Wild Speculation, Based On Fact, About Harry Potter Spin-Off Fantastic Beasts

Image for Wild Speculation, Based On Fact, About Harry Potter Spin-Off Fantastic Beasts

Back in 2013 J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. announced that the author was writing the script for a new film based in the world of Harry Potter. It’s based on a short book that Rowling wrote for Comic Relief back in 2001 called Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, and will be set some 70 years before Mr Potter went up to Hogwarts. Yesterday Warner Bros confirmed that they are planning three films, due in 2016, 2018 and 2020. So what can we expect from the films? We have combed the books for the evidence, and here’s what we found…

Three films are in development at Warner Bros, based on J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. That’s a short book that she published in 2001, with all proceeds going to Comic Relief. But – and here’s where it gets complicated – the book is ‘actually’ a textbook that Harry and his friends use, written by a Professor Newt Scamander and – in the Potter universe – originally published in 1927. So we’re going to pretend that Rowling herself is not the author.

When Warners pitched Rowling the idea for a film adaptation based on the book and Scamander himself, she liked it but said that she couldn’t bear to see someone else write the screenplay – so she’s doing it herself. So on the other hand she definitely is the author.

Rowling’s 2013 announcement also made a few plot points clear. “Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for 17 years,” said the author, “Fantastic Beasts is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but Newt's story will start in New York, seventy years before Harry's gets underway."

Since Harry heads to Hogwarts in 1991 (in the book's timeline), expect this to be set somewhere around 1921.

Newt is Professor Newton Artemis Fido "Newt" Scamander, Order of Merlin, Second Class. In the chronology of the Harry Potter series, he was born in 1897.

From “Fantastic Beasts” we know that Scamander went to the Ministry Of Magic’s Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures after graduating from Hogwarts in about 1915. He then spent two years in the Office for House-Elf Relocation before transferring to the Beast Division. Obviously he distinguished himself fast there, because in 1918, he was commissioned to write what became the standard text book for wizards studying magical beasties, which was published in 1927 after much travel and research.

While Scamander had been a Headmaster of Hogwarts at one point, he stepped down sometime before 1956. He retired to Dorset after, it looks like, doing some work for the Ministry Of Magic in the 1960s, and died in about 1991 or 1992, around the time that Harry himself went to Hogwarts.

It’s worth noting that Scamander appears on the Marauder’s Map in the Harry Potter film series well after the wizard’s death. This suggests that his ghost returns to haunt Hogwarts – hopefully for reasons of nostalgia rather than misery. His ghost’s presence would, however, explain how he was able to approve the publication of his book with Harry and Ron’s marginalia (i.e. the one available to us), as it’s claimed he did in the introduction to the published version.

We have no idea – so let’s guess! We know that Scamander researched magical creatures all over the world, but the book lists very few particularly interesting or dangerous creatures that are native to North America. However, we do know that he was involved in the creation of a Werewolf Register in 1947, and that he considered his role in passing the Ban On Experimental Breeding in 1965 his proudest moment – so it would make sense to have him fighting the former or coming up against weird and terrible magical crossbreeds in this story.

His book makes extensive mention of creatures whose trade is banned or whose habitat is controlled to keep them away from Muggles, so illegal trade in magical creatures could prove another basis for a film adventure – and a New York setting makes perfect sense for a story about trade. The Potter films were all to an extent, mysteries for our hero to solve, and cracking a ring of beast smugglers would fit that mould – assuming Rowling wants to create a story in the same style.

Another familiar Potter option would be for Scamander to find himself in conflict with Dark wizards – perhaps some who are abusing or misusing magical creatures. Voldemort himself, of course, was born too late, but there are other Dark Wizards mentioned in the Potter universe who might come into play (keep reading for a few of those).

What else might we see? Scamander was apparently also heavily involved in work to control dragons, and there’s always room for more dragons on the big screen (see also: Smaug). Another terrifying beast mentioned in his book is the giant leopard known as a “Nundu”; it’s native to East Africa but if one of those turned up in the Big Apple, its ability to spread virulent disease just by breathing would be formidable – and it’s never been defeated by fewer than a hundred wizards working together, which sounds like a Big Bad to us.

Finally, we also know that Scamander marries a woman named Porpentina and lives happily ever after (their grandson, incidentally, marries Luna Lovegood). So if a lady of that name shows up, expect a love story to develop.

Sound the ‘wild speculation’ klaxon! We’re discussing a character in a script that’s currently being written, for three films with no director attached. What we do know is that a 1920s Scamander would be English (or capable of the accent) and in his early- to mid-20s. He should be of a sufficiently scholarly disposition that he writes the standard book on his chosen subject, which by the mid-1990s is in its 52nd edition, but also of a sufficiently adventurous mien that he is willing to travel five continents and a hundred countries to study magical beasts. He’s basically David Attenborough with a wand.

Who could we cast, then? Someone like Matt Smith would be a good shout, given that he can play both intrepid and intelligent. A Nicholas Hoult or Jamie Bell could work; Robert Sheehan might want another crack at fantasy after the disappointing Mortal Instruments film (but would he have flashbacks if he returned to a fantasy New York?). And would Tom Hiddleston be a little old? Because we know he looks good in robes and silly headgear but also in 1920s suits, so that would seem serendipitous.

It’s unlikely but not out of the question. The Potter universe is vast and long-lived, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a young-ish Albus Dumbledore (born 1881) might show up, perhaps with one-time collaborator Nicholas Flamel (born, er, 1327, but then he did have the Philosopher’s Stone to make him immortal) or Dumbledore’s former bosom buddy Gellert Grindlewald (born 1882), who had probably gone bad by this point but had not yet lost his power-breaking duel against Dumbledore.

But our Albus was already teaching at Hogwarts in the early 1920s, and his presence in this film would arguably make this the prequel that Rowling says it is not, so chalk him up as unlikely. In any case, with the except of maybe Jamie Campbell Bower as Grindlewald (bottom left), it's hard to think of any actors who might return, since all the characters would be substantially younger in this story.

Hagrid, Snape, McGonagall and the rest of the Hogwarts staff are sadly too young to feature in this tale (with the possible exception of Professor Slughorn, who might be old enough) and Voldemort wasn’t born until 1926.

In terms of dodgier figures, Lucius Malfoy’s father Abraxas (bottom right) is probably old enough to provide some edge if he turned up, and Professor Phineas Nigellus Black would have been active at the time. He died in 1925 of causes that are not listed in the books, so he could perhaps be twisted to fit a bad guy role: Hogwarts Headmaster breaks bad, or something along those lines. More likely, however, is that Rowling will create a new bad guy and some more American characters to widen the wizarding world.

New York 1921

There’s very little mention of the US in the Harry Potter books. We know that they play Quidditch there, but prefer a similar game called Quodpot. We know they have vampires because Amarillo Lestoat, the vampire author of A Vampire's Monologue, was born there (five points to you if you can spot the inspiration for that book). And we know that the Salem Witch Institute is an important centre of witchcraft in Potter’s universe.

But that’s about it! The Potter universe has, hitherto, been thoroughly UK-centric and so the really tasty prospect for this film is that Rowling might cut loose and do something radically different from what we’ve already seen before for this particular wizarding adventure. How will American wizards differ from their Old World contemporaries? Will there be as many of them? Will there be a Department Of Magic in the US government or will they be underground?

If there’s little to go on from a wizarding standpoint, we do know a bit about real-world New York in 1921. The Yankees won the American League; the first trans-continental air mail arrived in the city; Albert Einstein came to lecture on relativity; Prohibition was two years in; Harlem was swinging and the Jazz Age starting. The canyon streets were already a worry and had prompted legislation to limit them. There were steamships and airships and probably P.G. Wodehouse characters walking about all over. It had just overtaken London as the world’s most populous city and was generally humming.

All in all, 1920s New York is a very exciting setting for a wizard movie, especially if Warners can once again layer that reality with a distinct wizarding culture underneath and give it some of that Great Gatsby gleam.

The first instalment is due in 2016, neatly avoiding 2015's Blockbuster Battle Royale and giving Warners the time they need to nail down the cast. Potter veteran David Yates is set to direct the first film, despite having his The Jungle Book also due in 2016. Then again, we do already know that David Yates is the ultra-marathon champion of the film world, able to complete huge films back-to-back apparently without a break. Could he take all three of these on the trot? Probably. But for the purposes of speculation, let's see who else is out there.

First, let’s look into history. There were three other Potter directors. Chris Columbus is someone that everyone involved in the franchise credits with establishing the tone of the world brilliantly first time around, but maybe he'd enjoy taking over an established universe and playing with it this time around. Alfonso Cuaron has seen Gravity take his career onto a new and even higher level, but strictly speaking he hasn't locked in his next film just yet. Mike Newell is currently busy with Cold War drama Reykjavik and might have been turned off big-budget movies by his less-than-awesome Prince Of Persia reception. But if you look ahead to 2018 or 2020, none of them are definitely out.

But newcomers! Guillermo del Toro could add this to his endless list of Things To Do; he seemed to have a good experience working with Warners on Pacific Rim, and we know he’s flirted with Potter before. Baz Luhrman just had considerable success making a 1920s-set film for Warners – but seems unlikely – or if we’re dreaming we’d be fascinated to see what a Spike Jonze would do.

But if we’re dreaming, let’s dream big. Think New York, and two names instantly spring to mind. Woody Allen has made films set close to the right period – The Purple Rose Of Cairo was of course set in 1930s New Jersey – and he’s so closely associated with New York that he might as well have his face on the city’s seal. But if we could choose anyone, we’d go for Martin Scorsese. It would be a nice change for him and we know – from his appearance in One Direction: This Is Us – that he has a young daughter who can talk him into things he might not otherwise do. And Hugo showed that he can make magical kid’s films set in a long-ago time. Now wouldn’t that be magic?