Mary GrandPré, Jacket art for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007. © Warner Bros. Courtesy of New York Historical Society Museum & Library.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the half-giant gameskeeper of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Rubeus Hagrid, appears on a stormy night and tells the 11-year-old titular orphan: “Harry—yer a wizard.” With that, the book’s readers are swept away, along with Harry Potter, into the enchanting wizarding world that exists just beyond the sight of non-magical folk, known as Muggles.
Author J.K. Rowling’s care in building out the curious minutiae of the young wizard’s new surroundings has been one of the drivers of Harry Potter’s ascendence as an international phenomenon for two decades. And though much of the world was drawn from Rowling’s own imagination, the author also tapped into a litany of narratives behind real objects and magical artifacts, as well as mythology.
On the surface, there are common tropes that all children will recognize, from broomsticks (used in the sport Quidditch) to unicorns (who dwell in the Forbidden Forest), each of which have a long history in folklore. Readers have also debated Rowling’s inspiration for some of the books’ major plot points, such as Horcruxes—objects and creatures imbued with the dark wizard Lord Voldemort’s soul to ensure his longevity—which recall the Slavic legend of Koschei, who was immortal thanks to a matryoshka of creatures and objects, and could only be defeated when the smallest nested object, a needle, was broken in half.
Hogwarts’s curriculum is also vividly colored with both the mythology and history of our own world, and the exhibition “Harry Potter: A History of Magic,” on view at the New-York Historical Society through January 2019, uncovers its heritage through centuries of artifacts, illustrated manuscripts, and scientific objects. Here, we share some of the objects that inspired the adventures and practices of Harry Potter’s wizarding world………..