Introduction: A History of Magic (02:13)
In Harry Potter, author J.K. Rowling created one of modern literature’s most alluring and magical worlds; but her vision is built on more than just make believe. This is the story of the real-life magic at the heart of the series.
Magical Display (02:53)
Fans gather to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter. Curators Joanne Norledge and Alexander Lock discuss a new, related exhibit at the British Library. Rowling recalls being a bookish child, and she expresses admiration for C.S. Lewis’s “world between worlds.”
Nicolas Flamel (05:16)
Actor Warwick Davis reads a passage from “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” on alchemy. Obtaining immortality was a pursuit to which medieval alchemists dedicated their lives. Rowling and Julian Harrison, the lead curator of “Harry Potter: A History of Magic,” discuss one such alchemist, who became a legend.
Among the works stored in Harry Potter artist Jim Kay’s studio are illustrations of mythological plant-creatures, the mandrakes. In medieval lore, the blood-curdling scream of the mandrake was thought to kill or drive listeners mad. Rowling is amused by a 16th-century depiction.
British Botanist (05:21)
Plants are a key ingredient in Rowling’s wizarding world, providing ingredients for potions in Mr. Mulpepper’s Apothecary. Michael Blencowe of Sussex Wildlife Trust discusses medicinal plants and the inspiration for Mulpepper, 17th-century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper. Rowling handles a copy of Culpepper’s “Complete Herbal.”
"Of Witches and Soothsayers" (01:56)
Witches and wizards are morally neutral in the “Potterverse.” In history, though, most reference to them are overwhelmingly negative. Lock flips through a copy of Ulrich Molitar’s 1489 tome, “De Lamiis et Pythonicus Mulieribus,” which contains the earliest printed image of witches using a cauldron.
Mystical Museum (03:41)
Cornwall, England’s Museum of Witchcraft and Magic houses one of the largest collections of witch-related artifacts in the world. They include a real witch’s broom, dried cats and love charms. Curator Joyce Froome explains that witchcraft was “folk magic that was practiced by ordinary people.”
Top Witchcraft Tool (03:46)
Every Hogwarts pupil needs his or her own magical wand, an essential item for casting spells. Rowling admits she could not find much wand lore, so she made her wand rules up. Dusty Miller, father and son, come from a long line of wand makers.
Say the Magic Words (03:31)
In Rowling’s wizarding world, the effects of a spell can take hold instantly with the right incantation. Rowling recalls how she came up with the phrases that triggered spells in her fiction, from the Cruciartus Curse to “wingardian leviosa.” Fans recite the Unforgivable Curses.
Lock shows Rowling an artifact related to Mother Shipton and Harry Potter’s least favorite subject, divination. British Library curators Sara Chiesura and Emma Goodliffe discuss oracle bones that date back to Bronze Age China. Archaeologist Antoine Ruchonnett displays the ritual cracking of such bones.
Transformation Spells (02:54)
Curator Eyob Derillo reads instructions on how to turn into a lion from a book written in an ancient Ethiopian language. By the 15th century, this sort of magic was outlawed by Ethiopia’s Christian king.
"It Feels Quite Surreal" (06:51)
Rowling discusses personal items that she wanted to include in the exhibit and explains what Harry Potter means to her. She joins William Shakespeare, John Milton and Jane Austen in being featured in a British Library exhibit, the first living author to receive such an honor.
Credits: Harry Potter: A History of Magic (00:35)
Credits: Harry Potter: A History of Magic
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