The newest special exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature. This is a touring exhibit from the Natural History Museum in London, and is a partnership between the ROM, Warner Bros., and On Purpose Group. This collaboration is most apparent when viewing all the props borrowed from film sets of the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series. A ticket for this exhibit grants access both to the exhibit and the rest of the ROM, and costs $35 ($29 with student discount, which Brock students can get by showing their student card upon ticket purchase).
The exhibit focuses on three topics, the first of which is mythical beasts. Viewers can read excerpts from the Fantastic Beasts fictional textbook, but some beasts stand out with interactive exhibits. An audience member can lure over an Erumphent, give a Niffler a necklace, and summon a Siren’s song. There is of course a large focus on beasts which have appeared in either the Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts series, however it does not limit itself to these series’ depictions of them. The exhibit also explores how these beasts were thought of throughout history. For example, at the beginning of the exhibit there is a large section dedicated to mermaids. Naturally, there are many references to the mermaids which appeared in Harry Potter, but the exhibit also discusses how Christopher Columbus wrote about encountering mermaids at sea, and the various sea mammals which have had their calls and silhouettes mistaken for mermaids.
This ties into the next focus of the exhibit: real-world animals and their ties to mythical ones. This includes beasts like mermaids, which are actually other normal creatures mistaken for fantastical ones, but it also includes the Fantastic Beasts creatures and how they are similar to real-world animals. The mooncalf, for example, is compared to the real-world’s okapi, as both have sharp senses and are difficult for “Muggles” — meaning a person without magic in the world of “Harry Potter” — to observe. Some sections group together creatures that share the same trait, such as grouping the Demiguise with cuttlefish and chameleons to represent creatures with camouflage. One unfortunately common similarity between the creatures of the wizarding and non-magic worlds is the endangered status of many species.
Endangered animals and the efforts to preserve them are the third focus of the exhibit. Many real-world species are at risk of going extinct, and the same is true of the wizarding world’s species. The exhibit relates the actions of movie protagonist Newt Scamander to those of real-world zoologists, and explains the importance of these preservation efforts. It overlaps somewhat with the Biodiversity: Life In Crisis exhibit on the second floor of the ROM, however the focus on the preservation efforts helps The Wonder of Nature stand out.
Overall, the exhibit is geared towards Harry Potter fans and animal lovers, though those who are neither may be interested in the dives through history and the discussion of on-going animal preservation. The exhibit is at the ROM up to Jan. 2, so those interested have a few months to catch it before it leaves Toronto.