The Harry Potter exhibition in the British Library is something I looked forward to see months before it opened – but then missed getting tickets for a visit at a reasonable time. So when Pottermore’s Over 18 evening event was announced I got two tickets straight away.
I am taking my obviously pregnant friend with me which is handy as the organisers let us jump the massive queue at the entrance and also the one inside for the actual exhibition (even at this ticketed event people queue all evening to get in). And it is handy because my friend is much more of a Harry Potter fan than I am. To get into the spirit we decided to meet at Kings Cross platform 9¾ where visitors can complete their Potter fan article collection in the shop and have their picture taken for around £10. Another Potter fan shop I have found not too long ago at Heathrow, Terminal 5.
The seven Harry Potter books I read (in German) when they came out but not with the enthusiasm others felt. I have not read them since either and neither have I seriously wondered what house the Sorting Hat would put me in; when being prompted at the fabulous Warner Bros. Studio Tour at The Making of Harry Potter I lifted my hand at Ravenclaw – just because no one else did. Afterwards I regretted my choice as they wear blue and I have a tendency not to. The films I watched as well (who didn’t?) but I cannot quote along and anyway preferred JK Rowling’s Strike crime novels, published under her synonym Robert Galbraith.
When I went to Orlando last spring for work I had two days off and not only visited Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida but also Universal’s Island of Adventure – of course I wanted to see Hogwarts and Hogsmead there, that much of a fan I am and their 3D ride named Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is beyond comparison. When I got my stuff out of the locker a real choir with toads was singing on a stage. And yes, I tried already several times getting tickets for the two part play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, London. So far not successfully.
It is not that I do not care about the stories at all but I guess I am rather a Ringer and one who prefers the term Tolkienist. What interests me more in the exhibition is A History of Magic – and its beautifully curated indeed. Bits of what’s on display from the vaults of the British Library I have seen already in the brilliant BBC documentary which was shown in autumn when it opened. Of the fanfiction Pottermore phenomenon I heard first in another documentary the irresistibly loveable actor of Draco Malfoy, Tom Felton, did for the TV on Pottermania and fandom.
Rumour has it that the British Library stores every issue of every book published in Britain ever (or was it in the English language?) and I know people to whom this is motivation enough to work on their first novel and sending it to publishers. I remember visiting the British Library’s free exhibitions on Alice in Wonderland and even longer ago on science fiction and because of the high quality of those I happily pay for this event the 25 GBP they ask for per head. Every now and again I join a lecture here as a one-off event on weekends which suits me better than a course spanning over several weeks. With the current exhibition plenty of lectures and talks are scheduled around magic and potterism.
In the exhibition we do not only learn about historic sources and inspirations of Ms. Rowling and the books’ illustrators and about their concepting process but also about different varieties of truly Fantastic Beasts in different cultures. Some are obvious, others less well known: I did not know that the Hippogriff is no brainchild of the author, I learn about the most expensive book in the world and see the picture of a unicorn with two horns – a bi-unicorn therefore to recycle a joke from Yellow Submarine.
The Japanese cucumber-munching swamp monster kappa is something I have not associated with Harry Potter so far but know it from the weirdly-wonderful, low budget pink movie (I believe is the term) Underwater Love, with the music of Berlin band Stereo Total – weirdly-wonderful is the correct term to use when you end up falling from the sofa laughing while watching a sex scene (oh, I miss my Lovefilm-DVDs coming through the post – their selection of international films was the best by far).
We are joining The Wizarding World Book Club after we have been through all the exhibition rooms and on the way up to the Terrace Restaurant enjoy Penny Metal’s DJ set which seems to be based on black keys only. Witch music, we agree. We could have joined the badge making work shop or make a charmed amulet but instead discuss fandom, wondering if the term “subculture” is still to be used when everything is accessible and spreaded online. Not that it is a bad thing – people do share proudly what they like and experience and what not (look at me) and a feeling of belonging might be enhanced by meeting fellow Bronies, Trekkies and Little Monsters. There is enough loneliness in the world already. Potterheads apparently is the term for Harry Potter ultras but tonight there is surprisingly only the odd Gryffindor scarf and not much dressing up.
This Wizarding World Book Club is an online book club with weekly meetings on Twitter they call Pottermore Ponderings (I had no idea such concept exists) but tonight they want to turn it offline and ask for oral participation, reading different sections from the fifth novel and asking the audience questions about it. They claim that the club is to connect memories and about re-reading something meaning a lot to you with others and I am moved by the love going into the presentation and the care for fairness and kindness here. I learn the term “unhermionish” and of love being sometimes inspired by jealousy. It is only when the opinion of Professor Severus Snape is being requested that people become passionate defenders of his actions and/or his personal behavior towards individuals. Or quite the opposite. The participants are truly divided, empathetic and torn apart and even though I have nothing to contribute I am following the discussion with keen interest and a hint of admiration.
The next day I have an appointment at the optician. Only when I look at the pictures at home after having ordered a new pair of glasses I realise how round they are – you might see a lightning scar on my forehead at the next costume party. Someone might lend me a scarlet and gold coloured scarf.
**** out of 5 stars
The exhibition Harry Potter: A History of Magic later moved to New York City and Paris and is now available online via Google Arts & Culture.