The setting of the book is truly within the fantasy world Rowling created for Harry Potter and his friends; a place where witches and wizards and magical beings of all sorts exist side by side with ordinary beings. When Rowling brought Harry Potter and his friends to life, she created a world in which children of all ages found themselves immersed, and where they could hold on to their childhood belief in magic. It is in this world where Rowling's fantastic beasts live, seventy-five species in all, in addition to ten separate species of dragon. Rowling is adept at sustaining her fantasy. She describes the habitat of these creatures as if they existed in the real world, informing readers that the Leprechaun lives only in Ireland, for instance, and that the Tebo lives in the Congo and Zaire. All of these creatures can materialize in Harry Potter's world, however, though often times only the wizards can see them. Newt Scamander, in his introduction, explains one reason why Muggles, or ordinary folks, rarely see them. Muggles fear magic, he explains, so they are under the illusion that these creatures exist only in the imagination. The setting of the book, therefore, is the imagination, and any reader who finds himself captivated with Rowling's books lives in the imagination as well.
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Newt Scamander (a.k.a. J. K. Rowling) wrote Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in encyclopedia format, thus giving it a stamp of reality. Rowling uses numerous devices to make her book a credible representation of Harry Potter's actual schoolbook. First and foremost, Rowling does not identify herself as the author, but rather she identifies one of the characters from her fictional world as the author. She also includes graffiti, scribbled in the book's margins by Harry and Ron, to give substance to her characters and to maintain the suspension of disbelief.
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The wide appeal of Rowling's books and the success she has had in creating a world of magic influenced this author to create this "textbook" and its companion book, Quidditch Through the Ages. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is geared to people of all ages, and to Harry Potter fans specifically, but also to anyone who peruses any kind of bestiary or mythological reference book and to anyone who finds themselves captivated by the idea that a world may exist that is not readily recognizable to humans. Fantastic Beasts serves as an actual bestiary, providing information about unicorns and kelpies and many other creatures that appear in myths and legends around the world: Even people who have never read a "Harry Potter" book will find many of these beasts familiar.
On first inspection, it appears that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, as well as Quidditch Through the Ages, is an effort on Rowling's part to cash in on her fame. Due to the popularity of her "Harry Potter" books, Rowling probably knew that people would read anything connected to Harry Potter. Furthermore, the timing of these two textbooks was perfect: they were published in 2000 when no other Harry Potter books could be seen on the horizon. Though these two books certainly boosted Rowling's popularity, she wrote them for charity and not for profit. Proceeds from both Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages...
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Topics for Discussion
1. Do you think that J. K. Rowling wrote this book and its companion book primarily to increase her stardom or primarily to help the British charity Comic Relief? Explain.
2. Who would you identify as the primary characters in this book, the mythological beasts or Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Professor Dumbledore, and Newt Scamander?
3. Why do you suppose Dumbledore says in the foreword that the creatures in the book are imaginary and can not hurt you?
4. Do you think the A-Z format of the book hinders Rowlings' ability to be creative? Why or why not?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Explain the devices Rowling uses to make this bestiary appear to be real.
2. J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books have been so successful that readers in the United States often purchase copies of the British editions over the Internet rather than wait for the American editions to be published. This has caused much controversy, however. Research the issue of "marketing territory infringement" and voice your opinion on it the issue as it relates to Rowling's books.
3. Discuss the ways in which Rowling develops the character of Newt Scamander.
4. Rowling's books have received criticism from some Christian fundamentalists who believe that the Harry Potter books promote Satanism. Research this issue and describe the reasoning behind this claim.
5. Explain the term "suspension of disbelief" and relate it to Rowling's writing.
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Quidditch Through the Ages, the companion book to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is another of Harry Potter's schoolbooks. This one not Harry's own copy, but purportedly borrowed from the library of Harry's school, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Quidditch is a game of wizards and witches, something like soccer but played in the air on broomsticks, and this book provides a history of the sport and details accounts of past matches.
In addition to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, numerous other bestiaries have been published over the years, though most of them serve as general listings of creatures in myths and legends throughout the ages. Books such as The Book of Beasts by T. H. White, Treasury of Fantastic and Mythological Creatures: 1087 Renderings from Historic Sources by Richard Huber, and Gurps Bestiary by Steffan O'Sullivan, et al., all serve the purpose of identifying imaginary creatures people might encounter as they read myths and legends from different parts of the world.
Many of the beasts in Rowling's book appear in these other bestiaries as well, though many of them are unique to her own books and the magic world she creates for Harry Potter and his friends. David Day attempted to do something of this same thing with his Tolkein Bestiary, published in 1984. This book lists imaginary beasts that appear in J. R. R. Tolkein's The Hobbit and...
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For Further Reference
Bethune, Brian. "Fun and Games with Harry." MacLean's (March 19, 2001): 50. Review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Cooper, Ilene. Review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Booklist (May 1, 2001): 1683-1684.
Gleick, Elizabeth. "The Wizard of Hogwarts." Time (April 12, 1999): 86. Discusses Rowling's success as an author, gives a bit of biographical information about her, and provides information on the appeal of her books.
Gray, Paul. "Magic 101." Time (March 19, 2001): 77. Review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Jones, Malcolm. Review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Newsweek (March 19, 2001):...
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