Guest Post: The Allegory of Fantastic Beasts, 7 (The MACUSA Easter Egg)

foundingFathers-cornerstone01By Chris Calderon

Politics and politicians have never fared well in the writings of J.K. Rowling.  Whether making a veiled attack on the polices and person of the late Margret Thatcher or denouncing the British press as a willing tool of Parliament, the picture she presents of modern government has always tended to the negative.  It’s enough to make any American fan nervous.  After all, Fantastic Beasts is her first work of fiction to be set stateside.  Every official synopses makes it clear the plot revolves around Newt Scamander’s trouble with a magical version of the American government.

nicolas-cage-national-treasure-book-of-secrets-poster-2Is it time for patriots and lovers of our country to brace for the worst? Isn’t she just going to use the story as an excuse to insult Americans and air the skeleton’s in our National closet?

Maybe not.  Perhaps if we give her a chance, she might just surprise us with an Easter Egg of history, a subliminal version of National Treasure and the esoteric backdrop to America’s founding fathers. Read on! 

American Wizards: an Overview

While the picture she’s painted of wizards in America so far has been dire, it hasn’t been as negative as it could be or as others are making it out to be.  Her history of wizarding life in the U.S. is largely one of persecution rather than exploitation.  The majority of her American cast are under the constant fear of discovery from the No-Maj world.  While it’s true that some wizards were involved in sending an entire Nation underground, she seems pretty adamant that the Scourers are meant to be seen as renegades.  Lest she be accused of the same Us and Them mentality as her villains, I would add that it is beliefs and values, not race, gender, or related issues that determine the morality of her fiction.  For this reason she is able to judge the moral standing of her characters based on the choices they make.

In the case of the American wizards, there seemed to be very little choice in the matter.  Political necessity was the reason they kept their knowledge secret.  The whole point of the Scourers is that their fundamental lack of belief in anything made them capable of exploiting their own kind (for more on this topic, see here and here).  Without discarding the natural checks and balances that maintain law and order, the renegades could never have done so much damage.

By creating the perfect atmosphere of National paranoia and sending the wizards into hiding, the Scourers were able to ensure they won the war of ideas while losing the battle to force.  It has to be remembered that while American wizards may agree that secrecy is essential, that doesn’t make it necessary that they like it.  The actions of Tina Goldstein may be a giveaway in this regard.  Either way, the facts remain the same.  Rowling gives no indication that isolation was a choice most American wizards ever wanted to make until the persecution became unbearable.

The overall image the reader is left with is that of an entire Country that is to be pitied more than denounced.  The question is: is there a way for the Wizarding States of America to climb out of their predicament?  As a matter of fact, there might be.  It all rests in the symbolism of their Republic, and to ideas for which it stands.

The Heart of the Republic and of Fantastic Beasts

In setting Fantastic Beasts in America, it is possible J.K. Rowling will be paying our Country the compliment of airing its virtues instead of our vices.  Rather, she will use the film as an opportunity to give a kind of coded history lesson, and not one you’re likely to find in any school or college text, not in official channels anyway.

Rather than trotting out a well kicked horse, she will present the heart and soul of the Nation in a way it has never been shown before.  It is also an aspect of our history than many Americans never knew about.  Instead it has been forgotten in the passage of time and buried over by current political and ideological cant until it was thoroughly hidden from sight, just like Rowling’s American wizards.

The secret at the heart of both America and Fantastic Beasts is? It turns out we are a Christian Nation.  That’s a controversial enough statement to make in today’s national climate.  What’s even worse is to suggest that the Christians who made this Country were familiar with the hermetic Neo-Platonist symbolism of the Renaissance, and the Mythopoeic theology it expressed.

Does this mean Fantastic Beasts promises to be a boring Civics lesson?  Not likely.  Ms. Rowling is an artist, and her first and last job before all others is to entertain.  That doesn’t mean the entertainment can’t be based on aspects of real life.  The specific aspect Rowling might focus on with FB is America’s relation to the Prisca Theologia, or Ancient Theology tradition.  Behind the concept of the Ancient Theology is the key tenet of Mythopoeia.  While God gave his Revelation on Sinai, he spread his message to the pagan civilizations through what C.S. Lewis called “good dreams”.  A simpler way of putting is to say that while God gave first Judaism and then Christianity Reason and Revelation, to the pagans he gave Imagination.

It’s a belief that goes back further than any of the Inklings.  In fact, its roots can be traced within the Bible itself.  Witness the symbolic iconology of St. John Apocalypse, which is a mixture of baptized pagan symbolism.  Or else take St. Paul’s dedication of an Athenian monument to “A God Unknown”.  That a biblical belief in a pagan revelation based on Imagination has survived up to and beyond the 20th century shows its durability above the passage of time.

What is radical about Rowling’s treatment of it is her implied suggestion that many of the Founding Fathers were familiar with this biblical tradition.  However, if the concept of Mythopoeia is still around, it makes sense that more than just a bunch of Oxford college teachers and critics knew about it.  There were bound to be others, and in Fantastic Beasts Rowling is hinting that some of the people who knew the Ancient Theology were the Framers of our Country.  For this reason it also makes sense that Rowling would use fictional American wizards to symbolize a hidden Founding Knowledge that’s been driven underground.

Son of National Treasure: The portrayal of MACUSA

If I am right about Rowling going all National Treasure on us in Fantastic Beasts, expect Ms. Rowling to be even-handed with her portrayal of the wizard Congress.  While their initial stance toward Newt is one of antagonism, they won’t be the main antagonists themselves.  That part belongs to the Scourer/Salemers.  Instead the Congress will be more of an obstacle to start with only to wind up as an ally as the action goes along.

However, stating that the big secret of her film is that the Founding Fathers were Mythopoeic Christians like the Inklings is a pretty tall order.  It is all the more controversial when the legacy of the Founders is now a subject for contention and debate in today’s political climate.  If I’m going to make that sort of claim, I’ll need to offer some kind of proof, either physical or textual, that would demonstrate a hermetic strain in the thoughts of some of the Framers.

I can do better than that.  I can offer not just evidence for the Neo-Platonic thought of at least several Founders, but it’s also possible to trace the history of how the Ancient Theology made its way from one philosopher to the next, and how each in turn influenced the thought of the people who created this Country.  We’ll take this subject up in the next post tomorrow.

Till then, how does Rowling given us an esoteric insight into American history and reality sound as an Easter Egg hidden in the first Beast film?  Thanks for sharing your thoughts in the comment boxes below.

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