It contains a wealth of fantastic beasts, has fundraised many millions of pounds for Comic Relief and was considered a ‘masterpiece’ by none other than Albus Dumbledore – obviously, J. K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is not one to be missed. Despite the fact that Hogwarts students do not take the Care of Magical Creatures class until third year, Fantastic Beasts is required first-year reading and this book purports to be Harry Potter’s very own copy, now in its fifty-second edition. This companion novel was written for charity back in 2001 along with the sports manual Quidditch Through the Ages; every copy of the book sold contributes a donation towards Comic Relief, funding projects that help some of the most vulnerable people in the poorest countries of the world.
Anyone who’s read or watched Harry Potter will already be familiar with the likes of basilisks, Hippogriffs and Acromantula, but in this textbook Rowling extends the magical world even further by providing a comprehensive A-Z guide of 75 magical creatures (even including the 10 different species of dragon). As the title suggests, we are given a brief description of each beast and where they can be found, as well as their danger rating as endorsed by the Ministry of Magic. Rowling even contributed some gorgeous ink illustrations of her creations. As soon as I came to know of the book’s existence after having finished the series, I became excited to delve further into Rowling’s imagination – but I did have some misgivings about how exciting a glorified encyclopaedia could possibly be. Nevertheless, it ended up exceeding expectations: written in clear and simple prose, the book serves as a testament to Rowling’s mindboggling creativity and demonstrates her creative and highly detailed approach to world-building. Her affinity for wordplay comes through in the creatures’ names: a ‘glumbumble’ is a creature that produces melancholy-inducing treacle, whilst a ‘billywig’ is a spinning insect whose sting induces giddiness followed by levitation. The light-hearted footnotes and scribbled annotations by Harry, Ron and Hermione are also a fun addition and take the reader back to their early years at Hogwarts; for example, Ron’s clumsy doodle of a troll sits next to its encyclopaedia entry, accompanied by the annotation, ‘My name is Gregory Goyle and I smell’.
However, whilst the compendium of creatures makes for an enjoyable read with the bizarre and creative descriptions, I found that the most interesting and thought-provoking part of the book actually rests within the introduction, in which the textbook’s fictitious wizard author and award-winning magizoologist Newt Scamander breaks down the difference between ‘beast’ and law-abiding ‘being’. Scamander describes the long-drawn controversies over this complex topic, with extremist Death Eater-esque groups even campaigning for the classification of Muggles as ‘beasts’. Classifying a beast from a being proves to be far from straightforward; the centaur is as intelligent as a human yet prefers to live in the wild, refusing ‘being’ status. The troll is humanoid in appearance yet clearly lacks the intelligence and civility to help shape the laws of the magical community.
Although the lack of narrative in the Fantastic Beasts book does not seem to lend itself to film adaption, 2013 brought the exciting news that Rowling was using the 100-page Magizoology manual as a springboard into her screenwriting debut, transforming a textbook into a screenplay for a thrilling motion picture. The planned movie trilogy will take place in her established ‘wizarding world’, with the first film set in New York 70 years before Harry’s enrolment at Hogwarts, and even preceding Scamander’s completion of the textbook. The film will follow the escapades of Newt Scamander (portrayed by Eddie Redmayne), whose collection of beasts escape from his enchanted suitcase. This mishap provides the basic plot of the film, threatening the relations between magical people and ‘No-Majs’ (the American Muggle equivalent). The adaption, directed by David Yates who also directed the last four Potter films, is currently scheduled for release on November 18th, with the subsequent films airing every two years thereafter.
For a fun supplementary dimension to the mythology of the Potter series – and an introduction to the film to come – Fantastic Beasts is absolutely worth the hour or two’s read.