A new exhibit on campus is casting spells from the Cotsen Children’s Library.
Wizarding 101, an exhibit commemorating the 20th anniversary of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” features supernatural picture books with a wizarding world twist. From the plan in “Oz the Great and Terrible” to introduce a new magical certificate program to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” where first-years must do their homework, each book’s characters seem a lot like Princetonians. The placard titles of “Homework,” “Precepts,” and “Problem Solving” are just a few of the tasks that students both in the wizarding world and the real world must overcome.
The exhibit is open to all Princetonians. Juan José López Haddad ’22, a self-described Harry Potter fan, said he enjoyed his visit.
“I went during midterms week to get de-stressed,” he said. “My favorite part were the commentary cards. They were written as if we were in-universe, which is very appropriate for quasi-Hogwarts Princeton.”
The oldest book in the collection is an 1886 edition of Walter Crane’s “Little Queen Anne, and Her Majesty’s Letters (Patent)” in “A Romance of the Three R’s.” The Potter-esque twist is that Signor Science, a magician that sends the queen back to her garden in the story, holds doctorates from “distinguished Muggle universities” — MIT and California Institute of Technology.
The exhibit is not the first Harry Potter event at the University. The Cotsen Children’s Library had a one-day event in February 2017 that featured wand-making crafts, a “Muggle Artifacts exhibit” curated by Téa Wimer ’19, and a video game displaying four Harry Potter spells designed by Jose Rico ’18.
Wimer’s task of creating and labeling Muggle artifacts for the exhibit was no easy feat. She created 45 unique Muggle artifacts, each containing enough Rowling-esque magic to lure in Harry Potter fans, even though none of the artifacts were mentioned the series in this way.
“Limiting myself to things inside the books really would have not only limited my creativity, but also would have reinforced the idea that the world isn’t ‘real’ — is only as expansive as the books allow the wizarding world to be. So I figured that there must be other parts of the world that we just didn’t see,” Wimer said.
Regarding the 2017 event’s unique approach to the Harry Potter series, Katie Zondlo, the library’s education and outreach assistant, said, “Harry Potter-themed events happen often, so we wanted to dive into different parts of the series that had never been done before. An exhibition of muggle artifacts was something unique to our event, as was the opportunity to make your own wand and then cast a spell using the wand you had just made.”
Dana Sheridan, education and outreach coordinator for the library, recalled, “The Wand Works program was in development for months. It took a couple of weeks and probably 30 pounds of hot glue to prep all those wands!”
Twenty years may have passed since the first book was published, but the series is far from forgotten.
“I have developed an enormous amount of Harry Potter programming during my career, and I have to say … the magic and the joy never fades,” Sheridan said.
The Wizarding 101 exhibit runs until Jan. 4, 2019, in the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library in Firestone Library.