Sunday, May 21, 2017

Book Review: Harry Potter and History, Edited by Nancy Reagin

ISBN: 0470574720
Published: May 1st, 2011
Publisher: Wiley
Received: purchased
Read from May 1st to 6th, 2017
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.


Harry Potter and History is a collection of essays about Harry Potter and history. Pretty straight-forward. It was the first Harry Potter-related non-fiction book that I had read in a long time, and I was excited for it. I love almost anything that discusses Harry Potter, and I also love history. I had to give this book a shot.

And despite having some flaws, I had an enjoyable time reading Harry Potter and History. It was an interesting decision to write each essay as if the Harry Potter universe were real. Each writer uses "Muggle" as if it were a real term used to distinguish us normal people from the wizards and witches of Harry's world. Historical events from the wizarding world were also mentioned alongside real world events as if both had happened. I could see the potential for that getting confusing in a book like this, but it tends to be obvious what's real and what isn't. No one's going to think the formation of Quidditch teams is an actual historical event.

There were several points where I noticed that "facts" from the Harry Potter books weren't exactly accurate, and that got a little frustrating. You'd think that information from the books would be checked in a book entirely about Harry Potter. As far as the historical facts go, there was nothing I noticed as being wrong, but I'm not a historian (and didn't fact check the majority of the book). There are sources listed for each essay though.

I also can't avoid mentioning (because I'm sure there are people who would want to know this before picking up the book) that one essay in the book tries to make the point that werewolves in the Harry Potter series are a metaphor for pedophiles in the real world, which is not the first metaphor I would choose when there are others that (I think) work better. While the writer does a good job of explaining what makes them see it, I don't agree with that interpretation. I also don't remember how that part of the book was supposed to be connected to "history".

Still, much of the book was a fun read. I liked getting to read about stories of the past that I'd never heard before, including details about past magical practices. I particularly enjoyed reading about how perceptions of witchcraft changed over time and what signs of witchcraft were accepted at different times. (Apparently, it was once thought that witches being able to fly was ridiculous. If they thought they had, they were believed to be hallucinating, but this changed later when the idea of witches flying around on brooms at night became common. I find that interesting as it might seem "backwards" to us that they'd dismiss flying as impossible only to come to believe in it later.)

There are people out there who would enjoy this book, though I wouldn't go into it with incredibly high expectations. It's entertaining to read if you have an interest in Harry Potter and history. If you're looking for something like that, it might be worth checking out.

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