Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them takes place in J.K Rowling’s wizarding world, but it’s set in an as-yet-undiscovered corner of that world for most Harry Potter fans. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely unfamiliar territory, however. The film, which premieres this weekend and kicks off a proposed pentalogy, is an extension of the author’s hit book series, a series that launched a hit movie franchise. Whether you’re a fan who’s only watched the movies, just read the seven books, or will take your first trip to the wizarding world with Fantastic Beasts, here’s a helpful guide to read before going to the theater.
Where Does Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them Come From And How Does It Connect To Harry Potter?
Much like the Star Wars universe, which has a massive number of viewers for its films but a smaller percentage who read the novels, comics, and keep up with the animated series, the wizarding world is more than just Warner Bros.’ eight film adaptations. There’s Pottermore (both the original and post-overhaul versions), the official fan site where Rowling posts additional content; expanded universe books like The Tales of Beedle the Bard; the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play (and script book); and even the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks in Florida and California. All that supplemental material can make for a hard-to-navigate landscape. And even if you were aware of the existence of something called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them before news of the film, you may not be sure how we got to a whole other film franchise from it.
While it’s true that Fantastic Beasts is based on a book, it’s not a traditional adaptation. Fantastic Beasts, the textbook, was fictionally published in 1927 by Newt Scamander, famed Magizoologist. It’s a standard textbook required at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and mentioned in both the book and film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Fantastic Beasts, the real book, was written by Rowling back in 2001 to raise money for Comic Relief. (I purchased it in a box set along with another wizarding world book, Quidditch Through the Ages.) Neither are very long and Fantastic Beasts is essentially a fictional encyclopedia. So how did we get what was once three, but now five, films out if it?
When Rowling revealed the extent of the new films, many fans worried this was another case of stretching material, much like Peter Jackson’s three Hobbit films, which were created from one, not particularly long, novel. That’s not the case. In her first time as a screenwriter, Rowling has written all new material for this prequel spinoff. It’s safe to say she’s been immersed in the wizarding world since she started Sorcerer’s Stone and she (and likely she alone) knows an absurd amount of information about that world never included in the novels. Rowling has admitted this film, and the follow-ups were “always where I was interested in going. This is what I wanted to do.” She also said Fantastic Beasts will “connect to the Potter books [in ways] I think people will find surprising.” So let’s start with what we know.
First, what does the Fantastic Beasts book tell us? One of its chief concerns is helping the audience discern the difference between a “being” (a “creature worthy of legal rights and a voice in the governance” of the wizarding world) and a “beast,” a matter that troubled the authorities attempting to make a determination. Issues around the number of legs, speech, and other attributes were considered and a consensus wasn’t found quickly. Much like history itself, it involved countless arguments and a fair amount of bias, including a campaign by extremists to categorize Muggles (non-magical people) as beasts.
Some species, like the centaurs we met in Sorcerer’s Stone and subsequent stories, prefer to be called beasts and steer clear of humans and their complications. While others, who for all intents and purposes should be classified as beings are not because, to put it quite plainly, they like to eat humans. The giant spiders, a.k.a. Acromantulas, Harry and Ron meet in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are one of the best examples.