Book Review: Harry Potter and History (Wiley Pop Culture and History) by Nancy R. Reagin

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A guide to the history behind the world of Harry Potter just in time for the last Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part II)

Harry Potter lives in a world that is both magical and historical. Hogwarts pupils ride an old-fashioned steam train to school, notes are taken on parchment with quill pens, and Muggle legends come to life in the form of werewolves, witches, and magical spells. This book is the first to explore the real history in which Harry’s world is rooted.

Did you know that bezoars and mandrakes were fashionable luxury items for centuries? Find out how Europeans first developed the potions, spells, and charms taught at Hogwarts, from Avada Kedavra to love charms. Learn how the European prosecution of witches led to the Statute of Secrecy, meet the real Nicholas Flamel, see how the Malfoys stack up against Muggle English aristocrats, and compare the history of the wizarding world to real-life history.

Gives you the historical backdrop to Harry Potter’s world Covers topics ranging from how real British boarding schools compare to Hogwarts to how parchment, quills, and scrolls used in the wizarding world were made Includes a timeline comparing the history of the wizarding world to Muggle “real” history

Filled with fascinating facts and background, Harry Potter and History is an essential companion for every Harry Potter fan.

I had this on my TBR for a few years and decided to read it for the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter. I have been on a Harry Potter kick for most of the year. I did a “reread” by listening to the audiobooks and Harry Potter: A History of Magic. I also went to the exhibit at The New York Historical Society. And I started listening to the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.

I have stated before that reading non-fiction and reading history is not my cup of tea (I prefer watching shows about history), but I have read Twilight and History, also edited by Nancy R. Reagin, and I liked that.

Before I get into all the cool new things I learned from these essays I have a bone to pick with Susan Hall in her essay “Marx, Magic, and Muggles: Class Conflict in Harry Potter’s World.” On page 288 she compares the Gaunt family with the Durbeyfield family from Tess of the D’Urbervilles. While I totally agree with the comparisons between the two families she COMPLETELYdescribes the plot of Tess of the D’Urbervilles INACCURATELY! Tess is not “seduced” by Alec D’Urberville. She was raped. She doesn’t hang for the murder of her “lover”. He raped her! WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, SUSAN HALL!?

Also, on the same page is another inaccuracy she made when she said the Weasleys spend money they don’t have on extravagant trips. They won that trip to Egypt! Did you even read the books?

Now that I got that off my chest, and sorry for the use of the F word but I feel in this issue it was justified, onto the rest of the review which is positive.

There were topics that I already had learned about from Harry Potter: A History of Magic, such as potions and witch-hunts, but this collection goes more into topics of class conflict, politics & government, women’s civil rights, aristocracy, boarding schools, and werewolves.

I learned more about the Spanish Inquisition in this book than I did when I was in school.

One essay also goes into why most spells are in Latin and goes into the origins of the Unforgivable Curses and the term “hocus pocus.” Which I found fascinating.

A few other cool things I learned:
– There really were secret magic schools!
– There was an Emperor who was not of nobel birth named Severus.
– Lupin’s werewolf affliction is an analogy for HIV/AIDS.

Some of the essays dragged on a bit and I found myself skimming sometimes. At one point I put the book down completely to listen to The Shining. The good thing about that is that there is no plot to this book to remember. You can easily pick it up and pick whichever essay you feel like reading about.

It’s a good read for anyone who is really interested in history and is a die hard Harry Potter fan.

4 out of 5 O.W.L.S.

 

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Harry Potter: A History of Magic by Ben Davies, Natalie Dormer (Narrator)

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Harry Potter: A History of Magic is the official book of the exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and the brilliant curators of the British Library. It promises to take readers on a fascinating journey through the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – from Alchemy and Potions classes through to Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures. Each chapter showcases a treasure trove of artefacts from the British Library and other collections around the world, beside exclusive manuscripts, sketches and illustrations from the Harry Potter archive. There’s also a specially commissioned essay for each subject area by an expert, writer or cultural commentator, inspired by the contents of the exhibition – absorbing, insightful and unexpected contributions from Steve Backshall, the Reverend Richard Coles, Owen Davies, Julia Eccleshare, Roger Highfield, Steve Kloves, Lucy Mangan, Anna Pavord and Tim Peake, who offer a personal perspective on their magical theme. Readers will be able to pore over ancient spell books, amazing illuminated scrolls that reveal the secret of the Elixir of Life, vials of dragon’s blood, mandrake roots, painted centaurs and a genuine witch’s broomstick, in a book that shows J.K. Rowling’s magical inventions alongside their cultural and historical forebears. This is the ultimate gift for Harry Potter fans, curious minds, big imaginations, bibliophiles and readers around the world who missed out on the chance to see the exhibition in person.

I listened to the audiobook this week and went to the exhibit at the New York Historical Society today.

Photos are not allowed at the exhibit so I do want to buy the book eventually. Maybe with some Christmas money. It was nice though to put an image to all the descriptions made in the audiobook.

I love Natalie Dormer and she did a fantastic job of narrating. There were many interviews with the curators of the British Library and the NY Historical Society, the narrators of the UK and US editions of HP (Stephen Fry and Jim Dale, respectively), as well as some clips from the HP audiobooks and Fantastic Beasts (narrated by Eddie Redmayne), and interviews with artist Jim Kay.

I realized I like Jim Dale’s narration more than Stephen Fry’s. I think Jim did more voices and it was easier to distinguish which character was speaking. I also loved his little tidbits about how he came up with some voices.

One of the curators of the British Library, Julian Harrison, has thee softest voice I have ever heard. Sometime I had to increase the volume to hear him. And once I did fall asleep on the bus listening to his voice. I swear it is like melted butter.

The chapters are broken up into the subjects from Hogwarts: Charms, Potions and Alchemy, Divination, Astronomy, Care of Magical Creatures, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Herbology. The subjects go into the history of magical elements, and also give insight into Rowling’s writing process, Jim Kay’s process for drawing scenes for the illustrated edition, and Dale’s and Fry’s ideas about narrating the scenes for the audiobooks.

I loved what I learned from this audiobook. It’s amazing how these ancient ideas and beliefs about magic are world wide. Every part of the world has their own folklore but the ideas and symbolisms are so similar to each other.

They also spoke about the origins of the images we associate with witches. Such as cauldrons and broomsticks. The broomstick has a feminist origin. A woman is owning her power by taking an domestic item and using it for her power.

The word Abracadabra was believed to cure malaria.

I could keep going but there are so many that are fascinating! I bookmarked many parts to remember what I learned. I feel like going on Jeopardy! now.

It was just so enchanting that it took 3 hours to get through the exhibit today because I just had to study everything there.

I found that listening the audiobook before seeing the exhibit was very beneficial. I felt I was more prepared to know the more detailed stories behind the items I was studying. The exhibit is like the Cliff’s Notes of the audiobook.

If you have any interest in history, magic, and/or Harry Potter, this book is for you.

5 out of 5 Broomsticks

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson

A charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.

In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning, dö meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” This surprising and invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later, before others have to do it for you. In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, artist Margareta Magnusson, with Scandinavian humor and wisdom, instructs readers to embrace minimalism. Her radical and joyous method for putting things in order helps families broach sensitive conversations, and makes the process uplifting rather than overwhelming.

Margareta suggests which possessions you can easily get rid of (unworn clothes, unwanted presents, more plates than you’d ever use) and which you might want to keep (photographs, love letters, a few of your children’s art projects). Digging into her late husband’s tool shed, and her own secret drawer of vices, Margareta introduces an element of fun to a potentially daunting task. Along the way readers get a glimpse into her life in Sweden, and also become more comfortable with the idea of letting go.

 

I was in Barnes & Noble last week and just browsing the tables when this immediately caught my eye. It’s morbid yet I also know it’s inevitable so I often think about the junk I’ll have to go through after my parents pass on.

I also think about what will happen to my stuff (mainly books and artwork) when I go, especially if I don’t have children. Even when someone who never had children passes on, someone has to clean their mess. And so Margareta Magnusson states to be thoughtful of those people who you leave behind, whoever they are.

I have often thought about leaving a set of instructions detailing what can be done with certain items and who gets what.

I just never knew that there was an actual Swedish term for it. So when this book caught my eye I had to get it. I read the whole thing the moment I got home.

I found it useful and smart. Magnusson gives some helpful pieces of advice of where to start decluttering and how to maintain a home without clutter. She also provides short, to the point, sentimental stories from her own life that was well balanced with the topic of the book.

I placed some bookmarks in my copy so that when I get started on döstädning I can quickly refresh my memory. (The older you get the hard it is to go through it all!)

The book is to the point and she doesn’t claim to have the knowledge of how to handle the psychological issues when trying to help a loved one who’s a hoarder. I will have to read another book for that.

4 out of 5 Organized homes.

Bonus!  Here is a  video of Margareta talking about döstädning.