Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi’s basilisk, featured in an early reptile history book published in 1640 (and in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). Photo via the New York Academy of Medicine Library Digital Collection
Page from Giambattista della Porta’s “Natural Magic,” a book that refuted John Baptist’s “Demonologie” and defended witches, in part by arguing that women accused of witchcraft may have been using lotions made from hallucinogenic plants. Photo via the New York Academy of Medicine Library Digital Collection
It turns out that many of the themes Rowling threaded through the Harry Potter series have roots in real subjects. For example, Divination—the Hogwarts class that focuses on predicting the future—may have been inspired by astrology.
A real bezoar, which is a hairball from a cow’s stomach; in both Harry Potter and in Renaissance times it was used as an antidote to poison. Photo via the New York Academy of Medicine Library Digital CollectionRowling “creates this incredible world, but it’s rooted in the kind of surprises and wonder of the natural world that gets kids excited about science,” said Garner. With the help of the new Hogwarts Library collection, Potter fans can trace their beloved mythology back to its roots in reality, thereby further blurring the line between truth and fiction and deepening their appreciation for history and storytelling. Perhaps that’s the most magical thing of all about Harry Potter: the way that it continues to to help children and adults of all kinds see magic in their own lives. Although the exhibit is not on display together outside the digital universe, all of the artifacts and books listed online can be found in the flesh around the New York Academy of Medicine Library in East Harlem. You can access it in full online here. For more, check out this article about 5 places to visit in NYC to celebrate the art of magic and a fun map of little public libraries.