Unlocking ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ Part Five So What? The Found Text & Its Meaning

fb7I have spent the better part of three days writing up the fifth and concluding part of this series of posts on ‘Unlocking Fantastic Beasts: Finding the Text’ and I have to confess to both bewilderment and some satisfaction. I am bewildered because every day, often several times a day, I have learned something new about the Fantastic Beasts screenplay and how it came into the form it has taken at last as the “original screenplay” and film. What satisfaction I am experiencing is consequent only to acknowledging that, short of a tell-all report from The Presence or the filmmaking trio of Yates-Heyman-and-Kloves, we’re never going to know the reality behind the public narrative and, because we will never see that explanation of the sausage making, what we do have is enough to be getting on with.

fb-script-shotThe goal of this investigation has been to arrive at a text that we can use for interpretation of the story, for speculation about where Rowling is headed, and for understanding of the work in relation to the author’s other work. That text is the shooting script, the third or fourth draft Rowling made in collaboration with the filmmakers, the work that existed before the filmmakers made their choices about how to reshape and to cut the story so it became a more conventional film experience. I think after the exercise of the last four posts in this series we have a much better grasp of what the shooting script contained. This fifth post is a summary of those findings and a beginning of the interpretative, speculative, and contextual examination this text will allow.

I sent a few friends a draft of this final post and only one responded. No doubt this was due in part to the Western Christian communities’ celebration of Christmas. I think, though, it was at least as much due to the great length of this concluding chapter. It’s much too long to have in one mammoth posting, so, to encourage comments on its various points, I am dividing it into ten parts and will put them up in batches over the next several days here. Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts as we go along. I will post a round up as well as a long version of it with all ten parts but that version will be closed to comments from readers.

f38811174This post is #1600 at HogwartsProfessor and marks the tenth anniversary of the site in its current WordPress weblog format. I am grateful for and am obliged to share my thanks to Travis Prinzi for reformatting and maintaining the site for years and years, to my fellow HogwartsProfessors Elizabeth Baird-Hardy, Louise Freeman, and Emily Strand, to our many Guest Posters, and most especially, you, the site’s readers. Without you, your interest and feedback, your kind support, none of this would have happened or been as enjoyable and as rewarding as it has been. Look for a post devoted to the anniversary in the New Year and for special events throughout the year to mark the milestone. Thank you again for showing up at HogwartsProfessor.

After the jump, Part 5A of ‘Unlocking Fantastic Beasts: Finding the Text,’ an introduction and review of what we were told in the film and its published form, the “original screenplay.”

bbc-desert-discsWe have all the pieces of the story not in the “original screenplay” or as much as we are likely to get before Rowling’s estate sends her private papers to a University library. Before we add in the missing parts discussed in the first four parts of this series and begin working with the best corrected text we will have for some time, it’s best that we review the film version of Rowling’s “book” shooting script.

The movie open with the escape of Gellert Grindelwald, an escape shown and then recounted in a newspaper montage about the dangerous criminal and the Wizarding World’s search for and fear of him. The scene shifts to New York harbor where Newt Scamander, Magizoologist, arrives by ship. He encounters the New Salem Philanthropic Society (NSPS) after clearing Customs, a group dedicated to the exposure and extermination of wizard-kind. A Niffler escapes from his case as he listens to Mary Lou Barebone, NSPS leader, and Newt is obliged to give chase inside a bank. He meets No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, recovers the Niffler, and loses his case to Kowalski. Tina Goldstein, a MACUSA witch, arrests Newt and takes him to Headquarters where they learn Jacob has the case of magical creatures. When they find Jacob, the case has been opened and Jacob bitten by a Murtlap. Tina takes Newt and Jacob to her apartment where they have a magical dinner prepared by Tina’s Legilimens sister Queenie. Newt and Jacob retreat into Newt’s case at bedtime, where Jacob receives an antidote to Murtlap venom and a tour of Newt’s magical menagerie. They leave the Goldstein apartment to rescue Newt’s escaped creatures from the wilds of New York. That night they find the Niffler in New York’s Diamond District and the Erumpent in Central Park. Tina captures them when they retreat for the night into the suitcase-haven and takes it and them to the MACUSA building.

fb57Unknown to our foursome, Percival Graves, a leading MACUSA Auror, has been searching for a magical child of “immense power” he has seen in a vision in proximity to the leader of the NSPS. This child is responsible for attacks on No-Maj streets that threaten to reveal the secreted Wizarding World. Graves meets in secret with Credence Barebone, the adopted son of the leader, and manipulates the abused young man to help him in his search. The NSPS Barebone family, Mary Lou, the leader, and her three adopted children, Credence, Chastity, and Modesty, are taken by a son of one of New York’s leading publishers to meet the father and share their evidence of a secret magical cabal. The publisher and his other son, a US Senator, dismiss the Barebones, and the Senator calls Credence “human trash.” That night, the same one in which Newt and Jacob are capturing creatures, the Senator is killed at a political rally by the magical force Percival Graves is investigating.

fb32This force is the subject of an international inquiry, the midnight gathering of which Tina interrupts with her magical briefcase to explain that the beast at loose in New York must be one of Newt Scamander’s. Newt and Jacob ascend from the case and Newt explains to the gathering that the Senator’s body shows the marks of an Obscurus, not a magical creature. He, Tina, and Jacob are arrested, the No-Maj to be Obliviated and Newt and Tina after being interrogated by Graves, to be executed (Graves has found an Obscurus in Newt’s case). Newt and Tina escape the Death Chamber, where Newt learns that Tina had been fired from her Auror position because she tried to stop the NSPS leader from abusing Credence. Queenie and Jacob recover Newt’s case and the Legilimens escapes MACUSA to the Goldstein apartment with the three outlaws in the case. The Foursome then visit a magical speakeasy, recover a missing Demiguise and Occamy from a department store, and return to the case to talk about their next steps when the Thunderbird alerts them that there is a great danger.

fb42At the NSPS building, Credence discovers a toy wand under Modesty’s bedroom furniture. Mary Lou confronts him, breaks the wand Modesty insists is hers, and gestures for Credence to give her his belt so she can punish him. An Obscurus kills her and Chastity, however, and destroys much of the building. Credence contacts Graves through a Deathly Hallows talisman he was given for this purpose. Graves arrives and Apparates Credence to Modesty’s former home in the Bronx where the girl is hiding. Believing Modesty to be the Obscurial, he expresses his disgust for Credence and pursues the girl. Credence reveals that he is an Obscurial, however, and sets off on a path of destruction across New York.

fb5The Foursome are on the roof of the Goldstein’s apartment building and see the Credence/Obscurus as it rips apart streets and buildings. Newt and Tina Apparate to confront the danger near the City Hall Subway station. Queenie and Jacob eventually follow. Graves speaks to Credence above ground. When the dynamic duo arrive, Newt descends into the subway to Obscurus-whisper Credence where the young man has retreated while Tina tries to hold off Graves. MACUSA arrives in force to magically seal off the battle zone from No-Majes, who led by the Publisher and his surviving son are there to witness the fireworks. Newt manages to talk Credence back into human form when Graves’ arrival sets him off again. Tina is able to restore him with her direct speech and kindness but the MACUSA Aurors execute him. Graves battles with the Aurors after debating the merits of the Statute of Magical Secrecy with the MACUSA President. Newt subdues him with a Swooping Evil and a spell conjuring a rope of “supernatural light” that binds and disarms Graves. Newt unmasks Graves as Gellert Grindelwald. Frank the Thunderbird Obliviates New York City of its memory by seeding storm clouds with an Obliviate Potion Newt has prepared from Swooping Evil venom; the downpour wipes all No-Maj recollection of the Obscurus attack and the Wizarding World it revealed. The MACUSA President thanks Newt, tells him to take his suitcase out of New York and the country, and reminds him and the Goldsteins of their being obliged to Obliviate Jacob. Jacob willingly steps into the rain at the top of the subway stairs after saying goodbye to his friends. The film ends with Newt giving Jacob the collateral he needs to start the bakery of his dreams, his saying goodbye to Tina at the dock as he boards ship (promising to return with a copy of his book), and Queenie’s appearance at Jacob’s bakery. Close curtain.

newt4We know that story. We have learned, after no little difficulty, that there were parts of scenes and whole scenes cut and that at least one was folded into another. The collaborative process between screenwriter and the filmmakers, too, has been revealed, if only in a cameo shadow, so that we have a vague picture of the various stages through which Rowling’s drafts proceeded to the anything but “original” screenplay that was published. We have a fairly long list of story details that did not make the final cut but were sufficiently long-lasting to have appeared as MinaLima props, tie-in book explanations, or as merchandising campaign elements (LEGO video!).

The answer to the ‘So What?’ question of this prolonged exercise in ‘Finding the Text of Fantastic Beasts‘ is in constructing the story that was filmed and then detailing the differences between the script-book used for the filming and the “original screenplay” of the movie after the filmed portions were cut or edited and re-mixed for final release. I have seven points I’ve come up with in my search for the ur text of Fantastic Beasts that I hope will be useful to serious readers of Rowling’s work in interpreting, speculating about, and in seeing the place of her screenwriting efforts in the context of her other writing. Advance to them by clicking on the Part 5 links below.

Unlocking Fantastic Beasts: Finding the Text Round Up

Part 5A: So What? The Found Text and Its Meaning

Part 5B: The Shooting Script — A Corrected Text for Serious Readers

Part 5C: Conclusions and Predictions














  1. waynestauffer says

    Congratulations on post #1600 and 10 years!

    I’m going to throw this out there because I’m not convinced yet…
    I say GG has not yet acquired the elder wand by this time in the storyline. Since he is in America, why would he need to hide it or change its appearance for these Yanks when they probably haven’t even heard of the European legend. I think his pride would motivate him to use it if he had it. So Newt’s disarming him at the end would not make Newt the new owner of the elder wand. I think one of the next films will have GG acquiring it. Yes, I know Harry saw a young man jump out the window of Gregorovich’s shop in the vision from Voldemort’s interrogation…maybe GG was using the disguise spell then, too…
    i understand the arguments that make the case for a disguised elder wand, but they seem too easy to me…the elder wand is so organic in appearance and Graves’s wand is so polished and obviously hand-tooled…but i will accept a convincing argument

  2. Why would he need to hide it or change [the Elder Wand’s] appearance for these Yanks when they probably haven’t even heard of the European legend. I think his pride would motivate him to use it if he had it.

    Gellert Grindelwald has assumed the identity of Percival Graves and must do everything in his power to deflect suspicion that Graves is ‘not himself.’

    Graves has a distinctive wand. It looks like a Gentlemen’s walking stick, i.e., nothing like the Elder Wand.

    A wizard’s wand is the single most self-identifying object a magical person owns.

    We have to date, after seven Wizarding World novels (to include a series finale largely turning on wand lore), two textbooks, and a book of fairy tales, never heard of or seen a description of a wand concealment charm or anything of the like. Recall the Hermione-Bellatrix-Polyjuice issue in Diagon Alley about the wand she’s carrying; it’s the first thing wizards check for as an ID and there doesn’t seem to be a way to disguise what you’re carrying.

    So — it seems plausible to me that Grindelwald is using Percival Graves’ wand. It makes his life simpler.

    But — it doesn’t really matter. If we allow that Grindelwald is a great wizard and is using the Elder Wand under a concealment charm of some kind, then this explains his great confidence in doing battle with six MACUSA Aurors in the subway. He’s unbeatable and knows it. Newt’s disarming him with a Beast and a light spell makes the Magizoologist Master of the Elder Wand, whether he is using the one or the other and that is the important point.

    Your point, if I understand it, is that Grindelwald has not yet won the Elder Wand, so Newt’s disarming him means nothing. You have no textual evidence for this just as those who assert he does have the wand, relying on ‘film canon,’ do not have a passage from a book they can cite about when he took the wand from Gregorovich.

    Until we learn when Grindelwald won the Elder Wand, then, we cannot say anything with a certainty greater than a conditional sentence. I like this one:

    “If Grindelwald has won possession of the Elder Wand before the events of ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ then Newt Scamander’s defeating and disarming him at that adventure’s end makes him the Elder Wand’s master.”


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