J.K. Rowling’s announcement that she would be adapting her 2001 book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Theminto a planned film trilogy was met with much excitement in Harry Potterfandom. However, on its own, the Fantastic Beasts book doesn’t have much of a narrative. Rather, it is a collection of magizoologist Newt Scamander’s descriptions of 85 different magical creatures encountered on five different continents during his broad travels.
Immediately, there were questions of what a film based on the book might look like. Now, we have an official plot synopsis for the prequel-like story: The Fantastic Beastsfilm will tell the story of Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) arrival in New York City in 1926. The British wizard is there to meet with a member of the Magical Congress, but when some of the magical creatures in his possession escape, he and some new American friends (including one Muggle — or, as we’re known in American English, No Majs) must save NYC from disaster and the wizarding community from ruin.
Fantastic Beastsrepresents a departure from many of the narrative elements that defined the Harry Potterstories. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is an intriguing choice given the budget that is presumably going into this film. Then again, if anything is a safe bet in this day and age, it’s something set in the Harry Potteruniverse that’s written by J.K. Rowling. (See also: The Cursed Child.) Here are a few big examples of the ways in which Fantastic Beastsdiverges from the other stories told thus far in the Harry Potter universe…
It’s a Period Drama
Fantastic Beaststakes place 70 years before the events of the Harry Potterbooks, which means that there will be very little opportunity for crossover potential between the two stories. Sure, Scamander is Luna Lovegood’s grandfather-in-law, but that’s not so much a crossover detail as a fun fact. There is talk that Albus Dumbledore could pop up at some point during the planned trilogy, but, thus far, that seems to be pure speculation.
Though there is little chance for crossover characters, Rowling has given herself a chance to explore what the evolution of wizarding society has looked like. The world of Harry Potterhas always felt old-fasioned in some ways, more steeped in tradition and institution than its ’90s-setting might suggest (admittedly, this is probably also the American in me talking). I’m curious to see how liberal the wizarding community of the time was. The 1920s were a period of immense social and political change — at least in the No Maj world. How will this play out in the magical community?
It’s Set in the United States
Perhaps even more intriguing than the decision to tell a Harry Potterstory set in the first half of the 20th century is the decision to set the tale not in the UK, where all of the other Harry Potterbooks and films have been set, but in the U.S. (perhaps a move to appeal to the franchise’s immense American following?). Sure, the main character is still British, but the other three protagonists are all American: Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterson), Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler).
The American setting will give Rowling a chance to explore the differences between the American and British wizarding communities in a way she never has within the Harry Potternovels. Though we get to meet the students and teachers of other European wizarding schools, there are very few mentions of American wizards in the seven Harry Potterbooks.
In Fantastic Beasts, we’ll not only hang out in wizarding NYC, but spend some time within the hallowed halls of the Magical Congress of the United States of America, which will give us a glimpse into the differences between its poliices and the policies of the Ministry of Magic. Hopefully, we will also learn a bit more about Ilvermorny, the North American wizarding school.
It’s a Story About Adults
Harry Potteris very much a coming-of-age tale, but Fantastic Beastshas four adults at its center.This will presumably result in less thematic emphasis on developing/discovering one’s identity and forming an understanding/opinion on contemporary cultural norms and expectations; this also leaves more time for other explorations.
We will hopefully better understand how life as an adult witch or wizard differs from life as a child/teenage witch or wizard. We got partial answers to this question through the supporting adult characters of the Harry Potterstories, but Fantastic Beastsoffers a much more focused opportunity to explore the lives and unique (or maybe not?) challenges of being an adult within the magical community.
It’s a Love Story
Though a love story element hasn’t been made explicit in the promotion of the Fantastic Beastsfilm thus far, we do know that two of the film’s four protagonists (Newt and Tina) will end up married at some point in the Harry Potteruniverse.
One can presume that this means Fantastic Beastswill present at least the beginning of a love story, an element that, while present in the Harry Potterbook and film stories, is not a major part until the later installments. (They were 11 in the first book. Again, having adults as your protagonists tends to inform a different narrative…)
It’s about the Relationship Between Wizards and No Majs
Though the Muggle community plays a role in the Harry Potterseries — most notably through the Dursley family — the Muggle community as a whole is merely something to be kept in the dark about the wizarding community. This secret is never seriously threatened, making the Muggle world a setting more than an active plot element.
Fantastic Beasts,on the other hand, seems much more interested in exploring the tensions between the wizarding and No Maj communities in New York. In fact, one of its four main characters is a No Maj: Jacob, an aspiring baker who seemingly wanders into the chaos Scamander’s escaped magical creatures have presented.
Furthermore, the main villainous force in the movie (or at least in the plot synopsis) is the New Salem Philanthropic Society, an extremist organization with a mission to eradicate all of wizard-kind. So far, the 1920s No Maj community seems much more dangerous than the 1990s Muggle commuity.
The Magic of Rowling
Of course, even with all of these narrative differences, Fantastic Beastshas the same author at its core — not to mention director David Yates, who helmed the last few Harry Potterfilms. For all of the ways in which Fantastic Beastsseems to be a departure from many of the narrative elements of the Harry Potterbooks and films, it will no doubt capture the imagination, wit, heart, and many of the same themes that make the Harry Potterfilm franchise so successful as a story… And, if it doesn’t, there’s always The Cursed Child.