WHAT THE HELL? I LEFT THE HOUSE!
BUT IT WAS TO TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER!
AMBER LOVE 14-JULY-2015 I took CaicoCon on the road for an afternoon, although this time, I left the princess at home. She’s good on field trips, but this wasn’t one where I could bring her. It was no small feat for my costuming and DnD friend Joe Roa to get me out of the house and he might be sorry he did.
Saturday was a nice, but hot, day and Joe had tickets for a special tour at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on New York’s upper east side. This is not an easy to get to location. Originally, Joe mapped it out using two trains and a bus. I got lost getting to the first train station, so instead, we met up at the second one. Then neither of us could figure out how exactly you know which bus to take and where the heck they are, so he graciously covered the cab rides to and from Penn Station. Hey – I’m from the country where we drive to get anywhere and don’t have sidewalks and if you don’t have a car, you take a riding lawn mower.
We made it and found Emily Turner, the guide who put together this incredible tour which involved finding objects in The Met that J.K. Rowling either did use as inspiration or easily could have. There were even more items that I spotted and used my imagination in ways to incorporate, but it was already a couple of hours long. Emily used to work at The Met and now she runs these tours she created on her own. She even brought a bag of props so each person on the tour had an appropriate Potter accoutrement. And we got to choose our own Hogwarts house – I chose Ravenclaw. Emily tallied points for the houses as we answered trivia questions at each object d’art. There was only one person in Slytherin and we Ravenclaws still came in dead last.
“Currently making my living as a museum educator at a number of institutions across New York, I’m interested in the ways community history, art, and social justice intersect. Outside of work you can find me volunteering at a bookstore, blogging, museum hopping, consuming copious amounts of food, and looking for my next excuse to get out of the city.” – About Emily Turner, emilyturner.info
I knew Rowling borrowed or was influenced by other mythologies, but I had no idea how deep her research extended. I only recognized a few things from Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s world of Dungeons & Dragons – to me anyway, the thestrals were similar, but not exactly like demonic horses called nightmares; and the basilisk was another creature I had seen in old Monster Manuals. A lot of the creatures were common like that, but she would add her own twist, from trolls to pixies to ghosts.
Emily started us out with the Greco-Roman exhibits and explained how many of the character names came from these myths: Minerva (Prof. McGonagall), Hermes (Hermione), Argus (Argus Filch); and then Emily explained other names like Malfoy and Voldemort which came from French roots.
A real artifact from the ancient world is the goa stone which served a similar function to the version in Potter called a bezoar. Rowling used a bezor in an important way to absorb poison when Ron Weasley ingested it. In reality, bezoars form inside the digestive tract; they aren’t things you swallow. But they have a similar trait to Rowling’s version in that they absorb nutrients, minerals, fats, food fibers, and even hair.
Even if you’ve only seen a couple of the Potter movies or read the first couple books, you’d know that some books and paper objects are vital to the stories. There’s even a restricted section in the Hogwart’s school library which the kids have to get into using Harry’s invisibility cloak. In one of the Met’s galleries, there was a set of tables made of plexiglass with a lot of colorful ancient books inside. You could take your time and sit down to examine them through the glass.
There was also a display of a large Qur’an manuscript. Here, Emily explained how old texts were written on animal parchment (vellum) which would expand and warp from the humidity, so books had clasps or heavy bindings to keep them closed. Rowling used such a clasp mechanism on The Monster Book of Monsters. The other reason Emily wanted to show us an old text was to clarify that it’s impossible to say what the “best selling” book of all time truly is since there was no way to track such ancient tomes with multiple authors/origins. However, in today’s book market, the Harry Potter series (or book one) is usually seen in the Top 10.
There were some incredibly intricate gadgets like clocks and automatons which Emily said she could picture in Dumbledore’s quarters or in Borgin and Burkes shop.
One of Emily’s trivia questions was a bit of a trick – the answer from the movies was different than from the books. It was: what instrument was used to calm Fluffy, the three-headed dog guarding a door? In one case, it was flutes and in another it was a harp. At The Met, there’s a gallery of musical instruments from all over the world including a large harp and a case of flutes and recorders. One of the flutes was an impractical but beautiful piece of carved narwhal horn owned by Frederick the Great of Prussia who believed it was from a unicorn. Unicorns are another magical creature that Rowling shows in the first book.
There was a magnificent wooden chest on display which was easily large enough to hide a body. In Rowling’s world, poor Mad Eye Moody was stuffed in one such trunk while Barty Crouch went around masquerading as him.
As we practically ran from room to room, up and down the floors, we passed this staircase which caught my eye because of filigree railings. It wasn’t part of Emily’s tour points, but these stairs looked like they could be found inside Hogwart’s with the other moving staircases. My picture is blurry because they were moving. Really. It wasn’t because I take terrible pictures.
There were so many other wonderful objects, but it’s easier to show you in a gallery than for me to try and recapture the spirit of everything Emily said. The penultimate stop in a hallway was a battle royale of Emily’s version of a Potter roshambo. Two sisters from the tour dueled against each other. The Slytherin sister won.
Before I show you the gallery, I first want you to see the best spectacle of the tour. This crystal ball encased buck is indeed a fitting monument to the white stag patronus. It’s the work of Japanese artist, Kohei Nawa. Inside the glass globes is an actual taxidermied deer. It was a gloriously magical ending to the tour.
When asked what our patronus would be, I picked a crow despite Luna Lovegood being my favorite character in the series and she has a rabbit for her patronus. I can love Luna, have similar traits, and still be really different.