Beasts: Manticores or Poisonous Crabs? The Concern and Film Ring Possibility

If you are a Fantastic Beasts viewer and fan, HarryLatino and Patricio Tarantino at The Rowling Library have uncovered some curious, puzzling, and potentially troubling news about the new film, Secrets of Dumbledore. By watching an interview David Heyman in Tokyo as part of the ongoing Warner Brothers roll-out of the movie, HarryLatino noted that the Executive Producer of the series called the crab-like creatures in the trailer — see clip above cued to this part of the trailer — “manticores.” 

As Patricio Tarantino, who has a real eye and ear for these details, explained this morning in David Heyman confirms the creatures from the trailer of Fantastic Beasts 3 are baby manticores, this seems a real fail with respect to basic mythology and Rowling’s own mentions and descriptions of the manticore in the original Fantastic Beasts Scamander-created guide. That creature is something of a demonic cross or double-hybrid between a Centaur, half-human, half-horse, and a Hippogriff, one third horse, one third eagle, and one third lion (or half-horse and half-griffin).

It rates XXXXX on the danger scale in Fantastic Beasts because “Manticore skin repels almost all known charms and the sting causes instant death.” Mr Tarantino confirmed this was what Heyman meant to say by following up on tweets made in China in association with the film promotion (!) and by contacting the Producer’s office to get an official statement. Read The Rowling Library article for the details of Heyman’s “I meant what I said and said what I meant” and much more on manticores from Mythology 101 and other Wizarding World references.

My three notes on the subject —  ‘So What?,’ ‘Something over Nothing?,’ and ‘New York Adventure Echo — are after the jump!

(1) So What?  Rowling is very serious about her mythology and using it as a backdrop to her work. I think it fair to say, if you blanche from my description of her work as being in essence Medieval allegory of the soul’s perfection in the Spirit written for postmoderns, psychomachia revived, then the much simpler sobriquet of “21st Century mythology” will do. One of her Comprehensive School English teachers was expert in mythology, her classical studies classes at the University of Exeter were in essence deep dives into mythology, Harry Potter is in many ways a retelling of the mythological adventures of Orestes, the Cormoran Strike novels are a combination of the myth of Leda and the Swan, of Castor and Pollux, and of Psyche and Cupid, the Fantastic Beasts film series features characters named Theseus, Leta (Hippolyta, Theseus’ bride), and Scamander, a river god and awkward man (Hat-tip to Lancelot Schaubert!), and Jack Jones descent into the Land of the Lost in The Christmas Pig hits mythological notes resonant with Persephone’s abduction by Pluto and her rescue by her mother’s love. Rowling as a rule is very faithful in her use of mythological symbols and story-lines, though she adopts and adapts them to her own story-telling ends. 

The reason fans shudder at the thought that she has turned the manticore, a combination of man, lion, and scorpion, into just giant fire-crabs or Godzilla-esque scorpions is it raises the never-resolved issue of the author’s careless and insensitive use of American First Nation creatures in her history of Ilvermorny. See Dr Amy H. Sturgis’ ‘Hogwarts in America’ article and her full explanation of Rowling’s gaffes on this subject at ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ to review that disappointment. I’m confident that no one will be offended if the Fantastic Beasts manticores are just scorpions the way Native American readers were about Rowling’s sloppy appropriation of their beliefs, but, because it would speak to the same sort of sloppiness on the part of a most careful author in the same series, it sparks an involuntary shudder.

(2) Something Over Nothing? This could certainly be a non-issue, i.e., baby manticores in Rowling’s presentation may just look like little crabs and their leonine aspects and human face with speech only manifest with maturity. The trailer, immediately after the dancing crab scene, features a giant scorpion tail swinging in at Newt and Theseus. We’re going to see a full-sized manticore, it seems, and I want to bet the brothers Scamander will have a conversation with it as well. I want to think that because, of course, any kind of dialogue with the creature will require that it have some kind of face and the ability to speak as humans do. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess.

(3) New York Adventure Echo? Rowling said at the announcement of this film project that it would be a series of five films. Though David Heyman has recently said the producers have not yet begun any kind of writing on the fourth installment (which suggests at least the possibility that there won’t be one if this chapter bombs), I think it safe to say given Rowling’s box office track record that Warner Brothers still expects to make five blockbuster movies featuring Newt Scamander, Albus Dumbledore, and Gellert Grindelwald with the finale being the historic battle between the two childhood friends and Dumby’s capture of the Elder Wand.

If this is the case, we know that Rowling writes in circles, specifically in turtle-back rings. In a five part series, that makes the third chapter the story pivot, in which the beginning is echoed, the ending is heavily fore-shadowed, and the course of the remaining films is set. According to traditional chiasmus, too, the meaning is in the middle term. Secrets of Dumbledore, according to the structural view, is potentially the most important and meaningful of the series’ five installments.

What I found reassuring rather than disturbing about the fire-crab-baby-manticore dance scene (and hints of the two Scamanders being chased by a virulent manticore mama) is that it seems to be the echo of the first film’s bonding scene in Central Park between Newt and his Muggle side-kick Jacob Kowalski. They leave the Goldstein apartment to hunt down Newt’s escaped beasts in New York, a slapstick adventure that features a horny Erumpent (ho!) chasing the hapless, helmeted Jacob through Central Park.

I want to believe the Manticore Moment in Secrets of Dumbledore will be in parallel with this first movie’s chase scene with the No-Maj and his his new wizard friend. You’ll recall that it is in this scene that Jacob offers  Newt his hand and asks that he use his first name rather than the formal “Mr Kowalski.” The cold relationship between Newt and Theseus, one has to hope, will be much warmer, even properly fraternal, after the older brother learns the depths of his Magizoologist’s knowledge and courage in escaping the mother of all those little crabs in the third film.

Note that in the Harry Potter books and film adaptations, the story axis and progression Stone to Goblet to Hallows is exteriorized in the form of dragons maturing from baby girl Norberta hatching from her egg in Hagrid’s hut to the four mother dragons protecting their eggs in the series pivot’s Triwizard Tournamentand the finale’s ancient of days dragon in the bowels of Gringotts who is the magical means of escape for the Terrible Trio. If I am right that he Erumpent in rut in the first film’s bonding scene is only the first in a like sequence, the Mother Manticore in Secrets of Dumbledore‘s bonding moment is the center-piece of the set and we should expect a grand-mother or ancient beast to feature in Beasts5 finale.

Manticore, by the way, means “man eater” in the original Persian so maybe The Presence is having a laugh about male-female relationships in these women-beasts-chasing-men moments, the obligatory chase scene in every blockbuster film per formula, turning the usual trope of women-being-chased-by man-beasts on its head. Note that these mad she-beasts come equipped with some remarkably phallic equipment.

Your comments and correction are coveted as always. Hats off to HarryLatino and Patricio Tarantino for these finds and first-class research!

Oh, I forgot! Newt does a little mating dance with the Erumpent before the musk-spill. So we have a parallel ‘imitation-deception’ of a fantastic beast akin the Scamander Bros skimpering past the baby manticores…


  1. I remembered last night that my egg to mama dragon to Ancient of Days Gringotts deliverer from evil sequence was something Beatrice Groves shared here in one of her first Guest Posts at HogwartsProfessor:

    Of the many Stone-Goblet-Hallows links (and all those discussed below – and many more! – have been helpfully tabulated in John Granger’s ‘‘On Turtleback Tales and Asterisks’ [2011]) there are a number in which something that was a fairly simple part of the plot in the opening novel, becomes more reflective in the central novel, and freighted with new significance in the final novel (seven is the most magical number, after all). Live dragons, for example, appear only in these novels and Granger notes that they pass through a life-cycle as they do so: baby Norbert in Stone, the nesting mother dragons of the Triwizard tournament and finally, the escape on the ‘ancient of days’ Gringotts dragon.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Taking up the matter of the offspring of ‘Fantastic Beasts’, my impression is that ancient and mediaeval sources are often attentive in their details – but, trusting Wikipedia on Aelian and Pausanias and checking Aristotle, Pliny, T.H. White’s translation of “a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century”, and Wikipedia’s quotation from Topsell’s 1607 edition of The Historie of Foure-footed Beasts for myself, I find only Topsell mentions the offspring of the Manticore, and then only briefly: “When the Indians take a Whelp of this beast, they all to bruise the buttockes and taile thereof, that so it may never be fit to bring sharp quils, afterwards it is tamed without peril.” This suggests the Whelps have at least that difference and must undergo some development of their Scorpion-like (yet also quill-casting) tails – but gives no other details of appearance or form. Perhaps the substitution of something Crustacea-like for something Chelicerata-like for the Whelp is not too far-fetched, whatever one thinks of the visual details of working that out.

    A broader matter which I do not think I have ever properly contemplated is, what – if anything – can be said in general about how JKR adopts and adapts or imagines freely the offspring of ‘ Fantatic Beasts’.

    In the present instance, we may also wonder if there will be distinct attention to ‘taming’ , and if this will have any ‘pedagogical’ resonances within the Fanrastic Beasts series storyline.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Another possible resonance that suddenly occurs to me – perhaps depending on how the depiction of the mother Manticore is worked out – is the resemblance not only to a Scorpion but to a Porcupine and the variant form of that name, Porpentine!

  4. I was under the impression we were seeing Fire Crabs, or Blast-Ended Skrewts (which does seem possible since they were apparently first bred by Hagrid).

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Lazily checking the undated Twelfth Edition of the Rev. Thomas Sheldon Green’s Greek-English Lexicon to the new Testament for the word for ‘scorpion’ to see if it would remind me of what I was looking for in the Apocalypse of St. John, I encountered a gloss describing it as “shaped somewhat like a crab” ! – a description I cut and paste from the much later 1896 edition of this ever-popular Lexicon at Project Gutenberg. What I was after was chapter 9 verses 3-11, especially 7-10. Rereading the passage left me wondering if (1) there might be a deliberate evocation of the description of the manticore as known from earlier sources and/or (2) if there was any exegetical tradition of connecting them.

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    In a quick rereading of the 2001 edition text of Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I found my eye caught by a couple things in relation to Topsell’s Manticore description: that “Crup owners are legally obliged to remove the Crup’s tail with a painless Severing Charm while the Crup is six to eight weeks old” and, of the Hungarian Horntail, that “the young club their way out [of the “particularly hard-shelled” eggs] using their tails, whose spikes are well developed at birth.”

    An interesting observation in the “What is a Beast?” section of the Introduction is that “Several highly intelligent creatures are classified as ‘beasts’ because they are incapable of ovecoming their brutal natures. Acromantulas and Manticores are capable of intelligent speech but will attempt to devour any human that goes near them.”

    This is perhaps further interesting to juxtapose with one of the generally-unusual instances where developmental detail is consistently given – with respect to the creatures having “a minute human form”, beginning with the Doxy and continuing with the (variously cross-referenced) Fairy, Imp, Leprechaun, and Pixie.

    All things in their ways and degrees consistent with giving the Manticore a ‘distinctive Whelp phase’.

  7. Sabine Lechtenfeld says

    I firmly belong to the “So-What?” faction. While the traditional manticore descriptions of old evoke a fantastic beast which seems to be far cooler and much more menacing than the little crab-like creatures from the trailer, authors have the right to tinker with the worlds they have created. Tolkien fans and scholars would know a thing or two about this. Tolkien could never make up his mind once and for all about the true origins of orks. The most well known idea that Melkor/Morgoth captured, enslaved and tortured elves until they were so corrupted that they became the founding population of the first ork generations, is only one of several theories, and Tolkien himself eventually discarded this particular scenario. And all Tolkien afficionados know about the infamous balrog/wings debate 😉 Tolkien expressed himself vexingly vague when he described the last specimen of it’s kind, which was famously told by Gandalf that it wasn’t allowed to cross a certain bridge – or else!!! And it doesn’t help that Tolkien’s initially introduced balrogs were completely different from the imposing and menacing guy who got himself killed, because he wasn’t willing to accept Gandalf’s somewhat arbitrary trespassing restrictions. Tolkien had clearly changed his concept of balrogs, and over time they evolved into something very different. And since he was the creator of his Tolkien Universe, he had the right to do so. Same goes for JKR!
    It has been speculated that movie manticores with human faces might be too uncanny and scary for the younger audience. Personally I doubt that explanation, since the HP and FB movies have plenty of really scary stuff. And if the original manticores were deemed too scary, why introduce them at all? But who knows? Movie making decisions are not always rational…
    There is also another possibility: since the crab-like creatures are baby manticores, they might not look, yet, like adult manticores. A caterpillar doesn’t look at all like a butterfly after all. Not even close! Metamorphosis essentially means that the caterpillar has to die, and a completely different creature is formed from the soup of remnant broken down material of the caterpillar. Biologists are still not quite sure why metamorphosis has turned out to be an evolutionary viable and actually very successful concept. One theory claims that caterpillars occupy a very different ecological nieche than butterflies. Therefore the caterpillars and the butterflies don’t compete with each other. But I disgress…
    We will know more about the manticore puzzle shortly. But I am far more interested to learn if the metamorphosis of Grindelwald, which was necessary because of Johnny Depp’s exit, produced a more scary and less cartoonish version of the most dangerous and powerful wizard before the even more villainous Voldemort entered the JKR cosmos. I always thought that Johnny Depp was totally miscast as Grindelwald, and the design of his freaky looks and his over-the-top acting didn’t help. It was simply not believable that Dumbledore had once been in love with this vile creature. The first reactions of those who attended the premiere screening, seem to confirm that the changed Grindelwald is a huge improvement.
    Personally I am still interested in the story which JKR wants to tell us, even if the two FB movies are not perfect. I would have prefered if JKR had written FB novels instead of movie scripts – but hey, that didn’t happen, and we have to make do with the movies if we want to learn more about Dumbledore’s secrets.

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