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The announcement that J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. were getting back into the Harry Potter business with a new movie had fans scrambling to refresh themselves on the source material: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
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The 2001 book was half of a two-book series Rowling wrote (the other being Quidditch Through the Ages) to give fans a deeper look at the Potter universe during the three-year hiatus between book four and book five in the series (and to raise money for Comic Relief U.K.).
Rowling called the new project “neither a prequel or a sequel … but an extension of the wizarding world” that will focus on the story of Newt Scamander, the book’s putative author.
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Here are four things to know about Fantastic Beasts and what it possibly portends for the movie:
1. Who is Newt Scamander?
Newton Artemis Fido Scamander (who does names better than Rowling? No one) was a 25-year-old “lowly Ministry of Magic employee” who was commissioned by Augustus Worme of Obscura Books in 1918 to write a reference guide to magical beasts, which was published in 1927.
Scamander was born in 1897, graduated from Hogwarts and went to work at the Ministry of Magic, first in the Office of House-Elf Relocation, then in the Beast Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, serving in the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau.
He spearheaded the creation of the Werewolf Register in 1947 and the 1965 Ban on Experimental Breeding, which stopped the creation of new hybrid monsters. At some point, he was headmaster at Hogwarts. For his services, Scamander was awarded the Order of Merlin, Second Class in 1979.
As of 2001, he was living a quiet retired life with his wife Porpentina and three pet Kneazles (small speckled catlike creatures with lion’s tails). His grandson Rolf is married to Harry’s friend Luna Lovegood.
2. What is Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
It’s the book Scamander researched and wrote between 1918 and 1927 that has since become the standard reference work on beasts, reprinted and updated in fifty-two editions over the years. The version available to Muggles (the first ever) offers an introduction to magizoology, a guide to classifying dangerous creatures from X (boring) to XXXXX (known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate) and an A-to-Z guide to seventy-five fantastic beasts.
The edition is a reproduction of Harry Potter’s personal copy, right down to his and Ron Weasley’s margin notes. It was first published in 2001, between Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
3. What are Beasts?
Like so many things in Harry Potter’s world, the answer is not as straightforward as it seems. The introduction to the book discusses the difference between Beings (those with a voice in magical governance and legal rights) and Beasts (who have neither). At first, Beings were things with two legs, but that definition proved unworkable and so was refined over the years to include, for example, underwater-dwelling Merpeople.
On the other hand, Centaurs (half human, half horse) decided to remain Beasts even though they were given the opportunity to be Beings. What about werewolves and ghosts? Beings or Beasts? Classifying these one way or the other was the subject of decades of debate in the wizarding community.
4. What does this tell us about the new movie?
Rowling has said the movie will be set 70 years before Harry’s story, which puts it sometime between 1911 (70 years before Harry’s birth) and 1927 (the publication date of Scamander’s book). She has also said the movie will start in New York. So it appears the movie will pick up Scamader’s story during his research and writing of Fantastic Beasts, or perhaps it will tell the story of how he got the assignment from Worme to write the book.
Of the 11 creatures specifically mentioned as being American in the book, none rate higher than a triple XXX in danger, though dragons are found worldwide. Its also possible, given his later interest in werewolves, that this first adventure might involve his pursuit of one. We’re imaging Newt’s story as an Indiana Jones-in-wizarding-robes rollicking adventure movie.
One surprise Potter fans might get in the movie? A cameo from a young Dumbledore, who was friends with Scamander (he wrote the introduction to Fantastic Beasts) and was 16 years older (and perhaps his teacher at Hogwarts). How cool would that be?
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