The Harry Potter world has come to a building that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the books or movies, as an exhibition opens that combines the fantasy land with the real world.
The exhibition, Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature looks at how the real animals in our world are inspirations for the magical world, and also the real myths of our history.
They’ve not tried to recreate a fantasy land in the exhibition, going for a style that is closer to a conventional exhibition — objects in cases — which gives the display a more scientific air, but with magical beasts in some of the cases.
They look at how real animals — such as a 5-metre long python skin, or dinosaur bones were miss explained as dragons of legend. They’ve included a dinosaur skeleton that looks remarkably dragon-like and was only recently discovered, so they called it Dracorex Hogswartsia.
The museum repeats the story of how Manatees could be the inspiration for mermaids, although I can only conclude that after a couple of months at sea, the seafarers must have been pretty desperate to mistake a manatee for a lady.
There’s a lot of this sort of thing in the exhibition – an example from the Harry Potter world, leading onto examples from the real world with similar properties.
From the vanishing Demiguise highlighting animal camouflage to the shrinking Occamy highlighting how animals change their size when threatened.
Much as Newt Scamander seeks to protect the fantastic beasts, the exhibition also talks about the work of conservationists in our reality who do the same. From protecting animals from poachers to the more uplifting story of the rescued Kakapo parrot.
In total, 125 items fill the space, from the muggle and the wizarding world. One of the challenges the museum faced was that modern film making uses a lot of computer animation, so they had to make some of the animals for the first time in a physical sense.
There was also a curious morning recently when they found one of the exhibits was too big to take from the storage to the exhibition, so they had to carry it outside the museum – which must have been a surprise to anyone nearby at the time.
As an exhibition, it’s an interesting way of showing off a range of animals linked only by a relationship that humans have given them with myth and magic. The exhibition may be accused of trading off popular culture, but museums have been doing that since they were first built. From exhibitions of the weird and uncouth of foreign lands to delight delicate Victorians to the more enlightened responses we have today, museums reflect the society they operate in.
If putting on a collection of fantastic beasts from nature in a display that links them with a fantasy land that children love to read about, brings in a huge number of visitors, then great.
And some of those visitors, excited to realise there are real animals in the muggle world as amazing as the fantastic beasts of the wizarding world will want to learn more — and will go on to become the next generation of conservationists.
The natural world is just as wonderful as the magical one, and this is a family-friendly way of bringing them together.
Tickets cost £13.25 for a child, £22 for an adult, and range from £38.50 to £66.95 for families – and can be booked here.
Entry is free for members.
(this review is based on a 1-hour long video walkthrough yesterday)