J.K. Rowling’s prequel to the Harry Potter series has strong political undertones. Its hero, Newt Scamander, arrives in New York City in 1926 after being expelled from the Hogwarts school of magic. He brings a case of strange animals and beasts. They soon escape, wreaking havoc in the city and leaving him with the difficult task of finding them. His struggle takes place in a tense society, divided between the Magical Congress of the USA and an organisation called the Second Salemers, who want to rid the city of warlocks and witches. Rowling’s work has gained particular attention in light of recent political events, not least the election of Donald Trump in the USA.
The dark wizard Grindelwald is rising to power in Europe. In America, the fierce, power-hungry Percival Graves is head of magical security. Mary Lou Barebone, leader of the Second Salemers, rules her movement — and her family — with an iron fist. How much do we have to fear from authoritarian figures? And how should society respond to them?
Trump & society: the great divider
Demagogue, bankrupt, misogynist, xenophobe. At least some of the time Donald Trump has been all of the above. How will this character, so different from Obama, affect the social fabric?
Korean dictator targets uncle in public purge
A North Korean politician who has stood at the side of the country’s tyrants for forty years has been denounced for ‘dreaming different dreams’. What does this reveal about the hermit state?
‘Tsar Vladimir’ launches a new cold war
While the world is distracted by Syria and the US election, Vladimir Putin has been quietly tightening his grip on world power. Some are now comparing him to Russia’s first great tsar.
Fear of persecution is rife in Fantastic Beasts. The film’s Second Salemers are determined to persecute wizards and witches. And they encourage the Muggles (or ‘No-Majes’) in America to fear the unknown. This leaves the magical community terrified of being discovered. Is there particular reason to worry about a surge in prejudice now? And what causes it?
Campaigners in the dock amid ‘surge’ in racism
There has been a rise in reported racist abuse and intimidation since the UK voted to leave the EU. Some blame campaigners, especially on the Leave side, for stirring tensions. Is this fair?
Europe’s right turn alarms political elites
It is just three years old. But Alternative für Deutschland has made the most significant gains of a far-right party in Germany since 1945. Can anything stop Europe’s nationalist surge?
‘Silenced voices’ live on in Holocaust survivors
Yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day. Yet every year, fewer and fewer people survive who remember the atrocities of World War Two. Here, we recount the story of one of them.
Newt Scamander arrives in New York carrying a briefcase bursting with mischievous magical creatures — unfortunately, they are outlawed by the US Magical Congress. But Newt wants to convince America that the creatures are not to be feared. Instead, he says, they should be protected and understood. In the Muggle world, issues of conservation are more important than ever.
‘Ban zoos!’ demand animal rights activists
When Harambe the gorilla was killed to protect a child who had fallen into his enclosure, there was global outrage. But as the grief fades, a new debate has arisen. Do we need zoos at all?
Giant pandas no longer endangered species
Everyone loves a panda. We have spent millions rescuing them and good news: it worked! But is this really conserving the planet — or creating a world in our own image and to our own taste?
Study suggests dolphins grieve for their dead
Most people think of social rituals like mourning as being unique to humans. But many studies now suggest that higher mammals also grieve. Are animals more like us than we think?
In a threatening situation Scamander’s friends help him to continue his quest. Pastry chef Jacob Kowalski and witch sisters Tina and Queenie Goldstein help him in his mission to find the escaped beasts. The group develops a camaraderie which helps them to deal with the threats they face. What role does friendship play in our lives, and what do healthy friendships look like?
Man’s best friend stars in anniversary Crufts
The world’s biggest dog show has begun in Birmingham. Its contestants’ bonds with their owners draw on millennia of evolution. But is it healthy for humans to own such an obedient animal?
Loneliness ‘epidemic’: modern life under fire
A BBC analysis last night exposed the rise of loneliness in Britain. Are technological, social and working changes making us isolated, or should we take more responsibility for ourselves?
Bold new app allows users to shun ‘friends’
Cloak, the latest app to cause a stir in the tech world, enables users to deliberately avoid people. Are social networks becoming more intelligent, or simply making us more antisocial?
Fantastic Beasts gives an insight into the world that preceded Harry Potter: one of witches, wizards and warlocks. Much of the tension within the film is the result of varied responses to these groups, with the No-Maj community particularly hostile to their practices. Why does the supernatural fascinate us? And is there anything to be scared of?
Jekyll and Hyde labelled ‘too scary’ for kids
Parents have complained that a new TV adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde will give young children nightmares. Based on a classic book, is this serious drama or gratuitous violence?
‘Embittered, anguished’ Macbeth hits cinemas
Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard star in a new, ‘stripped back’ film adaptation of Macbeth. The Scottish Play has bewitched audiences for centuries, so why is it still so powerful?
‘Halloween fun trivialises evil’ say Christians
Halloween spending in Britain this year will break all records. But there are still some, many of them devout Christians, who refuse to take part. Does the partying have sinister undertones?