The Boy Who Lived becomes The Boy With More Books Than Hermione in this spectacular collaboration between JK Rowling’s publisher Bloomsbury and the British Library (calling in multiple favours from the British Museum and Wellcome Collection, among others).
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It looks an absolute treat, lined with atmospheric book wallpaper and computerised exhibits letting you brew up potions that explode if you get the ingredients wrong, locate the constellations that inspired Potter character names, have your future told, and listen to extracts from the audiobooks. But put the interactivity away for two hours and what is left is a delightful look at the magic that inspired the Potter world, divided into exhibits themed around Hogwarts school lessons.
The real-life counterparts to Rowling’s charismatic wizards are just as interesting as those in her books. There are shades of Gilderoy Lockhart in John Gerarde, who pinched most of his 1800 illustrations for his 1597 tome Herball, a general history of plants, from a German book published six years before, without credit. Olga Hunt, a 20th century witch who used the broomstick now hanging from the Charms exhibit “to leap around Dartmoor in a Full Moon alarming everyone she met”, sounds straight out of Rowling’s imagination, as does Smelly Nelly, from Paignton, who was apparently overly keen on scent. “To be out with a full moon, Smelly Nelly and her crystal was quite an experience,” one witness reports.