Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay
J.K. Rowling

Publisher: Little, Brown
Publishing year:
2016
Pages: 294
ISBN: 9781408708989
Language: English
Genre: fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5

When the film of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was first announced, I was incredibly excited. I felt that making an original prequel set in the same world but at a different point in time with different characters was a very cool way to engage with the world of Harry Potter. Rowling has created a very rich world in her books, one that’s well worth revisiting.

Disclaimer: I’ve tried to keep this free of spoilers, but if you have yet to see the film or read the screenplay, read this at your own discretion. Some small spoilers might have slipped in by accident.

Before I get around to its contents, I want to say how beautiful this book looks. Of course, I love pretty covers and nice editions as much as the next person, but I especially like this one. The monotone colours, the beautiful font, the swirly patterns that include some of the fantastic beasts from the book…all of which give a 1920s feel as well. The prettiness doesn’t end with the cover, as the pages themselves also look wonderful. Scene dividers, pretty decorations at the page numbers…and occasionally you’ll find some illustrations of the various fantastic beasts present in the story. They’re not overly detailed, but they’re in the same style as the ones on the cover and they look lovely. Honestly, just the book’s aesthetics makes it worth to have it on your shelf.

Superficialities aside, let’s get to the plot. I had already seen the film before finally getting around to reading the screenplay, so this doesn’t bring anything new to the table. That should be obvious, because it’s a script, and it’s very loyal to the film (or would that be the other way around?). Still, it was fun to revisit the film this way and I’ve noticed some details I had initially missed while watching the film. Though the descriptions are nowhere as detailed as a novel would be, you still get a good sense of the scenery and the emotions the characters have throughout the story. Fantastic Beasts doesn’t take long to read through either; it took me two to three hours, though I’m a fairly fast reader.

The narrative itself is actually quite simple. Newt Scamander, an explorer and Magizoologist, arrives in New York City. However, his suitcase filled with magical creatures is displaced and he becomes involved in events that threaten to expose the American wizarding community to the No-Majs (Muggles). It was a joy to see (or read about) the magical creatures and the way magic is utilized in America and by Newt himself (especially his suitcase). Despite the narrative’s seeming simplicity, however, Rowling has also introduced some darker themes. Child abuse, the introduction of the Obscurus that was disturbing yet intriguing….all of this made Fantastic Beasts a bit more mature and compelling.

Newt is a very likable main character; socially awkward but lovable, and he goes to great lengths to keep the fantastic beasts he’s taking care of safe. There’s also Jacob, a No-Maj who becomes involved with the magical world — and his sense of wonder should be something relatable for every fan of the franchise. Finally there are the female characters: Tina and Queenie Goldstein. Queenie’s a treasure; though she initially seems ditzy, she’s an amazingly sweet and lovable character whose smarts and resourcefulness surprised me. I felt her sister Tina was a little bland unfortunately, but hopefully the future films (screenplays?) will flesh her out more. Seraphina seems very interesting as the president of the Magical Congress, but we have yet to see more of her. Percival Graves is also a very intriguing character, but saying more about him will result in spoilers. Finally, there is the tragic Credence Barebone, who needs a hug. Seriously.

If I had to give some points of critique, it would be that something more could have been done with Senator Shaw and his family. I felt they had a much bigger part to play than a mere plot device to make the wizarding community panic. I felt these characters could have caused to more tension, but ultimately they didn’t really deliver. The inclusion of more grey area in the characters also could have been interesting, but that might happen in the future films that include Grindelwald. Nonetheless, Fantastic Beasts certainly delivers on the magic that the original Harry Potter was known for. The film made for an enjoyable visit to a beloved world, and the screenplay is a wonderful way to revisit the film.

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