Harry Potter Culture Clash: Fantastic Beasts

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For: Sam Smallridge

J.K Rowling, to my mind, is one of the greatest Britons walking this very earth. If anyone deserves to be a dame, baroness or queen then J.K would be first on my list. Her merits as an author hardly need to be mentioned; her book sales which now amount to over 450 million copies across the world, coupled with the sheer unbridled fanaticism she has inspired in thousands of people speaks volumes. She has also proved herself a fierce and moral campaigner, speaking intelligently and articulately on issues of child poverty, tax evasion and tabloid intrusion. In amongst this gushing love letter, what I’m trying to say is that if anyone can make this new film a success then J.K Rowling is exactly the right person.

It is probably worth remembering that the film based on the book ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ is Rowling’s official screen-writing debut, which should excite all Potter fans. This won’t be merely a professional screenwriter’s attempt to interpret what Rowling was describing but instead it will be a labour of love from the very person who nurtured the world of Harry Potter, which amounts to over 3,400 pages of writing and 19 hours of film, not including the expanding Pottermore universe.It’s going to be great because, really, J.K Rowling unashamedly is a fan. When you read or see an interview with her you can feel the passion and affection she has for the characters she’s created. Just as much as those super-fans who waited for the films to be released outside the nearest Vue, dressed as Dumbledore, Bellatrix Lestrange or Kreacher.

When you also consider that the author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander, is one of her favourite characters, it seems even less likely that this film is going to fail. Set way away from Hogwarts in New York, 70 years before any of the Potter story gets underway it won’t be clinging on to past glories but a fresh start and a whole new perspective on the magical world, one which all fans will gobble up. Anyone who dares make the predictable greed motive should be forced to copy out all seven Harry Potter books in gobbledegook. Despite having enough money to buy a medium-sized European country, Rowling has appeared unaffected by her vast wealth. She often donates her money to worthy causes and remains in the UK as a domiciled Tax payer, declaring herself indebted to the British welfare state. Her attempts to remain under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith this year were commendable for those very reasons as well.

There will always be those resistant to the Potter world, who think it not sophisticated enough but they’re lost causes and one senses J.K doesn’t write for them. Similarly it’s expected for fans to be resistant to anything which may tarnish the memory of Hogwarts. However, J.K Rowling more than anyone else deserves trust. She has not let us Potter fans down yet. Every extension of the Potter universe, be it Tales of Beedle the Bard, Pottermore or Harry Potter World has been tasteful and well-received. So when she says “I always said that I would only revisit the wizarding world if I had an idea that I was really excited about and this is it.” We Potter fans should believe her and try very hard not to wee ourselves in excitement.

Against: Simon James

I would like to say now that, like Sam, I am a huge fan of J K Rowling. The moment I found out she had lost her billionaire status because she’d given so much money to charity, I decided all the time I had invested into her work had been well spent. She has always maintained absolute integrity despite being the creator of the definitive contemporary fictional narrative. Enjoyed by children and adults alike, Harry Potter is absolutely incredible from start to finish, and I feel extremely privileged to have grown up with it, queuing outside ASDA or the cinema at midnight for the latest book or film respectively. It is my absolute adoration for J K Rowling that has left me nothing but disappointed when I heard about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

One of the reasons Harry Potter is so perfect is because of how self-contained and well-structured it is. As you are reading it, you can tell that it’s been carefully planned out, that the whole thing is building towards a pinnacle; the final book ties off every loose end flawlessly and everything we need to know outside of the books’ storyline is referenced just enough so we get a complete picture. If you read all seven, you can’t be anything but satisfied. The idea now that something else is to be joined onto this perfect whole really does frustrate me, and could tarnish the memory of an already completed series.
Fantastic Beasts is already a book, but it’s not a story. It’s a textbook of magic animals whipped up to make money for Comic Relief. I have no issue with it – it’s a quirky addition for fans that does not intrude on the main narrative. But turning it into a film means they’re out to prove there are stories to live up to Harry’s in his universe, and that’s fighting a losing battle: The whole universe was constructed around Harry and everything that is not part of his story is an afterthought. Why can’t Rowling leave it alone and come up with something fresh? Her latest book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, (with a shrewd use of a pseudonym so people can read with fresh heads) was critically acclaimed. She’s proved now that she can do it, so there is no need to keep clinging onto what made her famous. She can be more than just “the woman who does Harry Potter.”

She has said the film is not going to be an addition to Harry’s story, just set in the same world. But everyone is still going to go to the cinema with Harry in mind, looking out for any small references, trying to fill in the 70 year gap between the film and the Philosopher’s Stone. I reckon over half of the country would pay to see anything vaguely attached to the brand – Warner Bros knew they were onto a winner before they’d even pitched the idea. They are milking Harry’s universe dry of good stories and therefore loyal fans of their money. I do not agree with the generalisation that all sequels are worse than the original. But I do think that when a sequel is designed purely to bask in the success of the original without any new exciting concept (last year’s Taken 2 for example), the story suffers and the film is automatically a failure. I hope that J K Rowling can prove me wrong when I say that Fantastic Beasts, so far, seems to be a product designed purely for a quick turnover, rather than an excellent story that needs to be told as Harry Potter was.

Simon James

Any excuse to write about Oasis really.

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