Dear Quiet Minds,
On Friday, Oct. 20th, the British Library is having an opening to celebrate the release of J.K. Rowling’s new book, Harry Potter and the History of Magic. According to Pottermore, the exhibition will feature 100 amazing artefacts from Rowling’s wizarding world, including illustrations by Jim Kay, the illustrator of the Harry Potter Illustrated Editions, sketches and drafts from J.K. Rowling and objects from the Hogwarts classes. Ultimately, it will be celebrating Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’s 20th anniversary. Due to this amazing opportunity to spread my love for Harry Potter once again, I decided to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and give my thoughts on it. This analysis may contain SPOILERS so definitely don’t continue reading if you haven’t watched the film.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them (2016) was directed by David Yates (who directed the later Harry Potter films). It takes place in 1926 New York when a British wizard named Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives by ship with a suitcase filled with magical creatures. After he accidently switches cases with a Muggle, or No-Mag in America, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), his creatures all end up loose and Newt goes on a journey to return them all to the case. During this, he is also being pursued by a demoted Auror, Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), for not being a registered wizard, but soon enough, Tina and her sister, Queenie, (Alison Sudol) eventually help him. Meanwhile, an unknown creature, who we later come to find is called an Obscurus, is on a mysterious killing spree.
One thing I love about J.K. Rowling’s work is her ability to layer lighthearted scenes with dark and complicated elements, creating a seamless parallel between our society and her magical world. In this movie, I felt like her characters were very unconventional which added to the depth of her story. For instance, Newt Scamander, the main protagonist, is a Magizoologist who is quiet, sensitive and vulnerable. He connects with his magical creatures more than he connects with people; however, he still garners a deep empathy and understanding for people despite his lack of friends. His masculinity does not fall under the stereotype of a witty, independent, strong male lead whose violence and insensitivity is accepted. Instead, Newt is a Hufflepuff, much different from the brave Gryffindors, and his actions are guided by hard work and loyalty. As the story progresses, Newt’s relationships with Tina, Jacob and Queenie subtly strengthen as he learns to open himself to friendship. The fact that J.K. Rowling decided to place this unconventional male character as her lead demonstrates her acceptance of all people and personalities. There’s not one type of hero, but an infinite range of heroes within everyone.
“My heroes are always people who feel themselves to be set apart, stigmatized or othered. That’s at the heart of what I write and it’s certainly at the heart of this movie.”
Another aspect I loved from the films was Rowling’s ability to move from light, childish scenes filled with comedy to dark, mature scenes. For one, the Obscurus, which is created when a young wizard suppresses his or her powers, highlighted a dark element of society. The Obscurus demonstrated the dangers of fearing your potential and bottling up what’s inside of you. It symbolizes repression and isolation due to the fear of intolerance. Many people can relate to this type of repression imposed by society. Rowling really grabbed the heart strings of closeted people, lonely people and anyone who lives in constant fear. This intolerance is also reflected in her setting, where the nonmagical world is becoming overly suspicious of its people as the Salem Witch Trials popularize. Wizards have to hide from the nonmagical world and stay away from the No-Mag community. In the magical world, however, the character of Graves, or more accurately Grindelwald, is high on power. He believes in wizard blood superiority and wants to suppress those without magic. Even the word No-Mag highlights the key difference between people and wizards: magic. Meanwhile, the British term Muggle is more friendly and inclusive. Thus, emphasizing the prominent segregation in American history. Although Rowling depicts it through her world, it places reality in front of our eyes, showing us that segregation and intolerance run deep in the United States.
Despite this sad reality, Rowling always offers us hope through the introduction of Newt’s world, also known as his magical suitcase. Within the case, animals can be themselves and roam free without being suppressed or controlled. Their chaos and difference is welcomed, which is reflected in the beautifully lit scenery in Newt’s World that contrasts with the dark outside world. Rowling shows us through a simple, yet deep story that although intolerance is at the surface of our lives, difference and acceptance are always there to keep the hope alive.
At the end of the film, Jacob Kowalski’s memory of all his adventures with Newt is obliviated and he seems to wake up from a dream, just like the audience. It’s very bittersweet. We want to be a part of Rowling’s world, but at the end of the film, realize we never can. But why, after all these years, does the Harry Potter realm stay so deeply in our hearts? Isn’t it fake? Isn’t it all just happening inside our heads?
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”