Art And Culture

An Inside Look at JK Rowling’s Inspirations

An Inside Look at JK Rowling’s InspirationsAn Inside Look at JK Rowling’s Inspirations

It is 20 years since JK Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ went on sale. Back then, no one could have known that this 223-page book would have six sequels, eight film adaptations, several theme parks, and be translated into 68 languages. And, starting next week, would inspire British Library, UK’s greatest, to put on an exhibition.

According to, the show is structured around the curriculum of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the primary setting for the first six books in Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Visitors will find items relating to the writing of the stories, some loaned by JK Rowling, and original artwork by English illustrator Jim Kay, who worked on the illustrated editions of the books. But the exhibition will be as much about the real history of magic and wizardry that Rowling drew upon. There will be sections on potions, herbology and the magical creatures illuminated by examples from the British Library’s collection of 200 million books and manuscripts.

The exhibition’s curator, Julian Harrison, says he hopes the historical material will enchant visitors and to quote Severus Snape in Harry Potter’s first potions class, “ensnare the senses”. Ultimately, it will reveal little-known details about the series’ genesis.

Maps from the library’s archive illustrate that Rowling named several characters after the night sky. Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s godfather, is named after a star in the Canis Major – which translates as “Great Dog”, not a coincidence, one imagines, given that Black’s alias (or animagus) is a great black dog. “Sirius,” Harrison explains, “is the brightest star in the night sky.” Harry Potter’s nemesis at school, Draco Malfoy, is also named after a constellation, as is Black’s cousin, and Harry’s enemy, Bellatrix Lestrange.

Albus Dumbledore, Rubeus Hagrid, and Sirius Black, meanwhile, are linked by more than just being Harry Potter’s three father figures. “Albus is the Latin word for white, Rubeus is Latin for red, and Black is black,” says Harrison. “The first story in the series is called The Philosopher’s Stone, and in order to create a Philosopher’s Stone, the process involved merging a white stone, a red stone and a black stone together.”

A History of Magic opens on Friday 20 October at the British Library, London.

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