Magic has come to America. WB’s latest wizarding franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, enters uncharted territory as its main character Newt Scamander makes his way from England to the new world. If any of this sounds unfamiliar, you’ve come to the right place. Building up to the fall release of this new installment, set 70 years before the series we know and love, WB and J.K. Rowling (via Pottermore) have released a great deal of information about the expanding universe of Harry Potter.
To this effort, Rowling released a short story series titled History of Magic in North America. Before there were the Harry Potter movies, she had already painstakingly built the world of her characters, down to the last detail. This time there was only the slim Fantastic Beasts charity textbook. So she followed the age old idiom: build it, and they will come. Going through the short stories and press and marketing material, we’ve come up with a list of helpful points to help set up the context of this new story and the artists behind it. Here are 13 Things You Need to Know About the World of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
13 A Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
Ever felt like the Harry Potter films simply didn’t understand aspects of the books they were adapted from? Well, good news! J.K. Rowling has stepped in for this new installment, taking over the screenwriting duties from Steve Kloves, who wrote 7 of the 8 entries in the original film series. This is a bold step forward for the author, who in the past has been content to take a backseat in the filmmaking process.
The challenge of adapting to the screenwriting format is a significant one, but if anyone is up to it, Rowling is. She has always been an incredibly visual writer, and the idea of her being more directly involved in crafting the images of a film within her wizarding sandbox is extremely exciting. Hopefully she brings the same fresh approach to filmmaking that she does to her books. If so, we may be in for one our best magical adventures yet!
12 Familiar Filmmakers
Though we are soon to be acquainted with a whole new world and set of characters, those working behind the camera aren’t changing as much. Longtime producer David Heyman remains on board to steer the franchise, while director David Yates will be adding on to his total of 4 Harry Potter films. For better or worse, this almost certainly assures that the new films aren’t going to make any radical changes to the tone or style of the previous ones.
Since Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Heyman has produced the blockbuster spectacle Gravity and the family friendly Paddington, among a variety of TV movies, while Yates has been relatively quiet with just a TV pilot and the yet to be released adventure film The Legend of Tarzan. Heyman has spoken of the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movie as being most similar in style to Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, which was actually directed by Mike Newell. More specifically, he described it as sharing certain elements of comedy and quirkiness, though accompanied by Yates’s approach of grounding these moments naturally in the story. Based on the trailer, we’re in for quite a bit of drama as well, so it’ll be interesting to see how they strike that balance. Either way, it’s clear the powers to be at WB believe in the tried and tested duo of Heyman and Yates; we’ll soon see if the audiences agree.
11 New Franchise Stars
A significant draw to the original Harry Potter films were the series’ main actors, young and old. Audiences were able to grow with Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, and their familiarity drove audience enthusiasm. That isn’t even mentioning the legendary older actors the franchise recruited, such as Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, and Ralph Fiennes, just to name a few. It seemed like there wasn’t a star actor too famous or well regarded for the films couldn’t land. The question then remains: will the new film (and possible future installments) reach that that incredible standard?
Though it might not match the Harry Potter films, the cast of Fantastic Beasts is definitely nothing to turn your nose at. It struck gold with its casting of the incredibly talented Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne as the main character Newt Scamander. He’s a very strong choice to carry the franchise forward. Joining him are the equally well regarded likes of Colin Farrell, Ron Perlman, Jon Voight, and Ezra Miller, just to name a few. Following the trend of the earlier series, the cast also includes successful but lesser known actors such as Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler and Carmen Ejogo.
10 Who is Newt Scamander?
Though he is described in the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them book, many die hard Harry Potter fans themselves might be scratching their heads over who our new protagonist is. Thankfully, however, by revisiting the book and reading the information released so far by the film, we can get a good idea of who Newt Scamander is. He is certainly grounded in the original series, as the titular book was a required textbook for all Hogwarts students, and he is a famously known figure in that world.
Scamander’s love for magical creatures was developed early on, as he was strongly influenced by his mother’s breeding of Hippogriffs. He attended Hogwarts as a Hufflepuff before joining the Ministry of Magic’s Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, first in the Office for House-Elf Relocation and then the Beast Division. He was later commissioned by Obscurus Books to write a book about magical creatures, and he travelled the world gathering and documenting these beasts. After completing his travels, he comes to New York before returning home. It is here that we join him on his adventures.
9 Filming in England
Though there has been much talk about the wizarding world coming to America, the truth is that the film production itself will not take a step outside of the U.K. Most of their work will be done at Warner Bros. Leavesden Studios in southeast England, and the only publicly known shooting location outside of the studio is St.George’s Hall in Liverpool. While it might be a nice added touch to at least film a scene or two in America, WB seems to be more comfortable keeping the franchise running in England. Since this is a period film, traditionally the sets would have been built anyway rather than using pre-existing locations, so it could be argued that the country it’s filmed in matters less.
Films are often shot in countries other than the ones they're supposed to be taking place in, a recent example being The Great Gatsby. They made the decision to shoot the iconic New York tale in Australia. Though the film had its faults, the production design and location certainly wasn’t one of them. The visuals were stunning. So fear not, Fantastic Beasts similarly has a stellar team of artists. Stuart Craig, production designer of the entire Harry Potter series, is back, and the sets from what can be seen so far look stunning. Quality aside, it’ll be interesting to find out whether or not visually this film will be visually distinctive from the Potter films, since it seems they’re staying in their wheelhouse.
8 Native American Wizards
Wizards knew of the new world long before Christopher Columbus, apparently. In History of Magic in North America: Fourteenth Century-Seventeenth Century, Rowling tells us about the Native Americans and those in Europe that were in contact with them prior to the colonies. No different than in Europe, there were all magical families, and also wizards born into non magical families. Rowling says that many Native wizards were even accepted or even held in high regards, while others were cast aside as being cursed.
A notable difference is that, unlike Europeans, Native Americans didn’t use wands to produce magic. Some notable witches and wizards were known for their healing, hunting, plant and animal magic. Also, there were a number of Animagi in their communities; they were legends called “Skin Walkers,” who could transform into animal form, and were believed to be evil magicians. In truth, most had to use their powers to avoid persecution.
It’ll be interesting to see if/how Native Americans will impact the Fantastic Beasts story. So far, this has been the most controversial addition to the Harry Potter universe by Rowling. Some felt that their addition came off as cultural appropriation. It’s a bit early to make assumptions about how the Native Americans will be depicted in this new franchise though, so we're going to hold off jumping the gun on this one.
Every great story needs a villain. The Harry Potter series had the Death Eaters and Fantastic Beasts will have Scourers. They are described by Rowling in Seventeenth Century and Beyond as “the most dangerous problem” facing newly arrived wizards to America. Early on in the colonies, there wasn’t a well organized policing or law enforcement of the magical community, so Scourers were borne from opportunity. They were mercenaries who didn’t just target criminals, but also anyone worth gold. Brutal and cruel, the group was formed of many different foreign nationals.
These Scourers had a lot of authority, and used every tool in the book to advance their goals. Lustful for power, they would tracks wizards and No-Majs (America’s word for muggle) alike. Rowling describes them as enjoying bloodshed and torture, and willing to pass off non magical people as wizards in order to collect a reward. To sum up, these Scourers sound a whole lot like the Death Eaters of the new world, only their motives don’t come from the ideology of racial purity, but from greed.
6 The Significance of the Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials have been incorporated into Rowling's world, and they apparently changed America for witches and wizards forever. Firstly, it caused the population to dwindle and not just because of the loss of life: it led some to either flee or not immigrate to the country in the first place. Because of this, Rowling writes, there were far fewer magical families in America than Europe, Asia and Africa. Pure blood families, informed of the ongoings in the new world, naturally chose not to come. Because of this, there was instead a higher percentage of witches and wizards born into non magical families. The result here being that there wasn’t as much of a pureblood ideology in America as there was in Europe.
Given that these events took place in 1692-1693, the question remains how this will affect the world or events of the Fantastic Beasts film which takes place in 1926. Based on these events, we can assume that the wizarding community will be more diverse than it has been in the past, albeit significantly smaller in size. Also, the battle lines that are drawn amongst wizards and between wizards and muggles will have their roots here.
5 Magical Congress of America
One of the most significant reactions to the Salem Witch Trials was the creation of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) in 1693. Rowling notes this as being the first public entity governing the wizarding community living amongst their non magical neighbors. Basically, laws and regulations were created for daily life. Still, the first task for MACUSA was to find and put on trial Scourers who betrayed their fellow witches and wizards. The punishment for some of their most heinous acts was execution, interestingly enough.
With MACUSA hot on their tails, many Scourers fled or went underground. Some married into No-Maj families, where magical children were unfavored in their efforts to avoid discovery. What Rowling makes sure to note though, is that these Scourers made sure to pass on the knowledge that magic is real. This explains why No-Maj’s are more aware of wizarding folk than Muggles usually are, and this therefore greatly affects how the population is governed. That is an interesting difference from the original Harry Potter series, and opens up a whole series of possibilities. It seems that non-magical characters will hold far greater roles in this franchise.
4 Rappaport’s Law
Love can be a troublesome thing. In this latest short story installment, Rowling tells us of how in the late eighteenth century, a young witch and student of the wizarding school of Ilvermorny named Dorcus Twelvetrees fell in love with a non magical man whose name was Bartholomew Barebone. What Dorcus didn’t know, of course, was that he was a descendant of Scourers. She thought his interest in her magic was infatuation, and therefore thoughtlessly revealed information about MACUSA, Ilvermorny and International Confederation of Wizard, and their methods of governing.
Bartholomew, Rowling continues, stole Dorcus’ wand and set out to kill as many witches and wizards as he could. He even notified fellow No-Majs about the locations of magical families. His campaign ended however when he mistook a group of No-Majs for MACUSA workers, and attacked them. He was then arrested and locked away by local officials. Unfortunately though, the damage was done.
This all lead to the 1790 instituting of Rappaport’s Law, created by then-MACUSA President Emily Rappaport. It strongly enforced segregation between the magical and non magical communities. Under this legislation, there was to be no befriending or marrying of No-Majs by wizards. Fraternization was not allowed and communication was to be limited to what was involved with daily tasks. By the time Fantastic Beasts rolls around, wizards will have gone as underground as they’ve ever been in the world. They will be fiercely protective of their privacy. Surely that will be a significant factor in setting the stakes, when a whole host of magical creatures are released in New York City.
3 Wand Permit Required
While witches and wizards lived in secrecy, this didn’t stop them from assimilating into society. They even took part in WWI, aiding their compatriots. However, Rowling states, none of these efforts softened the regulations of the MACUSA. In fact, their resolve remained as strong as ever. In the 1920s, amongst other enforcements, they continued to stiffly penalize those who broke the International Statute of Secrecy. Not only did they maintain this legislation, they continued to look for ways to further their goals of governing the wizarding community. This led to the creation of a required Wand Permit.
All witches and wizards were required to carry a wand permit with them at all times. This was so the MACUSA could keep track of magical activity and identify the “perpetrators” of crimes by their wands. There is a strong comparison to be had here between this requirement and those who argue for stiffer gun regulation in this country. The possible storylines that could arise from this comparison are endless. Will there be illegal wand carriers? Will wand permits help to keep wands out of the wrong hands? Who enforces this requirement and how does it affect crime on a daily basis? Regardless of the answers to those questions, this issue will surely come up in the upcoming film and should help make it more relatable for audiences. Buckle up for some magical social commentary, folks.
2 Wandmakers in North America
Sadly, Americans won’t get their wands from Ollivander’s shop in Diagon Alley. They will, however, have a plethora of options. In 1920s Wizarding America J.K. Rowling describes the four great wandmakers that serve the new world. They seem to be as diverse and quirky as Ollivander, befitting their unique role in the wizarding world.
First, there is Shikobe Wolfe, a wandmaker of Choctaw (a Native American nation) descent. She is famous for her wands of intricate designs, carrying Thunderbird tail feathers. They’re said to be very powerful but hard to master. Second, we have Johannes Jonker, a No-Maj-born wizard whose father was a cabinet maker. He’s self taught, his wands typically have a mother-of-pearl inlay and Wampus cat hair core. Thirdly, is Thiago Quintana, who is known for his sleek, elegant, and lengthy wands, whose core was made of the translucent spine from the back of the White River Monsters of Arkansas. Lastly, the New Orleans wandmaker Violetta Beauvais, whose wands are made from swamp mayhaw. The core, Rowling writes, comes from the hair of the rougarou, a dog headed monster whose habitat was the Louisiana swamps. These wands are said to be more frequently used amongst those who practice Dark Arts.
To put it simply, the wands in this new franchise will all have character. As the original Harry Potter movies went on, audiences could see the filmmakers get more elaborate with the wand designs and taking great efforts to make sure they relate to the individual characters. It’s clear through Rowling’s writing that this trend will continue. We can expect a very fun and eclectic set of wands, all helping to further enlighten us on the witch or wizard who carries each one.
1 Prohibition Doesn’t Apply To Wizards
A true gem of the History of Magic in North America series is the brief description by Rowling of Prohibition in the 1920s Wizarding America section. Apparently, unlike their No-Maj counterparts, they were allowed by MACUSA to consume alcohol. Critics said that this didn’t help their efforts of secrecy, given that there would be drunk witches and wizards surrounded by sober No-Majs. There is so much great comedic material to be mined here. The wizarding community has always been filled with many quirky types, but add alcohol to the mix in the roaring twenties, and things are going to get interesting. At least, within what’s appropriate for a family audience.
Responding to critics at the time, Rowling writes that the MACUSA President Picquery replied that “being a wizard in America was already hard enough.” It seems as if Prohibition never had a chance in the magical community. As Picquery said to her Chief of Staff, “the Gigglewater is here to stay.” Hopefully this entertaining sublot is strongly featured in the new movie, or at the very least we get to hear someone call alcohol Gigglewater, which is an outstanding new nickname for alcohol.
Did we miss anything? Please let us know what you think audiences should keep in mind for the next wizarding installment in the comments section. In a few months time, we’ll be entering a bold new world of magic together — hopefully it’ll entice our imaginations just as much as the last one.