Let’s first be clear on what this is. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay, by J.K. Rowling is not a novel. It’s not even a play, in the tradition of so many great writers before her. It is, in fact, a screenplay. (There is also a book by almost the exact same title, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamanader, by J.K. Rowling, that is a totally different–ahem–beast. It is more appropriate for fanatics and collectors, and was made originally for charity purposes.) Most of us are not accustomed to reading screenplays, although one could argue that it could become the thing, like reading old plays. But for now, this book is just the bound copy of the screenplay for a movie which was just released. A movie which has high ratings, and which is supposed to be the first of seven [correction: five] in the series.
It is also a part of the magical world of Harry Potter. It does not, however, involve Harry Potter (as it takes place before his birth), or even the age group that we are accustomed to in Harry Potter. Nor does it take place in England or in the world of wizarding schooling. So, while it is the same world, it does not have a familiar tone or even, really, subject matter. This screenplay is about adults, with more adult scenarios. And it focuses on America. As American as I am, I am hoping we follow Scamander back to England for the rest of the series.
This makes—and it is not the first time—a bit of awkward for Rowling, jumping around from one audience to another, but with so many stragglers it becomes embarrassing. What I mean is, kids will want to delve into the world of Fantastic Beasts, just as they did with (aw-kward) Cuckoo Calling, and found they had been left behind. (Okay, so most kids didn’t read Cuckoo Calling, but they lamented it.) There are a couple young characters in Fantastic Beasts, but they are more peripheral and, as I said before, this is meant for an adult audience. Perhaps Rowling is arching with the age of her original audience, as she did with the Harry Potter series? Maybe. But that still leaves many of her current readers waiting to grow up, in order for the new series to relate to them.
Now, those are definitely the big problems with this series. 1) You could just go see the movie, which most people will do. 2) It is a screenplay, not a novel. (I so desperately wanted her to release them like novels, then follow up with the movies.) 3) It is intended for a different age audience and has a different feel from Harry Potter.
And 4) Unless I’m mistaken, their continuation hangs completely on box office numbers.
But let’s turn ‘round here and face the sun. Because, with all my feet-stomping and whining that this series isn’t Harry Potter, there is so much sun to face.
The screenplay is really good. It moves way faster than a novel, obviously, so you just don’t get Rowling’s wonderful character development, but you do get a story. And what a story it is. There were times when I thought, Well, this is going to be boring. But there was always a twist coming up to spice up the narrative and appease me until the next one. And—for such limited time with the author—her characters do get more fleshing out than a less-deft artist would be able to accomplish.
I was happy—once again—to place myself in Rowling’s hands and trust that she would tell me a good story and make me fall in love with the people who were with me. Her no-nonsense and clean writing is perfect for not distracting from her story-telling. (In fact, I think this is getting better with time.) Because of everything Rowling brings to the literary table, one of her greatest gifts is enjoyment.
It’s magical, it’s imaginative, and if you thought she had run out of ideas with Potter, you were mistaken. She just keeps them coming. I was thinking that she had all these American ideas going on when she was writing Potter, and now she gets to use them. What would the magical world be like, 70 years earlier and across the ocean? There might be other places and times she is just dying to explore, next.
I could agree with a critic somewhere that complained that the characters where more caricatures, as if someone had only ever seen goofy movies of 1920s America. This applies—I believe—also to the accents in the movie, but it is also there in the screenplay. However, weren’t Harry and the rest sort of caricatures of a British boarding school, at least until they weren’t any longer? It’s what will become of these endearing people that I will wait to see. And they did certainly grow on me, even though a novel would have done the job more thoroughly.
The physical book is also worth mentioning. It is really nice. Pretty. Artistic. Full of stylistic sketches depicting many of the animals from the story. Great font choices and the text looks great on the page. (The only problem with all this, is that the book could be 100 pages shorter if some of the spacing or sketches were reigned in.) I would anticipate that the soft cover will be very similar.
Off to see the movie.
I read the hard cover version of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay, by J.K. Rowling and illustrated my Minalima. It was published by Arthur A. Levine Books in 2016.
I have not had the opportunity yet to go and see the movie. I would love to see it in the theater, but I may just be waiting until it is available for streaming. I will review it once I see it. (Note: Newt Scamander is way handsomer than I had imagined him, and perhaps better looking than is good for him.)