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Harry Potter and the Fair Weather Fan

The “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibit is currently open at the New York Historical Society. PHOTO/ Corrado Serra

By Michael Castaneda

Published: December 12th, 2018

I like Harry Potter. I know the books and films, but I don’t own a wand.  I’ve never played Quidditch nor do I care what my patronus is. Nevertheless, when the New York Historical Society opened Harry Potter: A History of Magic on October 5th of this year, I knew I had to go.

The Harry Potter universe has been with us for 20 years now, which is hard to believe because it seems like it has always been here.  In fact, for most Brooklyn College freshman and sophomores, Harry Potter is older than them. It has permeated culture so much, I can’t tell you how many bad Harry Potter knockoff films I have seen – some even without Nicholas Cage.

The Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit is the same as the one held at the British Library earlier in the year, and it is the academic endeavor we always knew was coming.  Someone had to ground the franchise to a place that takes the magic out of magic. Now, we have to learn about history, mythology, botany, et cetera to better appreciate the origins of the Harry Potter wizarding universe. This is not the first of its kind.  There have been similar types of exhibitions on George Lucas’ Star Wars.  For instance, what does Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and Peter Parker all have in common? They don’t have parents.

A good portion of artifacts on display are from Ms. J.K. Rowling’s personal collection, which are drafts, rewrites and drawing. For those of you that wanted to read what didn’t make it in the book, it’s there. Uber fans will know that she wrote the first book out in longhand. You can see that too.  There are many drawings from her too; I never knew she was such a good artist.

Speaking of illustration, just like how Ralph McQuarrie’s illustrations set the look and feel for the Star Wars Universe, Jim McKay’s work sets up the look and feel that we think of when we think about Harry Potter. His work is prominently on display.  It’s nice to see up close and rather large.

They try to pass you through all the books, the new Fantastic Beasts movies and the Broadway show in five small rooms of exhibitions. There are no movie props, but there are international editions of the books to see.  It’s vaguely interesting to see how different the covers are from Japan to Central Asia to Africa.

Here are a few practical things to know if you plan on going.  First and foremost, your student ID will save a good amount of money on admission.  Once you have paid for the exhibit you have entry into the rest of the museum.  It’s a hot ticket so the best times to go is the middle of the weekday. Weekends are pretty much sold out. There is no photography, and they monitor pretty closely to halt any insufferable selfies. Lastly, hold on to your wallet. There is so much tempting Potter merchandise that they expanded the gift store for it. 

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