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Book review: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

J.K. Rowling has penned a thrilling tale, but this time, the movie may be better

A still from ‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’.
A still from ‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’.

The arrival of a new J.K. Rowling book is reason for fans to rejoice and bookshops to anticipate healthy sales. In 2016, there have been not one, but two occasions for celebration—the release of the script of a play running to packed houses in London, and now, the screenplay of a movie set in a time long before Potter and Voldemort.

Unlike the play that hasn’t been written by Rowling, the screenplay has, but does it make for compelling reading, given that the movie, with its outsized budget and star cast, is accessible on a screen?

The book’s action is set in New York in 1926, where the dark wizard Grindelwald, wanted for multiple murders across Europe, is thought to have shifted. Newt Scamander, our bumbling hero, has arrived in New York with a case full of fantastic beasts. Newt is a more sophisticated version of Hagrid in that he is a magizoologist who wants to teach the wizarding community that the subjects of his study should be protected, not feared. It should surprise no one, then, that within hours of his arrival, many of the creatures escape and run amok over the city.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: By J.K. Rowling, Little, Brown, 293 pages, Rs699.

In his quest to recover them, Newt gets three companions—a No-Maj (American for “muggle"), an ex-Auror with a heart of gold and her sister who can read minds. Add to that the American version of the ministry of magic, struggling to keep the community hidden from Muggles, and a group that is determined to unearth witches, and you have a rollicking story that barely gives the reader time to breathe.

Rowling’s prodigious imagination is hard at work, conjuring up one fantastical creature after another. Swooping Evil, Occamy, Diricawl and other names are accompanied by descriptions no less magical in nature. Some, like the Bowtruckle and Niffler, are familiar to us from Potter’s Care of Magical Creatures lessons. Fitting, considering Newt writes one of the textbooks assigned to Potter in his first year at Hogwarts.

It may take more than a few pages to settle into the story, given that it is written at the pace of the movie, but Rowling knows better than most how to draw her readers in. For this reader, the entry of the endearing Queenie, the aforementioned mind-reading sister, did the trick. From that point, pages were turned faster than the Niffler pockets shiny things. But unlike in a movie, where the viewer’s senses will be kept busy by the sheer variety of outlandish creatures, it becomes difficult for a reader to distinguish between a Demiguise and a Mooncalf after a point. Since these splendid beasts are at the core of the story, the magic is lost on the reader who has to visualize them in her mind.

Readers looking for the complexity of the Potter series may be disappointed, as there is barely any room for reflection on the margins of an action-packed screenplay. It is up to the actors to communicate the despair and elation hiding behind the text. However, as a companion volume to the movie, this gorgeous book with its beautiful blue-and-gold cover and illustrations is a worthy addition to the ever-growing Harry Potter library.

It will surprise no one that Rowling has penned yet another thrilling tale but just this once, the movie may be better.

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