C: Since I saw this movie yesterday, my brain’s been aswirl with pressing questions, like a dark smoky cloud with random flashes in it. Short of twitterbombing J.K. Rowling, this post seemed like the best way to alleviate that pressure.
Advanced Warning: all I’ve got here are questions, not answers, so buckle up for some heavy mental turbulence. (No, I’m not bothering with a spoiler warning. If you wanted to avoid spoilers, why did you even click on a post with this title? That one’s on you.)
- Is this business about “physiological differences” between wizards and Muggles* (a) straight-up midichlorian bullcrap, or (b) faulty 1920s wizard science? I’d like B to be correct as I don’t see how it makes any sense, what with Muggleborns being a thing, and since the idea that wizards are a slightly different species sounds straight out of a Grindelwald or Voldemort propaganda poster. But, if I’ve learned anything from reading and watching a lot of historical fiction, it’s that all the good people in the past had Correct Modern Ideas and only bad guys held Outdated Notions. Newt’s the one who says this, so that’s unfortunately a point for Explanation A.
- Is being a Legilimens like being a Metamorphmagus? In other words, is it a special skill you can be born with, that other wizards can use spellwork to approximate? That’s the best explanation I could come up with for why Queenie could just read people’s minds — sometimes could not help reading minds — even though in the books, Legilimency was presented as a thing you do with a wand and an incantation.
- Why Newt Scamander so bad at catching (and keeping) fantastic beasts? I mean, I get that this is the driving plot of the movie, but seriously. He is the Beasts Guy. He literally wrote (or will write) the book on them. He should probably have a case with locks that work. He should probably not be climbing a chandelier to chase a niffler instead of using his dang wand.
- Speaking of fantastic beasts: at what point does their intelligence make them not so much beasts as people? I’m thinking particularly of bowtruckles here, since Newt has several conversations with the one who spends most of the movie in his pocket. In the original Fantastic Beasts textbook, Rowling mentions a few that talk, IIRC. How is intelligence measured in this world? At what point does a “beast” or “creature” qualify for status as a non-human people group e.g. centaurs, goblins, or mermaids? Or is there even a legal distinction there? This whole gray area is so rife with potential problems and abuses! (Update: This is addressed at length in the introduction to the original Fantastic Beasts publication from 2001. Yay, answers! Short version: it’s complicated.)
- Speaking of which, what is the deal with goblins in this movie? For starters, I’m not 100% sure who was a goblin and who wasn’t (the nightclub singer, for instance?). But I’m pretty sure the shady nightclub owner was a goblin, keeping up the pattern that all goblins Rowling’s characters have dealings with turn out to shady backstabbers. So they’re a race of gold-loving shady backstabbers? Problematic, Rowling.
- Was that elevator operator a free house elf? Because he was definitely wearing a snazzy little uniform — a.k.a. clothes. I sort of love the idea that maybe there is a free elf community in 1920s New York, but I also wonder if it was just a mistake (or he was another species). We only got a quick glimpse.
- Was Ariana Dumbledore an Obscurial? I went back and reread the relevant section of Deathly Hallows and it seems possible, though she only started repressing her powers after being attacked by Muggles. She was 14 when she accidentally killed her mother** which would make her older than the recorded Obscurials mentioned in Fantastic Beasts, but they kept her condition a secret so that doesn’t mean she wasn’t.
- Can adult wizards stop using their powers? Is the Obscurus only something that happens if you are a kid and prone to uncontrolled magical outbursts? The only case in point I can think of is Merope, and she died, but more of childbirth and being sad I think, so that doesn’t really prove anything.
- How is there only one wizarding school for all of North America? You think Hogwarts has staffing problems — just try hiring professors for a school with 10,000 teen wizards.
- Were they making a statement by having the two leads be so awkward? Whether it’s how the parts were written, or how Eddie Redmayne (Newt) and Katherine Waterston (Tina) acted and were directed, both came across as extremely socially awkward, timid, and just odd. Obviously this wasn’t by accident, but I’m wondering about the purpose behind this atypical choice. Was this a way of differentiating them from the original, confident and extroverted HP trio? Or going even further, a kind of “awkward people can be heroes too” message? (Like, “what if Neville and Luna were the stars of HP?” If so, props because that sounds great.)
- Why did the rain only affect Jacob when he stepped out in it, while seeming to work on people just looking out the window? If only people who touched the rainwater had their memories wiped, MACUSA would still have a pretty big problem on their hands at the end of the movie. (Also, what about government wizards who were out in the rain? Wizards aren’t immune to Obliviation!)
- Related: Why the heck did they let Jacob erase his memories? When you see injustice, you don’t just say “okay, I guess that’s how it’s got to be.” Newt has already established that he thinks the New Yorkers have a backwards attitude toward No-majs. The sisters clearly came around to this viewpoint. We know that in Britain, some Muggles are allowed to know about the wizarding world (family of Muggleborns, romantic partners, etc.). I always hate the fantasy trope of “now you must forget the magic thing, or your humdrum life will be ruined,” but here it literally feels like kowtowing to bigotry!
As I hope is already clear to those who know me, I truly enjoyed this movie. But these questions need answers. And no, I will not just go look it up on Pottermore. It’s time for some old-fashioned close reading and theory-spinning, people!
*I’m going to keep calling them Muggles unless I need to refer to the U.S. wizards’ attitude towards non-magical people, because at this point I just can’t get used to “No-maj.”
**Dumbledore’s mom: one of the thousands of Victorian women named Kendra. Um, sure, Rowling.