Digital Harry Potter Library Highlights the Magic in Historical Texts

The New York Academy of Medicine
The New York Academy of Medicine

To Harry Potter fans, the rare books room at the New York Academy of Medicine may feel familiar. Musty leather-bound books line the walls behind screens; moldings of griffins adorn the plaster ceiling; a cat skeleton with arched vertebrae crouches on a bookshelf. Stepping inside the room feels like you’ve apparated to Hogwarts.

Anne Garner, the curator of rare books and manuscripts at the academy, is well aware of the similarities. But she didn’t realize just how deep they ran until stumbling upon a card catalogue labeled "witchcraft" in the archives. "When I saw the card catalogue, the connection with people saying this room feels like Hogwarts sort of clicked," she said at a press event.

Ulisse's Aldrovandi's Phoenix from the 1664 book "Monstrorum Historia"The New York Academy of Medicine

That was the impetus behind the library's new digital collection, "How to Pass Your O.W.L at Hogwarts: A Prep Course," which highlights real texts from the rare books room and matches them to fictional courses taught at Hogwarts. While much of J.K. Rowling's world is her own invention, many of the creatures, objects, and even people she writes about are lifted from European history and mythology. Garner searched for these real-life inspirations when selecting books to feature in the virtual library.

The "Potions" section, for example, includes a description of a bezoar, the same ruminal hairball that Harry feeds to a poisoned Ron in The Half Blood Prince. One book under "Transfiguration" mentions Nicolas Flamel, the actual figure who’s credited with creating the philosopher's stone in the first Harry Potter book.

Star thistle from Nicholas Culpeper's 17th-century book "English Physician"The New York Academy of Medicine

The digital collection is filled with vibrant illustrations dating back to the 15th century. Books in "Care of Magical Creatures" depict basilisks and unicorns alongside snakes and narwhals (or “unicorns of the sea,” as they were known centuries ago). "One of the things I love about Harry Potter is that it presents us with this world that’s very familiar but at the same time totally upends our ideas about nature," Garner said. She sees this reflected in many books written prior to the 20th century. "You find things that are grounded in reality and things that are total fantasy."

Ulisse Aldrovandi's basiliskThe New York Academy of Medicine

Like the Harry Potter series, these books often look at elements from the natural world through a fantastical lens. When describing mandrakes, an encyclopedia of natural history depicts the real plants as tiny creatures with human bodies and leaves sprouting from their heads. It even instructs readers to don earmuffs before harvesting them—just like Harry learns to do in his Herbology course.

A pair of mandrakes from the 15th-century "Hortus Sanitatis"The New York Academy of Medicine

The New York Academy of Medicine was established in 1847 as a public health organization, and today it’s home to one of the most impressive historical libraries of medicine in the world. The rare books room is open to the public by appointment, and a special exhibit of books in the Harry Potter collection may be offered in the near future. For now, the select texts are available online. "How to Pass Your O.W.L at Hogwarts" goes live on Monday, June 26, just in time for the 20-year anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Muggles can visit the academy's website to relive Harry's literary experiences—minus the biting and screaming textbooks.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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How Lolita Author Vladimir Nabokov Helped Ruth Bader Ginsburg Find Her Voice

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2016.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2016.
Supreme Court of the United States, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The road to becoming a Supreme Court justice is paved with legal briefs, opinions, journal articles, and other written works. In short, you’d likely never get there without a strong writing voice and a knack for clear communication.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg learned these skills from one of the best: Vladimir Nabokov. Though most famous for his 1955 novel Lolita, the Russian-American author wrote countless works in many more formats, from short stories and essays to poems and plays. He also taught literature courses at several universities around the country, including Cornell—where Bader Ginsburg received her undergraduate degree in the early 1950s. While there, she took Nabokov’s course on European literature, and his lessons made an impact that would last for decades to come.

“He was a man who was in love with the sound of words. It had to be the right word and in the right word order. So he changed the way I read, the way I write. He was an enormous influence,” Ginsburg said in an interview with legal writing expert Bryan A. Garner. “To this day I can hear some of the things that he said. Bleak House [by Charles Dickens] was one of the books that we read in his course, and he started out just reading the first few pages about the fog and Miss Flite. So those were strong influences on my writing.”

As Literary Hub reports, it wasn’t the only time RBG mentioned Nabokov’s focus not only on word choice, but also on word placement; she repeated the message in a 2016 op-ed for The New York Times. “Words could paint pictures, I learned from him,” she wrote. “Choosing the right word, and the right word order, he illustrated, could make an enormous difference in conveying an image or an idea.”

While neither Dickens nor Nabokov were writing for a legal audience, their ability to elicit a certain understanding or reaction from readers was something Ginsburg would go on to emulate when expressing herself in and out of the courtroom. In this way, Nabokov’s tutelage illuminated the parallels between literature and law.

“I think that law should be a literary profession, and the best legal practitioners regard law as an art as well as a craft,” she told Garner.