20th anniversary exhibit honoring Harry Potter

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(ABC) - A new British exhibition is tracing the history of magic to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone."

Courtesy: ABC News
Courtesy: ABC News

With the orphaned boy wizard as its guiding force, the exhibit opening Friday has broken records for advance sales at the London library. More than 30,000 tickets have been snapped up so far.

The exhibit, "Harry Potter: A History Of Magic," looks at magic and the nature of belief, revealing that many of the things fans of the series thought were imaginary were actually based in fact - or folklore.

"They can come see a real Bezoar Stone, they come and see alchemical manuscripts describing how to make the philosopher's stone, they can see Nicholas Flamel's tombstone," says co-curator Alexander Lock, "and hopefully they'll be really inspired by that and inspired by the history in the stories."

The show features rare books and manuscripts from around the world, together with cauldrons, broomsticks, crystal balls and potion manuals that offer insights into Rowling's inspiration for the Harry Potter books.

The Exhibit is divided up according to Hogwarts subjects, including rooms dedicated to Care of Magical Creatures, Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts and Divination room.

"We've got books about palmistry and tea leaf reading and some kind of practical equipment that you could use for those things," says fellow curator Tanya Kirk, of the Divination room. "It's really interesting, so in the 'Harry Potter' books, when Harry sees a symbol of a black dog in his cup and that's thought to be an omen of death, but we've actually got a book that indicates that if you see a dog in your cup, that's a sign of a faithful friend. So is a bit more positive."

Also on display in the exhibit are wands, crystal balls, and a 16th century alchemical manuscript that describes how to make the Philosopher's Stone: the Ripley Scroll.

"I really love the Ripley Scroll, which is a real favorite, but I also really enjoy the Bezoar Stones which are mentioned in the story, obviously," says Lock. "A congruence of matter that form in the guts of goats believed to be antidotes to poison."

The exhibition also sheds light on a rare breed of witches: women believed to have magical powers, but shown in a positive light.

"I think one of the things I learned about witches is that they get a really bad rep (reputation) through history and that it is quite hard to find positive accounts of them," notes Kirk. "But once we did start looking for positive accounts, they were out there. They were just a bit rarer. And I'm really excited that we're able to show a a painting by John William Waterhouse called 'The Magic Circle,' which is a very positive portrayal of a witch. She's very kind of beautiful, and she's doing protective magic and it's different from the kind of more traditional negative view of witches which you get in a lot of books of the time."

J.K. Rowlings books have helped shift public perception, she adds.

"Trying to think about magic is something that can be used for good in the books is it a really important part of them."