By Nancy Novick
Even if you don’t know your pensieve* from a penknife, you’re likely to find something of interest at Harry Potter: A History of Magic. The New-York Historical Society on 77th and Central Park West has transformed a ground floor gallery into a Hogwarts-like repository of art and artifacts going back several centuries, with areas dedicated to subjects like alchemy and herbology, and defense against the dark arts.
In a section on charm and spells for example, you can learn from an 18th century Ethiopian text how to turn yourself into a lion. Alert the neighbors! In the Defense Against the Dark Arts room, read a 17th century book offering up “A Brief Description of the Nature of the Basilisk, or Cockatrice.”
Young visitors, and their adult relatives and friends, will probably be drawn to the interactive stations where you can create your own virtual magic potion or lay your hands on a crystal ball and see what images emerge from the mists. Much of the exhibition is also devoted to the art surrounding the novels. I particularly enjoyed seeing J.K. Rowling’s early sketches of her characters and the book cover illustrations of editions of Harry Potter published around the world.
Also on display is a sample of original cover art by Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret), that will appear on a new edition of the books published by Scholastic. My guess is that, like the namesake books, movies, and plays, Harry Potter the exhibition is going to be a blockbuster.
* According to Pottermore.com: “A Pensieve is a wide and shallow dish made of metal or stone, often elaborately decorated or inlaid with precious stones, and carrying powerful and complex enchantments. Pensieves are rare, because only the most advanced wizards ever use them, and because the majority of wizardkind is afraid of doing so.”