Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them * J.K. Rowling Book Review

Oh, I’ve seen the movie when it was released and I quickly went to the store to get my copy of the lovely manual – Thank you for the lore, the additional Harry Potter universe addition and the new and fantastic characters!

mole“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them represents the fruit of many years’ travel and research. I look back across the years to the seven-year-old wizard who spent hours in his bedroom dismembering Horklumps and I envy him the journeys to come: from darkest jungle to brightest desert, from mountain peak to marshy bog, that grubby Horklump-encrusted boy would track, as he grew up, the beasts described in the following pages. I have visited lairs, burrows and nests across five continents, observed the curious habits of magical beasts in a hundred countries, witnessed their powers, gained their trust and, on occasion, beaten them off with my travelling kettle.”

So starts a magical tale of Newt Scamander and his book which goes about defining monsters and creatures and posing the existential question:

We now ask ourselves: which of these creatures is a ‘being’ – that is to say, a creature worthy of legal rights and a voice in the governance of the magical world – and which is a ‘beast’?

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Newt Scamander is quite a fellow! As opposed to the other male action heroes we see depicted in the cinemas having strong calves from running up on treadmills, Newt is a sensitive guy, very considerate and kind, using his smarts to resolve conflicts and not his extended biceps!

He protects, he guides, and he conserves. He’s everything functional people of society need to be — cooperative, compassionate. Despite that, he struggles to build friendships and connections. That’s a tangible struggle that a lot of us face at one point or another. Not that films have to be realistic, of course, but that it’s worth noting that movies speak to us because they’re relatable.

The first film is set in New York City, 70 years before Harry’s story started, and stars Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne as Scamander.

During his youth in 1926, Scamander travelled the globe to find and document all the magical creatures for the book but, during a stopover in New York City, a number of beasts are let loose by unsuspecting No-Maj (American for Muggle) Jacob Kowalski (played by Dan Fogler).  The wizard council are trying their best to hide the existence of the wizard world from the Muggles but they seem to be failing at this once Newt’s beasts get loose and take over the city.

Astonishing though it may seem to many wizards, Muggles have not always been ignorant of the magical and monstrous creatures that we have worked so long and hard to hide. A glance through Muggle art and literature of the Middle Ages reveals that many of the creatures they now believe to be imaginary were then known to be real.

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Former Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) become allies to help find and capture them before the No-Maj population discovers the truth about witches and wizards. They are on the run from the Director of Magical Security, Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), who works for the Magical Congress of the USA (MACUSA). They will do their best to capture the escapees and place them in safe keeping.

Nevertheless there are still plenty of beasts that, whether wilfully or inadvertently, remain conspicuous even to the Muggle eye, and it is these that create a significant amount of work for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. This department, the second largest at the Ministry of Magic, 9 deals with the varying needs of the many species under its care in a variety of different ways.

Speculation is rife about how this story can be sustained for another four movies, but fans will remember that the powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald was gaining power in the 1920s and after wreaking havoc in Europe slipped away and could not be found. Percival Graves’ poster has been shown with a curious necklace that fans will recognise as a symbol for the Deathly Hallows. Grindelwald, along with Albus Dumbledore, was seeking the Hallows in his youth.

The Book of Beasts

J.K. Rowling (through Newt) creates a dictionary of beasts – which you can see in the movie, each alphabetically listed, with a small description about where it’s from and how it can be identified.

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For example: The Basilisk:

The Basilisk is a brilliant green serpent that may reach up to fifty feet in length. The male has a scarlet plume upon its head. It has exceptionally venomous fangs but its most dangerous means of attack is the gaze of its large yellow eyes. Anyone looking directly into these will suffer instant death. If the food source is sufficient (the Basilisk will eat all mammals and birds and most reptiles), the serpent may attain a very great age. Herpo the Foul’s Basilisk is believed to have lived for close on nine hundred years.

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The Bowtruckle is a tree-guardian creature found mainly in the west of England, southern Germany and certain Scandinavian forests. It is immensely difficult to spot, being small (maximum eight inches in height) and apparently made of bark and twigs with two small brown eyes. The Bowtruckle, which eats insects, is a peaceable and intensely shy creature but if the tree in which it lives is threatened, it has been known to leap down upon the woodcutter or tree-surgeon attempting to harm its home and gouge at their eyes with its long, sharp fingers. An offering of woodlice will placate the Bowtruckle long enough to let a witch or wizard remove wand-wood from its tree.

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The only Oriental dragon has a particularly striking appearance. Scarlet and smooth-scaled, it has a fringe of golden spikes around that bursts from its nostrils when it is angered. It weighs between two and four tonnes, the female being larger than the male. Eggs are a vivid crimson speckled with gold and the shells are much prized for use in Chinese wizardry.

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The [Romanian] Longhorn has dark-green scales and long, glittering golden horns with which it gores its prey before roasting it. When powdered, these horns are highly valued as potion ingredients. The native territory of the Longhorn has now become the world’s most important dragon reservation, where wizards of all nationalities study a variety of dragons at close range.

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The Erumpent is a large grey African beast of great power. Weighing up to a tonne, the Erumpent may be mistaken for a rhinoceros at a distance. It has a thick hide that repels most charms and curses, a large, sharp horn upon its nose and a long, rope-like tail. Erumpents give birth to only one calf at a time. The Erumpent will not attack unless sorely provoked, but should it charge, the results are usually catastrophic. The Erumpent’s horn can pierce everything from skin to metal, and contains a deadly fluid which will cause whatever is injected with it to explode.

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The Demiguise is a peaceful herbivorous beast, something like a graceful ape in appearance, with large, black, doleful eyes more as the hair may be spun into Invisibility Cloaks.

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The Niffler is a British beast. Fluffy, black and long-snouted, this burrowing creature has a predilection for anything glittery. Nifflers are often kept by goblins to burrow deep into the earth for treasure. Though the Niffler is gentle and even affectionate, it can be destructive to belongings and should never be kept in a house. 

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Some theories

WatchMojo: top 10 fantastic beasts and where to find them list

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