A History of Magic with J. K. Rowling (A New BBC Documentary)

Just in time for Hallowe’en, and in concert with the British Library’s “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibit, BBC has produced an hour-long Potterlicious documentary. I saw this film on Twitter yesterday, and thought it was worth sharing–and not simply because it will be so satisfying to Potter lovers. This is a piece for lovers of literature, writing, magic, and the textural delights of books.

In “A History of Magic,” we are invited into J.K. Rowling’s process of creation in an intriguing way. Rather than merely hearing  stories of her sketching characters and inventing ideas, we see Rowling flipping through the massive collection of magical materials within the library’s collection. While some will doubtless love this documentary for the ways that the Potter-world construct is related to folk magic–and I would hate to deny anyone that curiosity–for me it wasn’t just the connection of how much was made up by Rowling, and how much was adapted from the cultural canon of magic and folklore.

For me, it was a beautiful thing simply to watch Joanne Rowling walk among these old and ancient texts, scrolls, and artifacts. Her reactions are organic–a lover of books and ideas and old things, discovering the connections between Potter’s world and folk-magic, rather than merely explaining them. As she looks at the old illustrations and ancient texts, little bits of creation and legend simply flow out. Rowling’s curiosity and professionalism sit at the front of the documentary, and as someone very curious about the creation of fictional worlds, it was refreshing to watch.

Beyond my strange niche ideas, there is a lot here for fans. Part of the British Library exhibit includes some of Rowlings’ sketches and notes, placed among these artifacts from the past. The crash of the fantastic and realistic is irresistible.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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8 Responses to A History of Magic with J. K. Rowling (A New BBC Documentary)

  1. L.A. Smith says:

    Oh yay! I will definitely give this a watch later. Even though I will confess I have never read Harry Potter (hangs head in shame)…somehow it just slipped through the cracks for me. But I mean to rectify that soon. And just sayin’: The British Library is one of my most absolute favourite places in the Universe.


    • Cool. Given your work in medieval studies, you’ll see that HP is a twice-removed echo of that work and could be worthwhile (besides being fun).

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I was very wary on account of all the hype, until I was invited to give a talk on Charles Williams and modern supernatural fiction, and thought, I have to have read at least something of them – and started with the first one, and liked it a lot – not least for its historical tie-in with the real, Christian alchemist, Nicholas Flamel – and we’ve ‘never looked back’ since then!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thanks so much – I had not heard of any of this!

    I bet somebody’s worked on it – even a lot of somebodies – but I haven’t met with any of it, and do not know any likely titles by heart, but I’d like to read, discuss, and think about Rowling’s development of magic in the Wizarding world in comparison with Tolkien’s in Middle-earth and Lewis’s in Narnia, sorts of ‘real’ magic apparently not in danger of being ‘demonic magic’ in any sense (which D.P. Walker’s wonderful Spiritual and Demonic Magic: From Ficino to Campanella (1958) shows as always being a danger in the real world – though I’m not sure what he’d have made of that characterization…).


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