Interview: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ Exhibit Opens Today At The Natural History Museum in London!

Dec 09, 2020

Posted by: Emma Pocock

Books, Fantastic Beasts, Fantastic Beasts Movie, Movies, News

The Natural History Museum’s Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature exhibit opens today, and we spoke with Lorraine Cornish, Science Lead on the exhibit and Head of Conservation at the museum, as well as Louis Buckley, Exhibition Lead, about bringing the exhibit to life.

The exhibit draws upon comparisons between Newt Scamander’s role as a magizoologist investigating the magical creatures of J.K. Rowling’s world, and the behaviours of real-world animals and stories of real zoologists and explorers. Visitors are required to wear face masks at the exhibit, and the exhibit is running on a limited capacity in order to adhere to local Covid-19 restrictions.

“It was really a natural thing to think about in terms of the main protagonist, Newt Scamander.” Cornish said on creating the concept. “We have loads of zoologists [at the museum], and he’s a magizoologist, so then you’re starting to see the parallels. Then the concept of trying to understand these amazing fantastic beasts in the wizarding world and the concept of somebody exploring and trying to understand and protect them – these are all things that have amazing parallels with the museum and our scientists. It was a great thing to think about when I first got involved, in terms of all the brilliant stories we could tell, and showcasing some animals that perhaps don’t always get good press or don’t get showcased.”

(Above: Bowtruckle defence mechanism interactive at the exhibit)

The museum has an incredible collection of over 80 million specimens and objects, and Cornish said it was difficult to choose items for the final cut. A few objects jumped out in particular when trying to choose, however, and others were a complete surprise:

“I knew we had a big fish collection, but then when we started to look at the sea serpent story we wanted to see if we had any Oarfish in our collection, because that was a really lovely link. We have an off-site store and we went to have a look at one of the specimens – seeing this specimen that goes on endlessly on the shelf, it’s just like – that cannot be real. Seeing something on a list and then actually seeing it in person and trying to plan how to get it to the museum was something else! 

“We also have an amazing collection of books going back hundreds of years, so it was like going on a shopping trip looking at all the books in this collection. It was a real journey of discovery.” 

Cornish also spoke about working with the New Zealand Department of Conservation to showcase their work in conserving populations of the flightless parrot, the Kakapo, and trying to draw connections between the dedication they have in protecting this species, and how Newt Scamander shares his story in protecting the Graphorn species.

(Above: Collections of real-life objects from explorers and props from the Fantastic Beasts films showing Newt’s various instruments)
(Above: Arrival of various props from Warner Bros. to the museum, featured in the Fantastic Beasts films)

The exhibit draws comparisons between J.K. Rowling’s creatures, and real-world creatures, however, visitors will be able to draw their own parallels when readings stories about how mythological beings have historically been inspired by real-world animals. Cornish said on drawing links between magical and real-world fantastic beasts:

“You can look at similar types of behaviour in the real world, and then I like the idea that the viewer can make their own links between magical and real-world creatures, and maybe come up with something that we haven’t even thought about. We’ve got this huge exhibition with loads of information, but it’s also left to your imagination, so everybody can go in, make their own connections, and enjoy it in a different way.”

The exhibit merges fact and fiction, science and storytelling, and offers an opportunity for the museum to expand to new audiences. Cornish spoke about trying to tell a new story through the exhibit, and how the concept draws on familiar messages in the Wizarding World:

“It’s partly also about different stories that objects can tell – whether that’s a fictional or real object, it’s a powerful thing how they can make people feel when they see them. Sometimes messaging can be very subtle and sometimes it’s very obvious, but I really like the idea of seeing Fantastic Beasts, and really enjoying the film, and seeing that some of these magical creatures have been mistreated and that evoking emotion, but then finding these stories of how that happens in the real world. Anything that can strengthen that compassion and understanding is a great thing. In our mind, fact and fiction are often interchangeable. We haven’t spoiled the wizardry in this exhibition, but we’ve tried to show stories about our specimens. For people who don’t always go to museums, this will bring in a new audience, and I’m really interested to see how they respond, and what the end section in particular makes them think about.”

One area in particular sounds fantastic for fans of the Wizarding World, allowing you to step inside Newt’s world, and the world of real-life zoologists:

“There’s an area where you go into a kind of shed-like structure, resembling what’s inside Newt’s briefcase in the movie, and that section is about exploring. There’s a display case with a beautiful combination of Newt’s props in terms of his exploring and what he might have taken with him, and then real-world explorer’s items, so that area is very rich in content. The more you look in the display case, the more you discover – it’s a little treasure trove. There’s boots, rucksacks, books with drawings and all sorts. The idea of exploring and going out is inspiring, and combining the fictional with real-world examples is just a great experience.” 

(Above: Erumpent horn from Harry Potter, Occamy egg from Fantastic Beasts, a Pangolin a Helmeted Hornbill cask on display, illustrating various species threatened by poaching)
(Above: Mooncalf section of the exhibit, as well as a section showing a shed-like structure housing props demonstrating items used by real-life explorers, and items used by Newt Scamander in the Fantastic Beasts films)

Louis Buckley spoke more on working with Warner Bros. and The Blair Partnership (the literary agency representing J.K. Rowling), and how the exhibition included elements of the Wizarding World (including interactive features showcasing the Niffler’s collecting habits, the Bowtruckles defensive behaviour, the Erumpent’s mating dance, and the Demiguises’s powers of invisibility) without encroaching on canon:

“We had to work really closely with Warner Bros. and The Blair Partnership in terms of their knowledge and access to props, and also the digital animations and assets we’ve used to bring the beasts to life, and also to stay within what we’re permitted to do. We’re not allowed to add to canon, so The Blair Partnership reviewed everything and the exhibition text and sat in on design meetings to make sure we were on-message with regards to not adding to the content within J.K. Rowling’s texts or the films.”

“We were very clear from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be a making-of show, or a replication of stuff you see in the [The Making of Harry Potter] studio tour. Whilst celebrating the wizarding world, we really wanted it to be a jumping off point to explore the wonder of the natural world. We wanted it to be a natural history museum show. Warner Bros. wanted that too, and whilst we worked really closely with prop makers and the film side, we also worked incredibly closely with our own scientists. 

Of course, Fantastic Beasts is currently in production, so it was an interesting process deciding which props could be included and which would have to be remade, Buckley said:

“Working with the filmmakers was interesting, because choosing the props came with things like restrictions because they might need to use those props on set, as the films are still currently in production, and how they might need to replicate things for us to use. We had a lot of discussions about that, we visited the props department, and Warner Bros. archivists, and obviously we visited the Studio Tour!”

(Above: the arrival of Newt Scamander’s costume from the Fantastic Beasts films at the museum)
(Above: Newt Scamander’s chart for looking after magical creatures from the Fantastic Beasts films)

Such a special exhibit for the museum has ambitions of inspiring new advocates for the planet, hoping that Newt’s story and the story of real-world conservationists will inspire visitors to care for the planet and real-world creatures:

“If we encourage our visitors to make them think more about the natural world and what we can do to help, then we’ve kind of done our job in raising that awareness. We’re really interested to see how the public respond to this exhibit, and what they actually enjoy about it.” 

Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature is open now at The Natural History Museum in London. Tickets are available until March 31, and the tour is also available to view virtually via Google Arts and Culture!

Do you plan on making a visit? Let us know what you’re most excited to see!

**For bonus content from this interview, subscribe to Mischief Media’s Patreon for exclusive content from The Leaky Cauldron, as well as a forum to interact with Leaky’s staff, as well as other Mischief Media podcasts (PotterCast, Make New Mistakes, Extraneous etc). Leaky is volunteer-led, and we need your support! Find out more here, and join our growing community at

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.