Commentary, geek life

Theories and Queries: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Two weeks ago, the Wizarding World of the Harry Potter Fandom was set abuzz by the news that JK Rowling is penning a new screenplay based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The book itself was published in 2001, written by Rowling to benefit the Comic Relief Charity. It is “written” by Newt Scamander, and the copyright page says it’s in its 52nd printing. The margins are full of commentary from Harry, Ron, and Hermione, which makes it all the more entertaining, especially for such a short read. Now Newt Scamander’s story is going to be the subject of the film, or series of films, and I am not alone in wondering what new things we will get to discover. Here are just a few of my rambling thoughts on it.

The first Harry Potter book takes place in 1991, so if this new story is “seventy years before” that, it would fall right around 1921. It also takes place in the US, which opens up all sorts of possibilities to find out about differences in wizarding culture “across the pond,” if you will. The 1920s were interesting times in US history: prohibition was fueling gang culture and bootleg alcohol, the rich were ridiculously so, and yet we were careening toward the Great Depression at the end of the decade. Our cultural memory of it, as Americans, is largely flappers and speakeasies and Gatsby-like parties, though there was a lot more happening, too. Airplanes and cars were becoming much more common, industry was shifting, and people were optimistic about the future. The US was also solidly on the international stage then, having just helped win the Great War, and people were thinking more globally.

The interesting thing about all of this is that it largely involves technology and, to an extent, government, two things in which the wizarding community (at least in the UK) doesn’t much participate. They have magic, so why do they need electronics? It makes me think that perhaps this was when the biggest shift away from mainstream culture began. Up until then, no one really had electronic technology so the wizards weren’t necessarily that far out of date with their muggle neighbors. It’s also possible that the wizard community is simply SO “old fashioned” that they were already outdated by this time.

Since this story is told from Newt Scamander’s perspective, though, and is about finding Fantastic Beasts, then it makes sense that perhaps much of the story takes place in the wild. Despite that, I’m fascinated by the idea of circus side shows, which were still going strong in that era. What better way for a wizard or witch to make money than to tour the country performing “impossible” stunts, or showing “monsters” to muggles? They would be hiding in plain sight that way. It could very well be that Scamander begins his quest to learn more about these beasts after discovering (and possibly setting free) some of the Beasts from traveling circus shows.

I’m also curious about Scamander’s entries on Beasts from other countries. If the story takes place (at least primarily) in the US, then how does he learn about Beasts from other parts of the world? It could be that he goes on a long journey to find them. It could also be that he begins a field collection, much like the one at the Field Museum in Chicago, where they preserve specimens from all over the world for study, or that there already was a collection of sorts and he was the one who went into the wild to study all of the natural behaviors of these animals.

One of the questions I’ve seen arise in fan theories is whether there will be a major villain in this story. I’m just not sure about that. While the timing would fit for the beginning of the Grindelwald story, that seems to take place in Europe (and is tied much more to World War II, so at least the 30s). I think it more likely that Scamander will encounter poachers and the like who are out to steal his research, or the Beasts themselves, in order to profit from what he discovers.

All in all, I’d like to see Scamander portrayed as a naturalist, someone who does the research and takes good field notes. I’d also like cameos by characters we know (or their parents) if they are old enough to be in these stories. Remember that witches and wizards live a very long time.

So those are my thoughts. What are yours?

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