Questions I Have After Watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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.)

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  1. 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a lot of historical fiction, it’s that all the good people in the past had Correct Modern Ideas and only bad guys held Outdated Notions.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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.)
  11. 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!)
  12. 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.

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11 comments on “Questions I Have After Watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

  1. Steve says:

    Speaking of problematic ideas not disputed by our protagonists, MACUSA apparently practices summary execution on a regular basis. So Tina, our charming lead, has sent multiple people to die without trial, and will apparently continue to do so now that she’s been reinstated as an Auror. I feel like this is a typical Rowling move: heroes become aware of systemic injustice, do nothing about it. (Like the Hogwarts house system.)

    Perhaps the physiological difference between wizards and muggles is an effect, not a cause? That is to say, a wizard’s body has had magical energies passing through it their entire life, causing (apparently beneficial) mutations, in this case, resistances to magical phenomena.

    The real question is why does Grindelwald choose to look like Johnny Depp with really awful hair when he can look like Colin Farrell, or at least the guy with reasonable hair he was in Deathly Hallows flashbacks? Seriously, that transformation was just goofy.

    (Dumbledore’s mom is named Kendra!?)

    • I agree about the physiological differences being an effect. After all, wizards in the books seem to sustain a lot more physical trauma than would be normal for a Muggle. See: Neville bouncing when defenestrated as a child. Or that a car crash couldn’t possibly kill Lily and James. Something about just *being* magical seems to impart some kind of physical resilience to a person.

    • C says:

      Oh man, you’re right! I thought about the execution thing too! They have this whole chamber always at the ready and like, soothing ward sisters of death on hand at all times? SO MESSED UP. And I thought Azkaban was cruel and unusual punishment!

      Interesting theory re: mutations. Not beneficial though, right? Didn’t he say that a wizard having an adverse reaction would be spouting fire out of their rear end?

      And OH MY GOSH Johnny Depp was the single biggest glaring flaw in this movie, to my mind. I didn’t have a question about it, I just hated it.
      1) The books describe Grindelwald as very handsome.
      2) I hate that we’re associating physical difference (albinism?) yet again with evil.
      3) He looked cartoonish and ridiculous. It makes the evil he represents (totalitarianism, bigotry, oligarchy, eugenics) seem fantastical and silly instead of real and contemporary. That is crap.

  2. I was pretty bothered by the ending. Not just erasing Jacob’s memories, but also because the main characters aren’t upset AT ALL that the President of US Witches & Wizards effectively ordered the killing of a CHILD. (I mean, I don’t think Credence is actually dead. But the characters certainly should think so, right?) Particularly since a second before they were desperately trying to save him!

    When we left the theater, Steve mentioned that it was typical of a Harry Potter story, in that at the end the status quo was reestablished, without actually addressing any of the larger societal problems that led to the problems in the first place.

    • C says:

      Ooohh, you don’t think Credence is dead? It never occurred to me to question that. Why not?

      And, I don’t know, I think if he was an actual teenager and not a dude in his mid-twenties with a bad haircut designed yet failing to make him look younger, I’d have been more troubled by the “they ordered the death of a child!” thing. But yes, as Steve also pointed out above, there’s plenty to be troubled by in MACUSA’s methods.

      I don’t think the books never address larger societal problems so much as that, perhaps, they aren’t invested in showing system change (or don’t want to glamorize what a hard, achingly slow process it is). But I agree they have a tendency to end with characters reinforcing the status quo in disappointing ways.

      • I am not sure that I have a good reason. I just felt like his storyline–and his sisters’–didn’t have a satisfying ending. Also, they didn’t show the body? I don’t know, I could be wrong.

        What the heck happened to his sisters, anyway?

  3. Thomas Jones says:

    According to the book this was based on, the standards can be a bit arbitrary.Some creatures like gnomes can talk, but they are too dumb to say much so they are listed as beasts.Some creatures like sphinxes can talk and are smart but they are so murderous and violent they are listed as beasts. Centaurs and mermaids demanded to be listed as beasts, because they were offended that vampires and hags (who are also murderous and violent, but can fit into human society more easily than sphinxes) were listed as beings.

  4. mythicalbrit says:

    I still have to read through the comments, so maybe someone already addressed this one, but basically the only big question I have any kind of plausible theory about is no. 11. The obliviating rain was created from a beast’s venom, rather than a spell, so its effects might be different from the customary Obliviation spell. Although they all just sort of assumed it wouldn’t affect Wizards, which is weird because it was experimental.

  5. mythicalbrit says:

    Also, I cannot get behind ‘Nomaj.’ It sounds awful. I liked the idea of dialectical differences in vocabulary, but seriously…wicked lame.

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