The 20th anniversary exhibition celebrates the boy who lived and the author who brought him to life.
It’s been 20 years since a boy wizard with a scar on his forehead entered the hearts and minds of readers everywhere, and the British Library is celebrating the anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone with a truly magical exhibit.
The exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, opened October 20 at the British Library in London, and the loving tribute is every Potterhead’s dream. The exhibit combines artifacts from J.K. Rowling’s personal collection, like original drafts and drawings, as well as early illustrations from illustrator Jim Kay with historical artifacts from the library’s collection. The library’s rare books, manuscripts, and fantastical objects help show some of the historical inspiration behind the magic of J.K. Rowling’s books.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating items on display for fans is J.K. Rowling’s original series pitch letter, which she sent to numerous publishers in hopes of bringing Harry and his world to life. As Rowling has previously described, the manuscript was rejected by 12 different publishers before finally being picked up by Bloomsbury. The beginning of the pitch reads:
“Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his parents died in a car-crash — or so he has been told. The Dursleys don't like Harry asking questions; in fact, they don't seem to like anything about him, especially the very odd things that keep happening around him (which Harry himself can't explain).
“The Dursleys' greatest fear is that Harry will discover the truth about himself, so when letters start arriving for him near his eleventh birthday, he isn't allowed to read them. However, the Dursleys aren't dealing with an ordinary postman, and at midnight on Harry's birthday the gigantic Rubeus Hagrid breaks down the door to make sure Harry gets to read his post at last. Ignoring the horrified Dursleys, Hagrid informs Harry that he is a wizard, and the letter he gives Harry explains that he is expected at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in a month's time."
The pitch is very familiar, describing the opening of a story many of us now know by heart. The letter is just one of the items Rowling donated to the exhibit from the early days of Potter, giving fans a glimpse into her thought process as she worked her way through seven epic novels. Also on display are early drawings of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, complete with a Quidditch pitch and giant squid-filled lake, as well as a deleted portion of Chamber of Secrets that was rewritten into Harry and Ron’s encounter with the flying car.
The exhibit even houses a handwritten draft of Chapter 17 of the Philosopher’s Stone, The Man with Two Faces.” Visitors can therefore see the all-important exchange between Harry and Quirrell in the bowels of Hogwarts in Rowling’s own handwriting.
The rest of the exhibit is home to things like ancient drawings about potion-making, Nicolas Flamel’s headstone, crystal balls, broomsticks, and more, and the entire space is themed by different Hogwarts classes. Guests are free to roam through artifacts relating to Potions, Herbology, Charms, Divination, Care of Magical Creatures, and Defense against the Dark Arts.
J.K. Rowling herself said of the exhibit, “The British Library has done an incredible job. Encountering objects for real that have in some shape or form figured in my books has been quite wonderful and to have several of my own items in the exhibition is a reminder of twenty amazing years since Harry was first published.”