Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — Before Harry Potter, There Was Newt Scamander
In the summer of 1997, a book entitled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by a then-unknown writer named J.K. Rowling, was first published. With the words, “You’re a wizard, Harry,” it ushered us into a magical realm that soon became known as the wizarding world. And our world would never be the same.
Through seven best-selling books and eight blockbuster films, millions of people around the globe have been captivated by the stories of Harry Potter and his friends as they came of age and took us all on thrilling, magical adventures. Favorite characters like Harry, Hermione, Dumbledore, and even He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named became instant contemporary icons, and words like Muggle, Quidditch, and Hogwarts were embedded in our cultural lexicon.
Now, almost two decades after the arrival of J.K. Rowling’s first history-making book, audiences will be transported back to the wizarding world in a new era of magic in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
Although “Fantastic Beasts” unfolds in an entirely different time and place, it has an organic connection to Harry Potter, as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was one of Harry’s textbooks at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. J.K. Rowling, who made her screenwriting debut on the film and also served as a producer, recalls that she initially brought the primer into being as a project for charity. “During the writing of that book,” she says, “I became interested in its ostensible author, Newt Scamander, and he took on quite a bit of life for me. So I was very enthusiastic when the studio came to me and said they wanted to make it into a movie because I already had the back story in my mind and it just so happened that they’d optioned the very thing I was most interested in. And I knew if it were to happen, I would have to write it because I know too much about Newt to let someone else do it.”
Set in 1926, the film’s story brings the self-proclaimed Magizoologist to life before he had written the textbook that would someday be required reading at his alma mater, Hogwarts. Coming to the end of a journey that took him to far-flung lands in search of magical creatures, Newt arrives in New York, where the escape of his precious beasts sweeps him into a chain of events that threatens to reveal the wizarding community, which hides in plain sight amongst the No-Majs.
Found within the tale are other, albeit more subtle, links to J.K. Rowling’s previous works. Producer David Heyman, who also produced all eight of the “Harry Potter” films, confirms that amidst the magic and fun, are concepts that have become hallmarks of her writing. “Many of the underlying themes of the Potter books are in evidence here: the virtue of tolerance in contrast to the dangers of intolerance and repression; being true to who you are; outsiders coming together and connecting… There is an emotional universality and relevance to those ideas that are utterly relatable to people across the globe. The beasts may be in the title, but it’s the humans who are the heart of the story.”
Regarding J.K. Rowling’s writings, director David Yates observes, “There is a grace and humanity in Jo’s characters…a celebration of being who you are without apology, and not overly trying to conform or hide your potential to be everything you can be. She cherishes individuality.”
“My heroes are always people who have the courage to say, ‘I see how it is, but it doesn’t have to be that way,’” Rowling asserts. “They are the ones willing to ask, ‘Why is it this way?’”
Rowling also appreciated that Steve Kloves, who had scripted the “Potter” films, came on board for “Fantastic Beasts” as a producer. “I wanted Steve involved because—having never written a screenplay before—I knew I would need some guidance,” she says. “Just having him there for advice was huge.”
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” opens nationwide November 17 in 2D and 3D in select theatres and IMAX, and is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.