Twenty years ago, a boy wizard with a lightning-shaped scar took the children’s book world by storm. In honor of the anniversary of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (first published in the U.K.), a New York City-based tour company called e.t.c. has launched “Griffins, Goblets and Gold: A Wizarding Tour in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The interactive tour leads fans of all ages through the Met, locating artifacts with ties to the Harry Potter stories and symbols.
E.t.c. president and founder Evan Levy, who previously worked in the Met’s education department, has had experience developing custom tours and events for children. After leaving the museum, she found herself wondering, “Is there a wider way of using kids’ books to explore museums and the city?” She soon began offering children’s book and fairy tale-themed tours in Central Park. As a fan of the Harry Potter series, Levy thought a Potter-themed tour would be a natural fit for the program, and a nice tie-in for the book’s anniversary. “I thought this was the year to do it,” she said.
The tour took on a more concrete form while Levy was out for a walk on New York’s Upper East Side, where she lives. “I was walking down Madison between 95th and 96th, part of Hunter College High School—and it looks like a castle. On the next block, there was an antique store that had an eccentric window display with a white owl in a cage. I stopped and I thought, ‘It’s Harry Potter. It’s here,’ ” she said. As she continued walking towards the Met, the tour route began to take shape.
Levy—who is currently the sole tour guide—leads tourgoers in an exploration of spaces and art objects at the Met that have parallels in the Harry Potter books, from unicorn tapestries to Roman statues. The tour also includes a visual scavenger hunt for Horcrux-like objects, as well as writing and drawing exercises, and giveaways. Levy aims to make her tours interactive, particularly for children. “It’s almost like making them a character in the books.”
One stop along the tour is the Henry R. Luce Center—an open storage repository for American art and decorative objects not on view in the museum’s galleries—which Potter fans will recognize as a sort of Room of Requirement. Laura Sanzel, who recently took a private tour with her husband and eight-year-old daughter, described the room as a memorable highlight. “Evan took us to this area I never would’ve found in the museum, down a hallway that looks administrative. The room was chockablock with stuff behind glass cases, just like in the book.” Levy also uses the room to illustrate one of the story’s themes: ordinary objects infused with magical powers. “I try to make connections as much as possible between the real life use and the fictional use of objects—to see how they overlap,” she said.
Tours typically last between 90 minutes and two hours and are limited to 10 people. Levy adapts the content depending on the age range and interests of the group. “It was done at a level that an eight-year-old old could understand. And I got a lot out of it, too,” Sanzel said. Many of the tourgoers come with a love of the series, and an eagerness to discover more. Michelle Schleck accompanied her 10-year-old son, who has read all of the Harry Potter books twice, on a recent outing. “It taught us to look for Harry Potter inspiration everywhere,” she said. At the end of the tour, guests are presented with a letter of acceptance to the Metropolitan School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Participants also receive a resource list with recommended books, websites, and other information.
Levy’s Potter tour is part of a larger initiative exploring connections between children’s books and museums. In June, e.t.c. will premiere “Mixed-Up at the Met,” in honor of the 50th anniversary of E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which takes place at the iconic museum. In August, Levy will launch “Here There Be Dragons,” a tour inspired by both Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The tour will be held in the Met, with an optional add-on in the American Museum of Natural History.
When asked how long she expects the museum tours to run, Levy said, “They’ll run until people aren’t interested in Harry Potter anymore—which is never.”