Saturday, April 1, 2017

“Read a Damn Book – 019: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them”

My wife, my older daughter, and I are all fans of the Harry Potter books and movies, and in a very real sense, our family has grown up with Hogwarts and its influence, but for whatever reason or oversight, I’d never read THIS book. Since the film has just come out for home purchase, I thought, “What the heck!” And then I borrowed the copy that my Grandma Lucy just bought! (Thanks Granny!)

J.K. Rowling – Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (2001/2017)

This book was written by J.K. Rowling, but attributed to the fictional character, Newton “Newt” Artemis Fido Scamander, whose adventures in 1920s New York have just been explored in the film, Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them. Unlike the movie, this book is NOT an adventure story, but a BESTIARY: an alphabetical catalogue of various creatures from Rowling’s magical universe (which is built around both classical mythology and regional folklore, though the monsters are sometimes tweaked and twisted to better fit Rowling’s vision---and I’m okay with that.) Bestiaries are fun, in my opinion, and I’ve read several: collections of mythological creatures from different parts of the world, books about science fiction creatures from various films and novels, Japanese yokai catalogues, monster manuals for role playing games, etc. I’m a sucker for monsters, so a book full of them is usually an easy purchase.

What makes THIS collection fun and worth reading are two main elements: 1. Rowling is very clever, and she fills the book not just with information about her creatures, but also with interesting footnotes and asides, many of them very funny, about the adventures and misadventures of various wizards and witches as they encountered these strange, magical beasts. I quickly started to look forward to these asides as much as the individual creature entries, because the footnotes were almost always good for a chuckle, if not a full-fledged belly laugh. 2. For fans of the Harry Potter universe or of the new film, there are a number of creatures in this book that are heavily featured in those stories. The recognition factor can be very entertaining. “Oh yeah, I remember the acromantula! It was in the Chamber of Secrets, and its death was a major plot point in Half-Blood Prince!” How many of these critters do you remember from the stories or did you spot in the movies? (Alright, alright---don’t talk all at once…)

So that’s the gist---if you like catalogs of various monsters, many from mythology and folklore, you might find this book fun (though it’s certainly not a scholarly source and isn’t meant to be.) If you are a fan of the original Harry Potter stories or of the new movie, you might like some of the additional back story that you get here (primarily in the Introduction), or if you are a fan of clever, humorous writing you will find a lot to enjoy. However, anyone looking for a novel length adventure story will probably need to look somewhere else for their fix… (Send me a note if that’s the case, and I can give you some suggestions.)

---Richard F. Yates

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