Pack Your Bags! Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beast-y Suitcase, Hermione’s Handbag, and their Literary Relatives

newtAs we look forward to the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in just a few days, eager viewers will doubtless be trying to pick up any element in the film that connects us to the Wizarding World we already know. From examining last names to see if any of the characters are relations of Harry’s school chums to hoping for glimpses of Dumbledore in that velvet suit he clearly bought at the Oscar Wilde estate sale, we’ll be looking for overlaps from Harry’s story into this, a totally different story from the same universe. One of the most interesting overlaps comes in the form of luggage. We are all eager (or terrified) to see what Newt Scamander is lugging about in his suitcase. Ron’s money is probably on something “mad and hairy.” But that case, and its unique properties, connect to a few other items in the Wizarding World, and to a whole host of other literary items that have insides bigger than their outsides. It’s a great plot device, and one that has a wonderful lineage, so let’s visit that little spot in the literary shopping mall where that suitcase must have originated, and spend a short while chatting about some of its predecessors in the Wizarding World and beyond.

As always, when we analyze the literary hereditary of a character, theme, plot, or, in this case, a suitcase, I stress that such analysis is not intended to belittle the author’s work and should never be seen as an implication that Rowling, or anyone else, is unoriginal or cheating by participating in the complex literary lineage that connects texts. Hermione’s bag is not some cheap knock-off passing as a high-class designer bag (I hear of these mysterious objects, for which people reportedly pay fabulous sums of money, so that they can carry a bag with someone else’s initials on it; clearly, I am not one of those people). Instead, it and the case are part of a wonderful literary tradition, a tradition that connects Hermione and Newt to some wondrous characters and their equally wondrous luggage.

The Purse That REALLY Goes with Everything

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine, after visiting my office, gave me a lovely gift. Wrapped in a Potter-font-themed box was a Time Turner necklace. My crafty and clever friend had made the box, and she had guessed that an over-committed person like me would undoubtedly wish for a Time Turner. She was close. The only item in the Hogwarts Saga that I really ever coveted was Hermione’s, but I’d probably cause major disaster with a Time Turner. What I have always wanted was her handbag, that little beaded number with the Undetectable Stretching Jinx, and presumably a little something to allow Hermione to lug untold stone of books, clothes, camping supplies, and Horcruxes all over the British Isles. It is also one that clearly lends some of its characteristics to Newt’s critter-carrier.

Like the suitcase, Hermione’s bag is a traveling warehouse that includes vast storage space while also making the objects inside light enough to carry. In addition, each character’s bag is a clear bagreflection of him or herself. Newt, of course, needs someplace to carry a menagerie of (some quite large) creatures that might be dangerous or endangered if on the loose, and they have to remain hidden as well as safe, sometimes from each other. A case like his, typical of so many in the time period, is unlikely to draw stares, as it is the inside, not the outside that counts. Hermione also uses the outward appearance of her handback to dissuade investigation, but, by using a fancy little purse, she both plays with society’s expectations for a young lady and does not invite suspicion. After all, who would suspect something tiny and decorative to be so huge inside? Unlike Newt, however, Hermione’s bag includes, along with necessities to help her and the boys on their travels, a small library of books. When they fall over inside the bag’s vast interior, Hermione is dismayed the organization is now spoiled. While both Newt and Hermione need secrecy and storage, their bags fit into society’s expectations and thus do not draw the scrutiny that neither of them wants. It remains to be seen what will become of Newt’s case, but Hermione’s fades from the story toward the end of Deathly Hallows, so we can only wonder if she still uses it. As a busy  professional woman and mother, she would certainly have cause to need it, though its contents would have changed.

Mad Baggage and Trunk Space

moodySpeaking of changing contents, another item in the Hogwarts Saga has a deceptively roomy interior, but only after opening it multiple times with different keys: Mad-Eye Moody’s trunk. Unlike Hermione’s bag, however, Moody’s trunk does not appear to just be endlessly large inside. Instead, each key opens the truck to reveal different contents, finally revealing the tiny room where the real Mad-Eye has been kept a prisoner for months. Though the principle is a little different, the “inside bigger than its outside” motif is clear, also a nice reminder that appearances can be deceiving, since the fellow who has been using the trunk all year is, in fact, not Moody at all, but an imposter.

Indeed, it seems that all the trunks at Hogwarts may have some sort of magical property that allows students to carry unusually large amounts of stuff to and from school. Mr. Weasley also does a little hocus- pocus on cars in order to manage to transport all the luggage and children to King’s Cross, and, of course, the tent that, ironically, Hermione lugs about in that purse, also has the same property of a deceptively small exterior and a large interior. Wizards, it seems, are not used to being constrained by space or by the original size of containers. We’ll see soon just how many critters Newt is transporting. Undoubtedly, his case will be able to fit more than a few schoolkids and their trunks, and it may, like Moody’s, be able to conceal its actual contents, a trait that Moody’s trunk shares with an item from a very funny, very flat place

Carry-on Luggage

Since that word “luggage” is going to come up a great deal, it’s best to just get it over with. One of the best examples of the great storage devices in literature is The Luggage in Terry Practchett’s luggageDiscworld novels, and changing contents is the name of the game. Though originally the possession of uber-tourist Twoflower, The Luggage later becomes devoted to the cowardly but endearing failed “wizzard” Rincewind (he spells it that way, indicating his low level of competence) and also sort of operates on its own. It’s a great item, at least for its owners, as it is both virtually indestructible and unfailingly loyal. Made of sapient pearwood, The Luggage looks like a regular traveling trunk, but has little legs that carry it about, and, even though it often devours all manner of people and creatures that threaten its owners, it still also contains the owners’ personal items as well as a great number of other objects, and it always has room for more.

Like so many of these objects, the Luggage serves as a deus ex machina that often bursts onto the scene (sometimes literally) and saves the day at just the right moment. Like Hermione’s bag, it proves a very useful tool for the traveling magical practitioner, whether a really clever one like Hermione, or a totally incompetent one like Rincewind.

Unlike Hermione’s purse, which is primarily a plot device for having necessary objects close at hand and easily portable, the Luggage is also useful for breaking down doors and fighting bad guys, both of which it does on numerous occasions, and often just in the nick of time to save the protagonists. Yet, its spacious interior is also highly useful. It is also highly flexible, as Like Mad Eye Mooney’s trunk, it does not always open to reveal the same contents. While Hermione’s bag is big inside, we never see enough of its interior to know what it is like, but the Luggage definitely presents different interiors depending on the circumstance, or maybe its mood.

A Practically Perfect Carpetbag

bagEarlier this year, I attended a wonderful summer theater production of Mary Poppins. The stage magic was particularly good, especially Mary Poppins’s carpet bag, which, true to the story, produced large items, much larger than itself, as that intrepid nanny reached down into its depths far further than should be possible. The items the bag produces, like those stored by Hermione’s purse, are both whimsical and useful. The carpetbag coughs up a rubber-tree plant, a mirror, and a hat rack, each of which is both pleasant and practical.

In fact, while the phrase “practically perfect” could mean that Mary Poppins is, for all practical purposes, a perfect person, it could also mean that she is perfect when it comes to practicality. Both possible interpretations tie her closely to Hermione, the dutiful “perfect” student who is, like Mary Poppins, in the paradoxical position of being a clearly magical being with a very pragmatic nature. Hermione is a witch, capable of performing magic, yet she is also a very practical person who remembers to pack necessities and plans ahead in excruciating detail. She is also extremely leery of “wooly” and “imprecise” branches of magic like Divination, and she clearly finds ludicrous Luna Lovegood’s belief in creatures like Nargles and Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, though she is totally at home with the existence of other magical creatures.

Clearly, Mary Poppins’s carpetbag, though less aggressive and personality-ridden than the Luggage and not necessarily a life-saver like Hermione’s bag, is part of their history, part of the literary legacy that lies at the back of the Wizarding World as it lies at the back of all good stories.

Luggage from the Land of Spare Oom

Of course, those practical and magical handbags would not surprise C.S. Lewis, who claimed in The Magician’s Nephew that all witches are “terribly practical.” And they also would not surprise him narniawardrobebecause he created the piece of furniture that may be most responsible for these deceptively small trunks, bags, and cases that hold infinite space inside them. The concept of something having an inside bigger that its outside is certainly not unique to Lewis, as he would have pointed out himself, and it is one that shows up in everything from role-playing games with useful magical bags of holding to the Doctor and his TARDIS. However, the wardrobe (along with its partner, the stable of The Last Battle), connected as it is to the sense of wonder we also find in the Wizarding World, is perhaps more responsible for its enormous baggage than any other source.

Unlike Mary Poppins’s carpet bag or Rincewind’s useful Luggage, the wardrobe carries with it a deeper meaning that resonates in the phrase “further up and further in.”  The Narniad, which, like the Hogwarts Saga, is a ring composition held together by the bookends of the wardrobe and the stable (yet another reason for the original order of publication that has been spoiled by gormless hacks in publishing), and is all about going higher and digging more deeply into a world and into these remarkable texts.

The wardrobe may seem like just a convenient way to transport Lucy and her siblings to Narnia, a variation on the theme of the Vanishing Cabinets in the Wizarding World, However, there are frequent assertions that the “entire country” is inside the wardrobe, and that the Pevensies can’t get in trouble for taking fur coats to wear because they are not taking them out of the wardrobe. These assertions are reflected in the mirrored element, the stable, in The Last Battle. Professor Kirke, not in the least bothered by the magical possibilities of the wardrobe, is also able to comprehend the complexities of the stable which leads the faithful to Aslan’s Country even as the stubborn and stiff-necked Dwarfs, determined not to be “taken in” remain huddled in a stable of their own mental making. They cannot see the “real” contents of the stable, just as Mad Eye’s trunk or the Luggage can conceal or reveal their contents differently depending on who is doing the looking.

Further Up and Further In

Though these might seem to be mere plot devices, handy tools to make it easier for characters to schlep their stuff or themselves about from place to place, the powerful reminders of “further up and further in” remind us that these are texts that do the same thing as the tools within them. These books, the good books, continue to reveal treasures each time we open them. Sometimes, like those who open Mad-Eye’s trunk, we will find different items inside those books as we read them at different times in our own lives as readers. When we open Harry’s adventures with our own children, or during changes in our own lives, we open up to a different story than we might have found there when we were younger or going through a different season in life. And no matter where or when we are as readers, we will find more inside these texts than their outsides could ever promise.

As we get ready to see what’s Newt’s toting about in his case, we can hope, with good reason, that it will be something big, in more than one sense of the word.








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