With the newest entry in the Harry Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J. K. Rowling has once again proven herself a master of imagination. However, it’s important to remember that there are now two books bearing this same title: the screenplay which is the basis for the movie starring Eddie Redmayne, and the Hogwarts Library edition that serves as a facsimile of Harry Potter’s text book. Both are available through the Chesapeake Library, and both are quick, entertaining reads, but make sure you know which version you’re looking for. (Click on the book covers to go to that item’s catalog page!)
The film–and by extension, the screenplay–follow the adventures of Newt Scamander, currently visiting New York for the first time as he researches material for his still unwritten book. The plot revolves around a case of mistaken identity, literally. Scamander, with his leather case full of magical creatures, runs into a “No-Maj”–the Americanized term for non-magic people–named Jacob, who has an identical leather case full of baked goods. As you can guess, it doesn’t take long for the cases to get swapped, and for a few of Newt’s craftiest creatures to get loose and start causing mischief. However, the central conflict comes not from the hijinks that result from these “fantastic beasts” rampaging through 1920s New York, but from the way Newt’s misadventures intersect with those of Grindelwald, the wizard who kicked off the fervor over the Deathly Hallows and helped instigate what became Voldemort’s first war.
It’s not a “prequel” in the traditional sense, meaning it doesn’t follow any characters we’ve met before. With the exception of the lurking presence of Grindelwald, who was mentioned in the final book as a background player, and Scamander himself, who is the author of the Hogwarts school book, these are all new characters with all new motivations and goals. That is the most remarkable thing about this story from a longtime fan’s perspective: both the movie and screenplay are new, not an adaptation of a story we’ve read before, or a continuation of a story we’ve already finished, which was the case for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
Personally, I found this addition to the Harry Potter mythos a welcome, engaging adventure. It was more exciting than The Cursed Child, although again there isn’t a lot of descriptive detail to provide the visual landscape that a viewing of the movie gives you. This was clearly designed to be introduced on-screen, just as The Cursed Child was designed to be introduced on-stage. Still, if you’re curious about the new movie, or just want to experience the story again before heading back to the theater or picking up the DVD, place a hold for the official screenplay here. If, on the other hand, you’d rather read the finished work that Newt Scamander wrote for his magical community, complete with annotated commentary in the margins from Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, then place a hold for the other Fantastic Beasts book here.