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FANTASTIC BEAST & WHERE TO FIND THEM LP Paperback – November 18, 2016
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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About the Author
J.K. Rowling is the author of the bestselling Harry Potter series of seven books, published between 1997 and 2007, which have sold over 450 million copies worldwide, are distributed in more than 200 territories and translated into 79 languages, and have been turned into eight blockbuster films by Warner Bros. She has written three companion volumes to the series in aid of charity: Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in aid of Comic Relief; and The Tales of Beedle the Bard in aid of her children's charity Lumos. Her website and e-publisher Pottermore is the digital hub of the Wizarding World. She has recently collaborated with writer Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany on the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts Parts One and Two, which is now running at The Palace Theatre in London s West End. J.K. Rowling is also the author of a novel for adult readers, The Casual Vacancy, and, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, is the author of three crime novels featuring private detective Cormoran Strike, which are to be adapted for BBC television. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks J.K. Rowling's screenwriting debut."
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This particular cast of characters was a pleasure to get to know. I loved seeing Muggles other than the Dursleys in the wizarding world. There's Newt Scamander, a magic zoologist, dorky and loveable. There's Jacob Kowalski, a bumbling Muggle caught up in the mess, learning about the magical world as we do. And then there are Tina and Queenie, beautiful, talented, charming and kindhearted sisters, stuck in menial positions in the wizarding world and wanting more.
This screenplay is wonderful because we get to visit the rich detailed wizarding world again. It was wonderful to see the magical creatures Harry learned about on the written page again. It was wonderful feeling that sense of anticipation opening a new Rowling novel again knowing you won't be able to do anything but read for the next 8 hours. The play was fun, witty, and just brilliant. The hardcover copy is beautiful and will go well with my hardcover copies of the original HP series. I would definitely recommend this book to new HP readers and Potterheads alike.
The central figure in FB is Newt Scamander, but the larger story appears to be focused on the conflict between Gellert Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore. How exactly will Newt fit into this story in the future installments is unclear. In the first FB story, he is the one who subdues Grindelwald with the aid of his magical creature.
At the core, JK Rowling's books are detective novels, even if they convey some social, psychological, and spiritual messages. As in the HP books, we are led to suspect someone (here, Modesty as the Obscurus or Obscurial child), only to be proven wrong in the end. Yet, when you contemplate the story line, you will find that Credence had a reason to hold a grudge against Senator Shaw (whom the Obscurus murders). As usual, we have a final battle scene after which we come to a "full" understanding of the events. That is, full for the current installment of the series. In the first installment, the surprise at the end of the story is that Percival Graves was in fact Grindelwald in disguise. As per usual in the HP universe, for the final battle, the protagonist has to descend to the underworld (symbolized here by a subway station).
The surprise ending, however, was alluded to throughout the story. The opening scene is about Grindelwald's evil magic and its press coverage. It had to be tied in somehow with the main story line. As widely known, JK Rowling chooses the names of her characters to convey meaning (and often double meaning). There was a reason that Grindelwald used the alias of Percival Graves (Dumbledore's full name is Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore). Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald had a close, intense, but brief friendship in their late teens (Rowling spilled the beans many years ago that this was a gay relationship). In spite of the break up, Grindelwald apparently retained feelings for Dumledore, which is indicated not only by his choice of alias, but also by his thinly veiled jealousy when learning that Dumbledore had shown fondness for Newt Scamander at Hogwarts. Newt suspects Graves when Graves deems the Obscurus in Newt's suitcase "useless" (a Grindelwaldish approach), and tries to find out about Graves' background from the goblin Gnarlak who deems the inquiry perilous. In a scene, Graves gives a necklace with a pendant to Credence. Credence is supposed to touch the pendant to summon Graves when he found the Obscurus child. The pendant is the symbol of the Deathly Hallows. However, in the HP series, the Bulgarian quidditch player Krum knew it only as "Grindelwald's mark." Thus, there were several hints throughout the story about Graves' true identity.
Given the time line of the intended FB series, it is likely to end with the duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald in 1945, and allegory of WWII events (Allied victory over Nazi Germany). Another interesting aspect is that the story begins at the time of Voldemort's birth (ultimately, Voldemort murders an already imprisoned Grindelwald in HP7). There are no coincidences in Rowling's stories.
Rowling's recurrent themes include social issues, such as discrimination and bigotry. In FB, the twist on this theme is Mary Lou's character, a "Second Salemer." The Salem Witch Trials are among the embarrassing events in American history, truly showing backwards mentality and bigotry. The irony is that the "Second Salemers" are correct (according to the story): there are witches among us. Yet, in spite of being right about the fact, Mary Lou is a morally flawed character who abuses children (a tip of the hat to Dickens's stories, as well as to the HP books: Voldemort grew up in an orphanage, HP as an orphan was abused by his aunt and uncle). Mary Lou's character with her fondness for punishments reminds me of Dolores Umbridge.
Another recurring theme in Rowling's writings is the symbolic trinity. Like the Tale of the Three Brothers, we have three adopted children under Mary Lou's supervision: Credence, Chastity, and Modesty, and the youngest one is (probably) the only survivor among them. Their names indicate allegory. There is also a trio of characters (Newt, Tina, and Queenie) with a sidekick (Jacob), similar to the trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione with Neville as a sidekick. Newt's character has elements that echo Hagrid's: a fondness of dangerous (and other) magical creatures, being expelled from Hogwarts, and having Dumbledore's support who had disagreed with them being expelled. Newt's background includes a doomed love affair with Leta Lestrange (presumably a family member of Bellatrix Lestange's husband of the HP series). It is evident that Newt is more comfortable around his magical creatures and in his suitcase than around people and in the outside world. There is some budding romance between Newt and Tina, hampered by Leta's memory and Newt's awkwardness around people.
Jacob Kowalski (whose initials probably coincide with Rowling's) is an unlikely hero in the story. What makes him lovable is his honesty (the legilimens Queenie would instantly recognize dishonesty, and she finds Jacob's honesty attractive) and openness. At the end of the story, we see him in his bakery, and obviously the "obliviation" did not fully work on him. Thus, he bakes pastry in the shape of the magical creatures he encountered throughout the story and finds Queenie familiar upon entering his store. Good or bad, the magical creatures will become merchandise also in our real life stores (action figures, plush toys, etc.), and I can see Kowalski Bakery opening a branch at Universal Studios' HP World in the near future, where we can buy the pastries seen in the movie. In that sense, the movie is a commercial for the new merchandise...
Rowling's magical universe always has some cross references to our "muggle world." One of these is a political dimension. In the UK, there was a Ministry of Magic. Its counterpart in the USA is the Magical Congress of the USA, or MACUSA for short (it sounds like Medusa). Interestingly, Rowling made these administrative entities very different from those in the muggle world. For example, the court system is not independent of the executive branch both in the UK (HP books) and in the USA (FB). And the head of the Congress (which is supposed to be the legislative branch) is the President (who is supposed be the head of the executive branch). And, in line with this election year's Hollywood trend (e.g., Independence Day 2), the president was portrayed as a female (Madam President - similar to Newsweek's aborted front page in the wake of the US Presidential election of 2016).
The book itself is written in the form of a screenplay, which makes it more similar to The Cursed Child than the HP novels. Some people may not like the format. Those who like reading Shakespeare (not just watching the drama performed on stage) will have no problem with it. I did not like The Cursed Child; its writing was flat and the story line was (to me) less than appealing. Note that it was not really written by Rowling. However, the writing of FB is witty and enjoyable. There are some minor inconsistencies; e.g., the latch on Newt's suitcase that regularly pops open is variably referred to as a latch or a catch. There are some witty references that will be understood only by those who had read the HP books. For example, at an early scene, Mary Lou is asking Newt (who is in the crowd) whether he was a seeker for the truth. To this Newt responds that he is more of a chaser, a reference to the magical game of quidditch.
I would like to add praise to the book's design. It just feels good in my hands, a feel that would never be conveyed by an e-book. The illustrations and layout add much to the overall value of the book.
Why not five stars? Upon reading the book (and seeing the movie), I felt that it fell short of the first HP book's qualities. In fact, my impression was that had this book been the very first to be published, it might not have caught on the way the Sorcerer's (Philosopher's) Stone did. It appears to fit the HP universe, yet I sense that the spiritual message is absent. (Or did I overlook it? It was not necessarily obvious in the Sorcerer's Stone, even if it became very clear in hind sight.) In spite of some shortcomings, the book is an enjoyable tale.