2017 Book Reading Challenge 9: Fantastic Beasts

TitleFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

Author: J. K. Rowling

Publisher: Little, Brown

Location of publisher: London

Year of publication: 2016

Number of pages: 293

Fiction or nonfiction: Nonfiction

Have I read this book before? No

Date I finished reading it: 22 February 2017

Genres: Play, script, J K Rowling’s Wizarding World, Harry Potter, movie script, fantasy.

Personal reflections upon reading this text:

It’s been a long time since I read a script as a text. Apart from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the last time I think I read any script was probably in high school literature class, when we got to learn and dissect the incredible Australian playwright Louis Nowra’s Così, and attend a performance of his play The Language of the Gods.

In some ways I am in two minds about reading Rowling’s latest two books, the script for the theatre production and the script for the play. I spent a lot of the time I read them just wishing, so much, that they were novels instead. That they could form a seamless body of work that included the Harry Potter series which, if I haven’t said it already a million times, is one of my all-time favourite book series.

I was a latecomer to the Harry Potter bandwagon. I did see the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, when it was in cinemas in 2001. My sister had read the books – at that stage only the first four books had been published – and so we went along to see the film with our mother. I was in my late teens, having an ill-planned gap year between high school and university, which meant that I was withering away with nothing to do while all my friends had fled the confines of our rural community. Any distraction from a life of loneliness and unemployment was a welcome relief. And since the cinemas had opened in our town – they were one of dozens of places that turned down my job application that year – at least there were movies to give me much needed solace in the midst of my increasingly depressed, anxious, miserable day-to-day life under the thumb of controlling relatives who didn’t want me heading off to university filling my head with out-of-town ideas.

My feelings towards the film were positive, though I felt it was a little bland (I am angry at my younger self for not accepting genius when it presents itself to me).  I didn’t have the immersion in the emotional lives of the characters that my sister had. Apart from finding Professor Snape equal parts repellent and wildly attractive, I tended to think of the Harry Potter series as “my little sister’s thing,” or, “that nice children’s book series that got little kids like my young cousins reading novels the size of their own heads.”

Philosopher-s-Stone-Screencap-severus-snape-10981167-1024-576

[Source] I reckon maybe 90% of my film and music crushes look more or less like Snape (dark haired, mysterious, supernaturally gifted, basically a kind of Goth-esque vibe) so I really didn’t stand a chance…

Fast forward a couple of years and I was (still am) married to a guy I met at university who, I soon found out, was from a spectacularly strict and fundamentalist Christian background. For him, and many of his close friends and relatives, there was this constant paranoia about the potential evil influences of popular books, music and films. The blatantly obvious Christian symbolism and notions of self-sacrifice, death and resurrection, standing for the ultimate good, acceptance, kindness and generosity replete through the entire Harry Potter series, it was as if The Husband and his family and some of their church friends had an eleventh commandment:

Thou shalt not read, watch, think about nor discuss Harry Potter.

And… being the vulnerable anxiety-riddled young woman I was, I went along with their rampant censorship, control and purging of every shred of creativity and self-expression I had. I avoided Harry Potter for years. To be interested in Harry was akin to being an active practitioner of the arcane occult arts. Add to that an extra layer of intensity – as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in my pre-Pentecostal days I had a few years’ involvement in neo-Paganism – well, I was just begging to be dragged straight back into the clutches of the satan if I dared read this epic series on a little British orphan boy who learns that the ultimate act of love is to lay down his life for his friends. (Not that Jesus said anything like that, right? *John 15:13* *cough*)

Occasionally I would hear references to Harry. I was shocked to discover that the young girls in my Bible study group included some Harry fans (and Twilight fans!) and their devout, Jesus-loving parents were actually totally okay with it and did not want me as their Bible study leader, to make them throw their books out. Eventually, it was one of the church’s pastors – of all people – who encouraged me to read Harry Potter for myself and decide, with my own mind, if it was really all that evil.

I am so glad this pastor told me to try it for myself. It turned out that the church pastors themselves were not so big on censorship – it was some of the laypeople within the church acting outside of church authority. Nor were the pastors into people having their music collections wrenched out of their hands and destroyed because their music was impure. It was a specific crowd of people whose lives and words had significant say over The Husband and I who were the ones who had stopped us from reading, listening and creating more broadly.

At first I borrowed my little sister’s collection of books, but for my 30th birthday she gave me the whole box set. Both as a brilliant gift, but also, I suspect, so she wouldn’t have to keep lending me hers. I ploughed through them. I sat outside at my little blue plastic table with the brittle chair, under the heavily scented Melaleuca tree with the possums living in the branches, and I read each book, wanting to savour each word while wanting to charge through to the end and see what happens. Goodness knows how I had avoided hearing the complete story prior to reading them. At that stage, the final book and film had been released, yet I avoided hearing the ending (thank goodness) so that when it arrived I felt the full force of its impact. I cried – a lot – so much that it hadn’t occurred to me that the drops splashing on the pages were not just my own tears, but the rain that must have been steadily falling on me for a couple of chapters. I was wrecked by those books. Utterly torn apart and put back together again, but a different person now. I felt hollow and yet strangely hopeful in the days that followed, wondering how to go on with my life now that I’d finished. So I did what all sensible people would do: I started reading the entire series again from the start.

Fantastic Beasts

My first exposure to Fantastic Beasts was in a little box set of short spin-off books by Rowling, including the Tales of Beedle the Bard and Quidditch Through the Ages. My grandmother had given my son the little box set as a Christmas gift and I borrowed them to read as soon as I could.

When I heard news of the film adaptation, I was very excited. I felt like I’d missed out on the easy camaraderie of my fellow Harry Potter aficionados who grew up with the books and films and attended the in-store readings of the books and who would join massive queues at the book stores when a new title was released and attend midnight screenings wearing their Hogwarts robes. A new film – and the attendant new book – would be my opportunity to experience a bit of that shared excitement, with my Harry-loving kids, and politely interested husband who did rather enjoy the films when I bought the entire set and started a family tradition of an annual Harry marathon.

My daughter and I arrived in our HP t-shirts: me in my Slytherin shirt, she in her Hogwarts shirt. We all loved the film. Even The Husband, who didn’t seem to be particularly moved by the original Harry Potter films, expressed that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was one of the best films he’d watched in a long time.

Personally – and it goes without saying – I loved it.

But I wished that the book could’ve been a novel, not the script.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the script was very enjoyable to read, thoroughly entertaining, and conjured in my mind very vivid recollections of the film in a way I hadn’t expected. And at a level of detail I had previously thought was only possible in prose.

(Quietly sheds a tear over how sad yet happy this film made me.)

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