Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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.

Authoritarianism

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?

Prejudice

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?

Animals

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.

Friendship

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?

The supernatural

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?