Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the latest film from the mind of J.K. Rowling who brought us the Harry Potter series. Fantastic Beasts precedes Harry Potter taking place after WWI during the 20’s. It follows Newt Scamander who most of us know him as one of Harry’s and other Hogwarts students’ textbook author, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Background & Story
Fantastic Beasts does three great things for the Harry Potter universe. First, it allows us to get to know a beloved Harry Potter textbook author. Rowling released the textbook in 2001 for fans to purchase and learn more about the magical creatures of Harry Potter. This textbook includes “hand written notes” from Harry and Ron to add humor and clarification to the entries.
The film shows us a young Scamander during his travels and research to write the book. He says it is a handbook to know more about the creatures and how to care for them. At the end of the film, he leaves for England to publish the book. We learn that Scamander is a timid, but brilliant animal lover wanting to care and protect magical creatures.
Secondly, we learn more about the wizarding world in America with the introduction of the American wizarding school, Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and their government, The Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). We learned about the three main European wizarding schools in The Goblet of Fire. Beauxbatons Academy of Magic is thought to be somewhere located in the Pyrenees and predominantly has French students but also large number of students from other nearby countries. Durmstrang Institute is suspected to reside in the far north of Europe, but is “one of the most secretive of all school about its whereabouts, so nobody can quite certain”. Of course, we have Hogwarts residing in Great Britain and see the Ministry of Magic’s dealings throughout the seven Harry Potter books.
Ilvermorny is the great North American school of Magic. Like Hogwarts, it divides its students into four houses: the Thunderbird, Wampus, Horned Serpent, and the Pukwudgie after the founding family’s favorite magical creatures. The only real mention of this school in the movie is a quarrel between Scamander and one of the Goldstein sisters about which is the better school just as one of us might champion our own alma mater, but this gives a clear sign that there are more schools of magic outside of Europe.
Although we don’t learn much about Ilvermorny in the film to the chagrin of fans because the Harry Potter series allowed us to learn much about Hogwarts, Fantastic Beasts focuses more on the wizarding world and adult world. This gives us a different perspective on the wizarding world. The American wizarding world has different laws regarding the no mags, their word for non-magical people like muggles in Great Britain. They hold to the International Statue of Secrecy like the rest of the wizarding world and probably more so. Scamander mentions that they don’t allow intermarriage between the magical and no mags. They also require any visitors to obtain a want permit to carry their own wand in America. Some of this resembles the isolationism America went into after WWI. The wizarding world lives in fear of the Dark Wizard Grindelwald and no mags causing them to seclude into their own world legislating strict laws.
Just like the Ministry of Magic, MACUSA has aurors, the law keepers of the magical world. Instead of a Minister of Magic, MACUSA has a president modeling the government of the non-magical American government. So, while there are similarities between the governments, there are still major differences. It is interesting how the magical governments resemble their non-magical counterparts.
Finally, Fantastic Beasts shows us more of what the wizarding world was like during Grindelwald’s reign of terror. Grindelwald was the dark wizard before Lord Voldemort that Dumbledore is famously known for defeating. We learned a lot about Grindelwald in The Deathly Hallows. He and Dumbledore were young friends during a summer after Dumbledore graduated Hogwarts. They had grand schemes to raise the wizarding world out of hiding and into power over the non-magical world. After the tragic death of Dumbledore’s sister, Dumbledore was humbled and went on to teach and inspire young wizards and witches and never desired authority or power again. He fought for muggle protection and a champion of half-blood wizards and witches. Grindelwald, without the balance of Dumbledore, goes on to look for powerful magical weapons to subvert the non-magical world. He obtained the Elder Wand, a supposedly unbeatable and powerful wand, and we see he is searching for an Obscurus in Fantastic Beasts.
Obscurus are young witches and wizards that suppress their magical powers and never learn to control them. This causes their magic to physically manifest and lash out in powerful attacks. Grindelwald apparently wants to use a particularly strong Obscurus to gain power and control. Grindelwald, like Voldemort, does whatever it takes to gain power no matter who gets hurt in the process.
Outspoken on the Issues
Rowling used the Harry Potter series to speak on issues of racism, slavery, and other justice issues. She holds nothing back in Fantastic Beasts.
The overt racism seen in Fantastic Beasts is appalling. Of course, this is only prevalent if the viewer realizes what is happening and the seriousness of it. We usually think of racism with white, black, Asian or Hispanic peoples. The racism that takes place here is magical versus non-magical. Scamander notes how outdated and back water MACUSA’s laws against intermarriage between the magical and no mags. We see that people intermarry in Harry Potter, and Scamander’s comment makes it apparent that it has been openly accepted for ages in Europe. Of course, they still must be mindful of the International Statute of Secrecy, but in the right cases they interact and marry muggles. American witches and wizards do not interact when possible and definitely don’t marry no mags. This may be a comment on the rampant racism and segregation that existed in America during the time the film takes place.
MACUSA is also confronted with the New Salem Philanthropic Society, an extremist group that believes that witches and wizards exist and they are an unholy abomination that needs to be stomped out of existence. They are based off the original Salem Witch hunts continuing the hate ingrained and passed down after three centuries. The tests and accusations for witchcraft were often unfounded and illogical. We often experience this with contemporary racist groups whose racist leanings have no scientific or logical basis. This can also apply to those who fear and mistreat others based on their religious background. While some religious teachings can be harmful, many act out of irrational fear in their interactions with others that are not like them.
All of this is hidden behind fictional writing allowing many of us to not have to deal with the real issues. Even though this is the case, almost all of us were uncomfortable with the vitriolic speeches, tunes, and taglines for our beloved fictional characters. We then need to take this repulsion and deal with the real social, racial, and justice issues in our world.
This racism and fear causes some young witches and wizards to hide who they really are in the world of Fantastic Beasts, especially if they have magical powers but are born or raised in a no mag household. They are afraid they will be beaten or killed for their magical abilities. This suppression creates an Obscurus as mentioned before.
Rowling has been outspoken for LGBT rights before. This very well may be another form of her speaking up for them. We can extrapolate this to any time someone has to hide who they really are out of fear. Muslims that convert to Christianity will often hide their new faith for fear of punishment from family and even governing bodies in certain situations. Someone raised in a racist home has to hide their attraction to someone of another color or they will become estranged with their family. Even someone who wants to study the liberal arts but their family pushes them to study the sciences. In all these cases, they usually end up suppressing their desires and become miserable in their life, families, or careers. Nobody should have to suppress who they are out of fear.
Likewise, Rowling exposes us to the horror of using fear and abuse to impose one’s own beliefs on others, especially children. It is one thing to teach and share one’s beliefs with their children, but to use physical abuse and propaganda to promote those ideals is abhorrent. Even if those ideals are good and correct, physical abuse should not be used to spread them. We see this with the New Salem leader lashing Credence’s hands because she finds him with a want and forces all her adopted children to pass out propaganda flyers or face consequences implying an extreme measure. The basic act of abuse should break our hearts and move us to stop it. If our ideals cannot be spread without the use of force, then they should not be spread. If they are good and logically sound, then they are worth taking the effort to teach and work through.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them centers around animals and Newt Scamander a famous magizoologist and animal lover. If there is not a lesson to glean from the film about animal treatment, then the film falls short. Thankfully, Rowling does not disappoint. No matter where one falls on animal rights, we should be mindful of animal abuse just as we fight against child abuse. Now, I’m not advocating that animals be put on the same level as a human. When it comes to saving a person or an animal, I will always choose a person. But we should not be beating and slaughtering animals without justified means (i.e., food, rabies, danger). In fact, animals that are under our care, such as cats and dogs, should be treated with care.
When Scamander’s magical suitcase that essentially has a mini zoo inside of it is confiscated by MACUSA, he pleads they do not harm his creatures. He fears they only see them as dangerous and need to be “put down”. Even though most of them are docile and maybe a few are mischievous, but only a few would be considered dangerous. Even then, with proper care and containment, they shouldn’t be able to harm anyone. In fact, Scamander’s goal is to write a book teaching people more about these creatures in the hopes they will better understand and care for them. We should take notes from him. Proper understanding and care for animals would make for safer human and animal interactions. Yes, there are dangerous animals and ignorance of them and proper safety measures only creates dangerous situations. If we take the effort to learn and understand these animals, then it will help to decrease dangerous situations allowing us to enjoy the beauty of nature.
There are those that would argue against viewing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them because it “promotes witchcraft”. We need remember that this is simply fiction. Fiction is not real and is meant for entertainment. Rowling not only uses fiction to entertain people but also to speak on critical justice issues that we need to address in our lives and society.
It was especially refreshing to view the film without comparing it to a novel. This was a downside to the Harry Potter film series. Of course, a film can never capture all the details from the novels, but as a huge fan of the novels, the films just fell short in comparison. This is not the case for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This film can be enjoyed for the sake of itself and is recommended for all ages.
 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, dir. David Yates, by J.K. Rowling, perf. Eddie Redmayne, Dan Fogler, Katherine Waterston, Colin Farrell (UK/USA: Warner Bros., 2016), film.
 J.K Rowling, “Beauxbatons Academy of Magic,” Pottermore, accessed December 11, 2016, https://www.pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/beauxbatons-academy-of-magic.
 J.K Rowling, “Durmstrang Institute,” Pottermore, accessed December 11, 2016, https://www.pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/durmstrang-institute.
 J.K Rowling, “Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry,” Pottermore, accessed December 11, 2016, https://www.pottermore.com/writing-by-jk-rowling/ilvermorny.