April 06, 2017


Hogwarts Library: Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them; Quidditch Through the Ages; The Tales of Beedle the Bard. By J.K. Rowling. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $38.99.

     The new editions of three ancillary books in the Harry Potter canon, nicely transformed from their original small paperback format to a larger and more-elegant hardcover appearance and placed within a library-style cardboard slipcase, offer fans of J.K. Rowling’s books a new chance to appreciate the world-creating that has helped make her tales so wildly popular. One way Rowling went beyond traditional fantasy-adventure stories was by suggesting the sorts of things that students of magic might study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – and then producing some of the actual books that the students might have used in their classes. That is what these three slim volumes are. In addition, Rowling wove the “study” books into the fabric of the Harry Potter tales by, for example, having The Tales of Beedle the Bard (“translated by Hermione Granger”) contain “notes by Professor Albus Dumbledore,” and then writing the book in two separate voices – one representing Hermione’s “translation” of that of the storyteller of long ago, the other sounding much like that of the headmaster of Hogwarts in Harry’s time. This authorial complexity, for which Rowling does not always get sufficient credit, helps make the Harry Potter tales a good deal more than just another example of escapist magical fantasy.

     Now, of course, these little literary sidelights on the Harry Potter world are in the process of becoming extended items of their own. This actually began within the primary Harry Potter books themselves, since the Beedle stories are crucial to the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and to the two movies made from that book. But now Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them is in the process of becoming its own multi-movie franchise, and although no plans for a quidditch movie have been announced, who knows what the future may bring? Potterphilia has already shown its ability to move beyond the original fans of the seven Rowling novels – many of those fans literally grew up alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione, and now have families of their own and are ready to bring the Rowling universe to a new generation. And the nostalgia value of revisiting a world of magic and miracles, one in which evil is pervasive but conquerable by those of good will and good heart, should not be underestimated.

     As for these three books themselves, they are essentially the same in 2017 as they were when they first appeared in 2001 (Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages) and 2007 (The Tales of Beedle the Bard). The ostensible author of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander, is the central character in the new films, but the focus of the book itself is not its author but the beasts herein discussed. Rowling apparently had a lot of fun with this little book. For example, in a passage about the Fwooper, “an African bird with extremely vivid plumage” that looks amusing even in the black-and-white illustration, and whose song “will eventually drive the listener to insanity,” there is this footnote: “Uric the Oddball attempted at one time to prove that Fwooper song was actually beneficial to the health and listened to it for three months on end without a break. Unfortunately the Wizards’ Council to which he reported his findings were unconvinced, as he had arrived at the meeting wearing nothing but a toupee that on closer inspection proved to be a dead badger.” The beasts themselves are fascinating to read about, including the “Quintaped (also known as Hairy MacBoon,” which has “a particular taste for humans,” the Dugbog, “which resembles a piece of dead wood while stationary,” and many others. The book is intriguing enough so that it could be an entry point to the Harry Potter novels themselves, for those not yet initiated into their pleasures.

     The other two books are more rarefied. Quidditch Through the Ages “by Kennilworthy Whisp” is strictly for those enamored of the sport in which Harry excels at Hogwarts and in which many of his friends also participate – it helps to know the books’ passages about quidditch matches before launching into discussions of “creaothceann,” which is “the most dangerous of all broom games,” as well as “shuntbumps,” “swivenhodge” and other games. Details of how quidditch is played, which teams play it, and so on, are for fans of fantasy sports – that is, sports that really are fantasies. As for The Tales of Beedle the Bard, its stories are interesting in themselves, but they are so tightly woven into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that they make a poor entry point to Rowling’s world – they are really best read while exploring that final, very long novel, or as a sort of appendix afterwards. Taken as a whole, these new hardcover editions of the three short books, collected under the overall title of Hogwarts Library, will make an excellent addition to the shelf of anyone who already has the original seven-book Harry Potter sequence. And they will be even more enjoyable for Potterphiles who are eagerly following the expansion of Rowling’s original conception into the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the new set of movies featuring Newt Scamander as protagonist, and into who-knows-what other realms of magic and muggles.

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