With ’Fantastic Beasts,’ J.K. Rowling And Her Audience Are Finally On Equal Ground

When J.K. Rowling began to write Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a novice author, she was as untested as her young characters. Yet her story about the boy wizard and his fantastic friends captured the imagination of a generation who saw their own hopes, fears, and struggles reflected in Potter’s journey. 

Readers also saw themselves mirrored in the faces of the young cast members who brought the bespectacled hero and his friends to life on the silver screen – and they grew up with them over the course of eight feature films.

Familiar yet undeniably different, the latest addition to the world of Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, is no mere sequel or prequel, and our own world has changed significantly from the one in which Rowling began to write. But this new franchise offers a story in which the creator and her audience are equals. This isn’t a tale based on nostalgia for our Harry Potter youth, but a story for all of us, right now.

Semi-Charmed Life

A generation grew up along with Harry Potter. We found our way into Rowling’s world as we explored our own and the two are now deeply connected. 

Harry Potter had millions of fans when the first film arrived in 2001 because Harry’s struggles were familiar and his adventures were a grand escape. For millions of fans like me who discovered the films first in 2007,  the books became immediate binge material. It resonated with us not only because it transported our imagination to extraordinary places, but because we grew up along with the boy wizard.

The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

Rowling’s books, and the movies that followed, captured the complications and pains of love and friendship as well as the constant mutations of the bitter antagonism between Harry and Draco Malfoy. These two, Hogwarts’ own Sherlock and Moriarty, shared admiration as much as hatred. In their duel, spinning towards maturity, Draco and Harry began to understand their differences just as we understood how they related to more complicated conflicts in our own lives. We learned how that bully at school might need understanding more than anything else and sometimes what looks like aggression may be an attempt at friendship.

This isn’t a tale based on nostalgia for our Harry Potter youth, but a story for all of us, right now.

There was a lesson woven through Harry’s story: observe the world, and seek to understand it.  JK Rowling matured as a writer, consistently exploring increasingly powerful themes with each successive novel. Her sense of conscience and morality shined brighter in each installment, just as it did for the characters. 

Their problems expand to extremes such as life and death battles. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and their allies and enemies succeed or failed based largely on how they are able to understand one another’s actions and intentions.

Growing Darker

The films also grew with Rowling and the audience. Instead of clinging to the bright young tone of the first movies, later installments grew in complexity and incorporated darker themes. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1, the seventh film, released in 2010, is a traveling quest story with a mix of melancholy and optimism that makes it unlike any other Harry Potter film – or even most tent-pole movies for that matter.

Fantastic Beasts is an unlikely expansion of Harry Potter's World and while it springs from the pages of a slim novella, it’s a grand new creation on film. It’s also the culmination of a shared relationship between creator and audience who have grown together. Rowling knows Potter fans have grown up and we no longer need our hero to guide us through this fantastic realm and the problems we’ll encounter there.

Rowling knows Potter fans have grown up and no longer need our hero to guide us through this fantastic realm.

The Real World, Now With More Magic

As social and political divisions have grown deeper, Harry’s battle against Voldemort and his determined supporters seems more relevant than ever. Fantastic Beasts finds Rowling dispensing with many of the “young adult” aspects of her first novels. These new characters are not children, but adults locked in battles with questions of fear and tolerance that echo our own.

With Rowling as screenwriter, this movie is an unlikely union of her novel series and the movies that followed. The Harry Potter films were often cut and condensed from books that grew ever longer as Rowling realized the true scope of her original story. Now the author is writing directly for the screen and she does so with obvious confidence that her audience has grown up alongside her characters.

These new characters are not children, but adults locked in battles with questions of fear and tolerance that echo our own.

This is a new sort of movie magic is a refreshing change from the familiar Hollywood sequel machine. Studio blockbusters often seem to lack confidence in their audience, but they’re rarely guided by a creator who has grown with them such as JK Rowling. Her view of magic and “No-Maj” (the American word for Muggles) populations and their battles, collaborations, and entanglements, looks more like our world than ever before.

Rowling’s allegory about the ugly outcome of bigotry is storytelling at its best, but it wouldn’t be nearly as rich without the adventures of of Harry Potter that preceded it. Fantastic Beats introduces a franchise that is ready to roar – and we’re ready to fall under its Rowling’s spell once more.

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
in theaters this Friday

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