Harry Potter and the Material Culture of Wizards

All 8 Harry Potter books

The Harry Potter books

Today is September 1st. This morning, witches and wizards would have gathered on the concourse of King’s Cross station, making their way to the magical Platform 9 ¾ as discreetly as possible lest a muggle notices them vanish into a brick wall, before catching the Hogwarts Express departing promptly at 11.30. I should have been on that train once, but my owl never arrived.

In creating the fictional world of Harry Potter, JK Rowling created a rich and textured world that we all fantasise about being a part of. We’ve all taken those quizzes on Pottermore, on Buzzfeed, and everywhere else quizzes exist online to find out what House we would be I (hands up any fellow Ravenclaws?!). We’ve all picked up sticks, waved them around and exclaimed “Expelliarmus!” and we’ve all wondered if that cat at the bottom of the garden is Professor McGonagall checking up on us.

OK so, that last one could just be me.

Today, however, I got to thinking. Amongst all the banks, pubs and joke shops… what happened to the wizarding museums? Nearly everything in the muggle world has a wizarding equivalent, from government to ice cream parlours. But museums? Or galleries (with those talking paintings – just imagine!)? Not much at all. Nada. Zilch. So, alas, I can’t add this to my series of Museums in Books.

Of course, it’s always possible that wizarding artefacts end up in muggle museums, misunderstood and incorrectly labelled.

What about those objects that are distinctly magical or tell an important part of wizarding history?

Throughout the books, much is made of how boring the History of Magic is. Actually, much is made of how a terrible teacher has ruined the subject. Imagine how much the subject could come to life (possibly quite literally) if it was handled by someone with a passion for the subject – and who has more passionate than museum folk?

For a museum of magical history to exist, it would need objects. In theory, you could have early examples of broomsticks, a taxidermied Golden Snidget, somewhere to put that pesky Sword of Griffindor that’s always popping up. You would be limited only by JK’s imagination.

 But, almost strangely, there’s nothing like this in the wizarding world at all.

Treasures and heirlooms are jealously guarded in Gringotts’ vaults. It isn’t for public consumption. This strikes me as odd. Yes, you could argue that somethings are too powerfully magic to be put on display (wands, for example) but there are things in the real world that are powerful in other ways that are still proudly put on show. To leave them languishing in the dark would be to do them a disservice.

There’s not even a quirky Museum of Muggle Artefacts for the eccentrics like Arthur Weasley, who would, no doubt, spend hours engrossed in the latest exhibition about plugs. Or how aeroplanes stay up.

It’s interesting that in the ‘real’ world we have a Harry Potter Museum of sorts (the Harry Potter Studio tour is a kind of museum, arguably. Stay with me). It focusses on how the film was made, and provides details on props and goes far beyond the core narrative of “We wanted to adapt a book. This one seemed good.” In telling us more about the props, it reveals inspiration from our big bastions of culture, the V&A, the British Museum and others.

This, again, makes the absence of a wizarding museum noticeable.

“But,” I hear you ask, “how could it have fitted in with the plot?” The bulk of the action takes place in a school. School trip anyone? Those pesky exposition dumps – museums explain it all (or try to). It could work. Couldn’t it?

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2 responses to “Harry Potter and the Material Culture of Wizards

  1. I must also add, I know of a number of other NT teams (& also Shakespeare Birthplace Trust staff) who have visited in a works capacity to see how they run the Studio Tour.

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