Five Spoiler-Free Reasons Potterphiles will Love Fantastic Beasts

14869-fantastic-beasts-one-sheet-1It’s a foregone conclusion that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will make a Gringotts-vault full of money this weekend and beyond, meaning that large numbers of people who are casual or totally uninitiated Potter watchers and readers will come out in droves to see the awesome CG artistry and to enjoy some nice escapism. Most of these folks are not terribly worried about symbolism and structure, as they just want to enjoy themselves at the movies. They will have a great time. They will love it. They will eat lots of popcorn. They will gasp and laugh and cheer. Those of us who do fret about things like symbolism and structure, who have read the Hogwarts saga repeated times, and who are seeking something deeper than  the extra-large tub of butter-substitute soaked popcorn at the cineplex will also find plenty to please in the adventures of Newt Scamander and his critters.

In the coming weeks, as more folks get to see the film, and we don’t have to tiptoe so much around spoilers, we will dig in more deeply to the plot points and structure of the new film, examining both strengths and weaknesses, making predictions about future films, and weaving in our usual deep-mining insights. But, in the meantime, here are  five aspects (since there will be five films) of the new movie that are sure to delight those of us who want more than a couple of hours of distraction and some thrilling special effects. Without letting any nifflers, er, cats, out of the bag, here are some reasons to love the new movie, for those of us who have already graduated from Hogwarts with full marks on our “N.E.W.T.s ”

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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.

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Throwback Thursday with Narnia, Newt Scamander, and Fantastic Beasts: Part II

fbFollowing up last week’s part one on the influence of C.S. Lewis on J.K. Rowling’s cast of creatures, here  is the second part of the paper (though edited) that I originally presented at the 2005 Witching Hour conference in Salem, Massachusetts, a lovely event that set me off on the last decade of Potter scholarship.

As we pack our bags (ones that hold many very interesting things) for another journey into the Wizarding World with Newt Scamander and his Fantastic Beasts, we pick up after examining the heraldic animals of Hogwarts as they connect to Narnia, as well as connections with domestic animals and wildlife.

Now, we’ll head off the map a bit, more into Newt’s territory, as we look at creatures more up his alley–that long scary alley with something scuttling over behind the bins….

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Throwback Thursday with Narnia, Newt Scamander, and Fantastic Beasts: Part I

fanblww  As we’ll doubtless be covering in the weeks to come, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is flying, crawling, and      stomping into theaters this month. While we are all interested to see more of the wizarding world, I am particularly  intrigued, as that slim red volume actually launched me into serious academic scholarship into the Potter-verse.

In 2005, I attended my first national Harry Potter Conference, The Witching Hour in Salem, MA. There I presented my paper,    “Fantastic Beasts: C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and the Menagerie of the Imagination,” a project that I began while I was  reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud to my son. Though I had already worked extensively with the  Chronicles of Narnia, I noticed something during those read-alouds that I had missed in dozens of re-reads: when Peter,  Edmund, Susan, and Lucy arrive at the home of Professor Kirke, they speculate on the animals they will see, listing, specifically, eagles, stags, hawks, badgers, and snakes.

Taken with Aslan, who is the Lion of the title and at the back of all the stories, there in the first few pages of the first of the Chronicles of Narnia (yes, it is the first one, no matter what misguided publishers do to the order), we have the four Hogwarts House mascots and Harry’s Patronus.

When I made that head-slapping connection, I did not realize that, more than 10 years later, I would be thoroughly immersed in Potter scholarship and that the story of Fantastic Beasts would be appearing on the big screen, but I did know that I had made a magical discovery, one that propelled me through the paper for the conference and into a wonderful journey of literary analysis and exploration. So, as we gear up for Newt’s big screen debut and since Thursday is a day when we throw back, here is part one of a selection from that paper, greatly edited from its original bulk (my poor patient audience at the Witching Hour!), and an invitation, as always, to share your thoughts, and perhaps, your own experience with the intrepid Newt Scamander and his role in your Potter studies.

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Fantastic Prequels and Where to Find Them

fanThis week, Entertainment Weekly released the first official images and plot premise for the upcoming, much anticipated, film of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, based on the supplemental text that, along with Quidditch through the Ages, was a charity-support book that amused Harry Potter readers with annotations from our familiar favorite Hogwarts student trio, while we were champing at the bit for an overdue next installment.

The film’s plot, it appears, will be more story-driven than the charming little collection of various wizarding world fauna, observed and described by the intrepid “magizoologist” Newt Scamander, whose other primary contribution to Harry’s story is being the ancestor of Luna Lovegood’s eventual husband. While the book takes a dictionary approach and is entertaining primarily for the marginal notes (I love Ron and Harry’s game of hangman, in particular, and Harry’s commentary on the fact that Hagrid obviously never read the acromantula entry, along a with a few others), the film will follow Scamander on his 1928 adventures in New York, carrying a briefcase that would clearly come from the same accessory aisle as Hermione’s beaded handbag. Only, instead of books, Horcruxes, and too-small blue jeans, Scamander’s briefcase contains a number of the interesting creatures he has collected on his travels. The word on the street is that, while making American friends, seeing the sights (including the American counterpart to the Ministry of Magic, located in the Woolworth building), Scamander will run into trouble when some of those critters also decide to sightsee.

Rowling herself is penning the script, and while this also means we’ll continue to ponder the complexities of an author who continues to edit, revamp, and expand her literary world, it also means there will be plenty of the complexity and layering we have come to expect from the Hogwarts adventures. Even though she has never written a film screenplay, Rowling clearly has a strong grasp on the cinematic side of story-telling, long ago creating scenes that just begged to be filmed. Will Fantastic Beasts be Fantastic? It’s hard to tell, with a release date over a year out (November 2016), but the teasers and pictures do offer a few little tidbits that make us eager to see what Rowling has up her sleeve…. And what Newt has in his briefcase. So, here are the four things (one for each house, though in no particular order)  that I’m most interested to see develop as the film takes shape, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on these and more. [Read more…]