As Newt Scamander and his fantastical beasts hit the screens and the skyscraper-lined streets of 1920s New York City, J.K. Rowling unloads cauldrons of more magical lore and creatures. As an Occamy and Nifflers run wild among other creatures, Rowling holds up another side of the Harry Potter universe, as it was 70 years prior to the boy-hero's birth.
As such, here is some background information you should be armed with before you settle down comfortably in your seat for 2 hours of pure magical mayhem.
So who really is Newt Scamander?
As Rowling revealed in an interview, most of her heroes are out-of-place and stigmatised people in society. Newton Artemis Fido "Newt" Scamander, is our dishevelled-haired, shy but talented young man dashing through the streets after his magical creatures who have escaped from his suitcase which in itself houses a different universe. We were introduced to him as the author of the book Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them which was in the syllabus for first-year Hogwarts students.
A foreword by the Hogwarts headmaster has the lines
"The amusing creatures described hereafter are fictional and cannot hurt you."
followed by the Hogwarts motto:
"Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus", Latin for "Never tickle a sleeping dragon".
The renowned magiczoologist has travelled widely over five continents studying magical creatures. His expansive suitcase in itself is a world, as his 'no majs' friend Jacob is introduced to green verdant bamboo patches, snowy arctic regions, sand dunes and arid patches of desert and a ramshackle wooden structure with his tools and clothing required for different climates. A scene even shows a Bowtruckle blowing a raspberry at Newt. (Remember those Herbology classes?)
As the stigmatised, socially awkward hero who stands up when it counts, Newt feels more at ease with his creatures than he does with humans.
Rowling had hinted at delving further into the ambiguous history and relationship of Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald, two of the most powerful wizards of that time and we might get a glimpse of that in this movie and its sequels.
So who is this Grindelwald we keep hearing about?
Johnny Depp was picked to play the talented, dynamic wizard gone astray. Harry Potter fans were given a brief glimpse of Grindelwald in the Deathly Hallows who Voldermort slays in his quest for knowledge about the Elder Wand. Born in 1883, the former was educated at Durmstrang with its tolerance of magic tilting towards the darker side. Attracted by the Dark Arts, he pursued experiments which were said to be so twisted and unnatural, that even the school could not turn a blind eye and expelled him.
"Educated at Durmstrang, a school famous even then for its unfortunate tolerance of the Dark Arts, Grindelwald showed himself quite as precociously brilliant as Dumbledore. Rather than channel his abilities into the attainment of awards and prizes, however, Gellert Grindelwald devoted himself to other pursuits. At sixteen years old, even Durmstrang felt it could no longer turn a blind eye to the twisted experiments of Gellert Grindelwald and he was expelled."
Intrigued by the idea that the possessor of all the Hallows would be Master of Death, he set out in search of more knowledge, arriving at Godric's Hollow, the resting place of Ignotus Peverell, the owner of the Invisibility Cloak. Acclaimed historical author and witch, Bathilda Bagshot took him in.
If you didn't already know, Grindelwald and Dumbledore were the best of buds.
This is where he met Albus Dumbledore, another stunningly brilliant young man who felt bored and felt his great potential and ambition was wasted caring for his damaged sister Ariana in a quaint little village.
Their friendship and plans to achieve greatness began to take shape. They were both interested in the Hallows, in the possession of absolute power and an establishment of a benevolent wizarding order which would lord over the muggles. Their design was often referred to as 'for the Greater Good' . When Dumbledore's brother Aberforth learnt of the plan, he attempted to stop him. An enraged Grindelwald used the Cruciatus curse on Aberforth. When Dumbledore stepped in to protect his brother, A three-way duel ensued which resulted in a curse which killed the frail Ariana. Grindelwald fled the scene to pursue his coveted plan of greatness while Dumbledore, humbled by the disastrous death of his sister tread the path of righteousness, spreading his knowledge to educate young witches and wizards.
As Grindelwald grew increasingly ruthless in his attempts to achieve greatness, murders took place and darkness began to spread. After the violence had gone on too far, Dumbledore stepped in, the only other match to him and in a three-hour duel witnessed by Elphias Doge, defeated him and imprisoned him in Nurmengard, an almost impregnable fortress built by Grindelwald to imprison his enemies.
"...while I busied myself with the training of young wizards, Grindelwald was raising an army. They say he feared me, and perhaps he did, but less, I think, than I feared him... It was the truth I feared. You see, I never knew which of us, in that last, horrific fight, had actually cast the curse that killed my sister... I think he knew it, I think he knew what frightened me. I delayed meeting him until finally, it would have been too shameful to resist any longer. People were dying and he seemed unstoppable, and I had to do what I could."
Rowling had revealed that Dumbledore had romantic feelings attached to Gellert though they were not reciprocated but were manipulated to an extent to have Albus on his side. It is speculated that Dumbledore had not stepped in earlier possibly due to his residual feelings for Grindelwald.
There the latter remained for the rest of his life until the fortress was breached by the powerful Voldermort to obtain information on the Elder Wand, and left after casting the killing curse on the aged wizard. Even then, Grindelwald earlier described as charming and dynamic, with a 'merry wild' personality was not fearful of death. He refused to part with any details possibly because he felt remorse over his actions or did not want Dumbledore's tomb to be desecrated.
"Kill me, then. Voldemort, I welcome death! But my death will not bring you what you seek… There is so much you do not understand…."
The movie is set in the United States in the 1920s and there's trouble brewing.
As ominous dark clouds foreboding trouble gather over the United States, it is suspected that the wizarding community here is aware of Grindelwald's reckless power and view him as a threat. Seraphina Picquery, President of MACUSA similar to the Wizarding Council of Britain looks visibly worried over his rise and also the fact that there are magical creatures tearing up the city. The wizarding community here have a very different relationshop with 'no majs' (muggles), both increasingly hostile towards each other. The wizarding community there is still haunted by the Salem witch trial. The Second Salemers with Mary Lou at the helm are still trying to spread awareness about the existence of magical peoples and baying for their blood.
With so much going on, Fantastic Beasts promises to be an edge-of-the-seat watch.