of the most exciting parts of this exhibition might be the first release of J.K. Rowling’s initial synopsis of Harry Potter. She got rejected by most of publishers; only Bloomsbury accepted. At that time, it was treated as “possibly one of the best books on eight to nine years old could read”. Expected to be an ordinary children’s book by a first-time author, its initial print run was only 500 copies.

Nobody could have imagined that Harry Potter would enchant so many readers. The book proved hugely popular with both children and adults, changed J.K. Rowling’s life and children’s book publishing forever.

According to J.K. Rowling, the most important idea of the story is to reveal how we, as individuals, “influence a large, scary environment which we have to exist.”

The exhibition is separated into different sections by types of class at Hogwarts School in Harry Potter.

Guide map by Haonan Yuan

In the exhibition, you can expect not only typed pages from a very different early draft of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but also the handwritten draft by J.K. Rowling.

The pages are full of arrows and triple asterisks; “when I’m planning I often have multiple ideas popping up at the same time,” J.K. Rowling said, “so I’m attempting to catch the best ones as they fly by and preserve them on paper.”

Near the entrance, there is a preparatory sketch by the illustrator, Jim Kay, capturing Harry’s youth. Dominating the room, you can see a huge painting showing Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King’s Cross, which is the preliminary version of the artwork featured in the front cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Outside view at the entrance by Haonan Yuan

During the exhibition, you can see portraits of characters in the story everywhere, including Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid and many more. Those paintings were drawn before the film series came out, which satisfied readers using more of their own imagination.

Despite the great work from Jim Kay, it also has annotated sketch by J.K. Rowling herself, showing layout of Hogwarts School, which reflects the amazing magical world in her mind.

Numerous publications in different languages are also well displayed as visitors approach the exit. People can be dragged back to their memory of reading the story as soon as they see familiar editions. There are charts with the titles and ordering of the chapters varying from the published versions displayed. It acts as early plotting aids for the author and shows the complexity of the later storylines.

Compare to normal exhibitions, this one highlights participatory from visitors. It is amazing to follow instruction on screen to make one’s own portion; or you can predict your future from crystal ball gazing for fun.

One comment on exhibition by Haonan Yuan

Another comment by Haonan Yuan

A young reader writing her comment by Haonan Yuan

The exhibition has been running for only two weeks and it is widely acclaimed online. Some oversea fans even travel hundreds of miles to take a inside look of J.K. Rowling’s magical world.


If you are big fan of Harry Potter, which I believe most of you are; don’t miss this. You can simply get ticket via British Library online.

The exhibition runs until February, 2018. Part of ticket income will go to charity.


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