First look inside Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition at the British Library

Final design of the Astronomy room from the British Library exhibition, 'History of Magic'
The final design for the Astronomy room, Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

The exhibition will open at the British Library on 20 October – and while we know a little about its content, the design and feel of the exhibit have remained a secret… until now.

Pottermore can reveal these images, shared with us by design company Easy Tiger, who created the layout and format of the exhibition. It combines artefacts from J.K. Rowling’s own archives with real-life items from the archives of the British Library, publisher Bloomsbury, and other sources.

The exhibition space is not the Hogwarts library but is reminiscent of a quirky, old magical library, with different Hogwarts subjects having their own dedicated room for visitors to explore. Here’s what Easy Tiger first thought the Herbology room should look like:

Concept sketch of the Herbology room from the British Library exhibition, 'History of Magic'
The original concept art for the Herbology room, Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

We asked company director Bren Lardner about Easy Tiger’s process, which seems rather theatrical to us. ‘I think putting on an exhibition is something like [a play], because you’re stirring up people’s emotions,’ she agrees. ‘You want people to forget the world outside and get involved with the objects.

‘We were creating a link between the British Library, Harry Potter and magic,’ she continues. ‘We haven’t designed it to mirror the books or the films – it’s very much a magic library. Every visitor might think, “It’s a secret library here at the British Library, it’s always here, down this secret staircase!” Or they might think, “This is a wonderful magic library!” There are two collections coming together, so making sure that there was an independent forum for them was quite important.’

Final design of the Herbology room from the British Library exhibition, 'History of Magic'
The final design of the Herbology room, Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

When it came to designing individual rooms, Easy Tiger’s initial concepts weren’t too far from the versions you’ll see when you visit the exhibition. ‘Herbology is one of the spaces that’s changed very little from the concept,’ Bren reveals. ‘I would say a lot of them have been refined, but we haven’t really had any big changes since the concept stage.

‘What we’ve done in Herbology is use a wooden greenhouse structure to give it that sense of plants and growing. In the centre of each exhibit there’s a core feature: in Herbology it’s pot plants and Wellington boots, that sort of thing, it just gives it that green twist.’

Final design of the Astronomy room from the British Library exhibition, 'History of Magic'
The final design for the Astronomy room, Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

The Astronomy room, meanwhile, has a globe in the centre and a more circular feel, with what Bren calls a ‘starlight curtain’ hanging down. There’s also a shower of… well, you can probably make them out in the drawing.

‘In all of the rooms we have hanging sculptures: the pots in Herbology and the telescopes in Astronomy,’ she says. ‘We wanted to give the sense of things flying and floating, it’s quite magical.’ If you look closely at the Divination room you’ll notice that the objects floating about are teacups – hopefully empty, or we suspect things could get messy.

Final design of the Divination room from the British Library exhibition, 'History of Magic'
The final design for the Divination room, Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

There’s also an information board in each separate library for visitors to read, but these aren’t just your usual boring signage. ‘The story panels are beautiful,’ Bren explains. ‘They were originally loaded up with three-dimensional objects, but we instead just took things from the British Library’s collection that fit within that narrative. All of them will have an object fixed down to them – we wanted them to feel like real books that are being used.’

Panel from the Divination room from the British Library exhibition, 'History of Magic'
The story panels at Harry Potter: A History of Magic are like ‘magic books’. Here’s the one for Divination.

While there won’t be too much in the way of smoke or other sensory effects – such as incense smells in the Divination room – because many of the items on display are fragile and have to be protected (smoke sticks to things, apparently; who knew?), there are definitely some wizarding world treats to look out for.

‘There might be a Snitch or two!’ Bren teases. ‘But only if you look hard enough – you might not see them, they’re quite quick...’

Harry Potter: A History of Magic will run from 20 October 2017 until 28 February 2018. Visit the British Library website for more information

Available to pre-order now, Pottermore is also publishing two official eBooks alongside the exhibition: Harry Potter - A History of Magic and Harry Potter - A Journey Through the History of Magic. An enhanced edition of Harry Potter - A History of Magic is available from Apple.

For US readers, Harry Potter: A Journey Through the History of Magic will publish this year, and further publishing is planned alongside the US exhibition in 2018.