As the film ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’, directed by David Yates with J.K. Rowling as producer and scriptwriter, becomes the cinematic sensation of the moment, it is worth stepping back to consider how, post-Harry Potter, Harry’s creator continues to enchant children and adults through multiple creative stratagems.
The first Harry Potter book appeared in 1997, and the first film adaptation in 2001. The seventh and last book came out in 2007, and was split into two for the film version, thus prolonging the saga’s termination in that medium to 2011. The films marked the beginning of the author’s incursion into the world of cinema, as she had the last word on the scripts and featured as producer for the last two.
J.K. Rowling had effectively promised on more than one occasion that there would be no more Harry Potter books. The cycle had been conceived around the boy hero’s seven years as a pupil at Hogwarts, and once Harry had graduated, he was out there in the world of adult witches and wizards, and the Bildungsroman was complete.
In reality, however, and independently of her forays into adult fiction and pseudonymous detective novels, J.K. Rowling has used every possible strategy to keep her Potter-inspired creative vein alive.
We have had a good six mini-books, published both before and after the end of the series, which might be called lateral volumes, offering new details on the Potter world and with titles like ‘Quidditch Through the Ages’ and ‘Hogwarts: A Complete and Unreliable Guide’ – one of them being ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ (2001), the alphabetically-arranged bestiary that served as jumping-off point for the film (and is attributed to Newt Scamander, its protagonist).
We have the official website, Pottermore, which among other things houses additional data on the Potter world and its inhabitants.
We have had the stage play ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’, with its script co-written by Rowling with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany (both playwrights), which takes Hogwarts into the next generation and traces the misfortunes of Harry’s ‘difficult’ son Albus – and is thus a sequel to the seven books, but in a different medium.
Now in the cinema, ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ not only marks Rowling’s debut as a film scriptwriter, but extends the world of magicking in the other direction, constituting a ‘prequel’ to the Potter books. At the same time, the film represents a much sharper break, since it is set well back in time – the 1920s – when Harry, Ron and Hermione were neither conceived nor thought of. Newt Scamander is mentioned only in passing in the Potter books, and the film has only a very few references to familiar characters, notably Dumbledore. The film is also distanced in space from the earlier material, being set in New York (and we are told the sequel will shift to Paris).
The new film is an excellent start to a promised series of five. The fantastic beasts intrigue and entertain, and, even if the conventions of the wizarding world are familiar, there is a whole brand-new set of characters to get to know.
With lateral volumes, sequel and now prequel, and exploiting the media of theatre and film, Harry’s shape-changing creator is using every possible strategy to keep her magical creative vein alive, while leaving the autonomy of the Potter books intact. The world awaits the second ‘Fantastic Beasts’ film, due in 2018, and meanwhile we should expect more genre-shifting surprises to emerge as J.K Rowling strategically points her wand !