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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Politics of Fantasy

J.K rowling’s ingenious work is at its best when a pen is put to paper (a debatable suggestion, i am sure), but her harry potter novels are the beginning of a phenomenon that continues to enthral audiences on a global capacity. the sensation has reached tremendous accomplishments, especially within the film industry, and ‘potterheads’ are ecstatic with the new film adaptation of fantastic beasts and where to find them. a prequel to the harry potter series, and a rich and satisfying addition to j.k rowling’s wizarding world.

the foundation of ‘pottermania’ is established through its fantasy-genre, which is ironic because these specific films have an underlying parallel to real-life politics. as a genre, ‘fantasy’ allows audiences to comprehend unimaginable things. however, there are interpretations between characters and ideologies that make the fantasy-genre appear more realistic, particularly in relation to the complexities that politics may enforce on society.

foremost, aside from the magical element of the wizarding world, j.k. rowling’s story-telling is reliant on a prominent hero and villain – in fact it revolves around many, a narrative of ‘good vs. evil’ per se. the perception of good and evil is evident throughout j.k. rowling’s stories: with harry potter, its namesake marks harry as the clear protagonist, whereas voldemort is the sinister villain. in fantastic beasts, the new-found hero is newt scamander, and the villain: the notorious gellert grindelwald (well, this what we are lead to believe).

though the hero and villain are fundamental figures within the plot, there are other well-constructed characters that coincide with the subtext of good vs. evil. the context of harry potter has been compared to nazism, as the death eaters (voldemort and co) were determined to purify the wizarding community. they distinguished a divide between pure-blood supremacists and muggle-born witches and wizards, and sought to torture and ultimately exterminate them through ethnic cleansing.

another aspect of the harry potter series that conforms to real-life politics is hermione becoming an activist for house-elves (though this is only highlighted in the books). the fictional creatures are demonstrated as marginalised beings who are mistreated within the wizarding community. hermione campaigns for the promotion of their welfare and rights, which can be compared to a various social groups that face discrimination in modern-day society. the gender pay gap can be inferred through this example, as hermione wishes to secure house-elves with wages for as long as they work and eventual liberation.

with fantastic beasts being set in new york city, the politics of this film can be construed through american values. american politics is under scrutiny, its recent election produced a media-circus of which the general public were consumed by on a world-wide basis. it saw two controversial characters, donald trump and hilary clinton, battle to become the fourty-sixth president of the united states.

although clinton had many flaws, there would have been positives to her victory as far as liberal justice goes: she would have been the first woman to become president, for example. coincidently, the president of the ‘magical congress of the united states of america’ is a (black) female character named seraphina picquery. with fantastic beasts being set in the 1920’s, it would have been a ridiculous sentiment for any woman to be even considered as the head of state. an extra-enjoyable attribute that adds to the films charm.

throughout the narrative of fantastic beasts, the ‘new salem philanthropic society’ acts as an extremist cult-like organisation full of no-maj (american non-magic folk) individuals whose motivations are to expose and kill witches and wizards. a sad analogy that can be compared to modern-america, in which minorities are constantly subject to ignorance, whether it be black people, asian people, hispanics, or lgbt people. it can be argued that there are hierarchies within america that enforce this prejudice even further. we can take solace in the fact that the good-side are triumphant within in this film (or are they?).

furthermore, donald trump being voted the president-elect is creating an america so eerie that its most vulnerable citizens are at risk. j.k rowling’s vision of wizarding-fantasy is a portrayal of social and liberal justice, which makes ‘trump’s america’ seem so detached from the world of fantasy. trump has exemplified sexist behaviour and attitudes, performed tirades against immigrants, and is set to produce a congress full of anti-gay senators (he even has the kkk on his side for crying out loud). in that regard, both harry potter and fantastic beasts act as a form of escapism for the ostracised.

j.k. rowling has done more than just create a fictional universe, she’s implemented an abundance of politics that is cohesive with the fantasy-driven narrative that is so successful with audiences. young people are especially enthused by her work in all of its forms of media, and in a world of ‘brexit-britain’ and ‘trump’s america’, the legacy of the wizarding world is the perfect opportunity to embrace a circumstance that is quite different to the one we belong to ourselves.

Words by Braden McDonald

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