Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a complicated addition to the Harry Potter canon. While the film certainly has its problems, for fans, it’s a major expansion of the Wizarding World. As the title suggests, it introduces new beasts, along with new characters, locations, and storylines.
If anything, it grabs onto a few too many narrative threads. Since it’s the first in a series of five movies, many of those threads are left untied.
Fortunately, the Fantastic Beasts film series is set as a prequel to the Harry Potter books. Along with the original 2001 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them chapbook that served as a loose basis for the film, J.K. Rowling’s writing already reveals a lot about where the movie’s characters end up.
So if you can’t wait until 2018 for the next film, or just want to catch up on the references and allusions you may have missed, read on.
SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM — ALONG WITH EVERY SINGLE HARRY POTTER BOOK:
The timeline as we know it:
Now, I apologize, but we’ll need to dip our toes in the metafictional waters. You see, there’s the film, set in New York, which is inspired by a Rowling’s short tie-in book of the same name. In both the film and the book, a young magizoologist (a wizard who studies magical creatures) named Newt Scamander is commissioned to write a fictional book, also named Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The book is commissioned in 1918, at which point Newt begins traveling the world to do research for it. The Fantastic Beasts film is set in New York City, over the span of a few days in the late fall of 1926, some 65 years before the first Harry Potter book. Additionally, we know from recent tweets from J.K. Rowling that the five-film franchise will span a nearly twenty-year period, ending in 1945.
The first edition of Newt’s Fantastic Beasts book is published in 1927, a year after the events of the Fantastic Beasts movie. By the time of the Harry Potter novels, set in the 1990s, Scamander’s book is in its 52nd edition.
The Fantastic Beasts and the inevitable dragons:
The titular fantastic beasts are in many ways the stars of the show, just as much as the human wizards and Muggles. (I refuse to use the term “No-Maj.” Sorry, J.K. Rowling.) And while the first movie features a wide array of creatures from Rowling’s chapbook (along with some new ones added for the film), plenty more from the book have yet to appear.
One safe bet for the following films, would be an appearance from dragons — the undisputed kings of magical beasts. Given that Scamander is canonically known to have worked with the Dragon Research and Restraint Bureau, it seems likely that he’ll run into a dragon or two at some point along the way.
The love story of Newt and Tina:
When the movie concludes, Newt and his suitcase full of magical creatures depart from America, leaving behind Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, an American MACUSA Auror whom Newt bonded with. Newt promises to return with a copy of his book once it’s printed (which we know will occur sometime in the near future given the timeline above).
We know from the real-world Fantastic Beasts book that the two eventually marry, and later retire to the English countryside. Following the events of the Harry Potter series, their grandson, Rolf Scamander, takes up his grandfather’s interest in magizoology and marries Luna Lovegood.
The missing moment of Newt Scamander:
Scamander’s name is one of the classic Potter pun names — he wrote a book about animals, so of course the name is animal-inspired. Rowling really savors name puns. For example, Professor Septima Vector teaches the magic math of Arthimancy; Professor Pomona Sprout teaches Herbology; Remus Lupin — literally Wolf Wolf — is a werewolf.
But Scamander’s full name is actually Newton Artemis Fido Scamander, just short of topping the ridiculousness that is Professor Dumbledore’s full name: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
We know Scamander attended Hogwarts and was a member of Hufflepuff House. (He even sports a Hufflepuff scarf at the end of the movie.) It’s still up in the air whether Scamander graduated Hogwarts — the movie says he was expelled after a dangerous incident with a magical creature, but the original Fantastic Beasts chapbook claims he did graduate.
We also know that, after Hogwarts, Scamander worked as an employee of the Ministry of Magic in the Beast Division of Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, but we don’t exactly know where that fits in with his whereabouts during World War I. His brother, it seems, was a famous war hero — something we still know little about.
The complicated backstory of Albus Dumbledore:
Dumbledore doesn’t actually appear in Fantastic Beasts — he’s just referenced briefly — but he’s obviously a crucial figure in both general Potter lore and the upcoming movies. At the time of this film, Albus Dumbledore is a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But it’s Dumbledore’s relationship with Gellert Grindelwald — the antagonist of the Beasts series — that’s important.
The summer after Dumbledore graduated Hogwarts in 1899, the two bonded over a mutual frustration with the restrictions of the wizards by Muggles, and the existence of the International Statute of Secrecy that binds wizards to a hidden world. The pair obsessed over the legendary Deathly Hallows as a tool to overthrow the Muggle world and establish wizarding rule. However, the two disagreed, and an accident occurred, resulting in the death of Dumbledore’s sister Ariana. Grindelwald fled, and Dumbledore — feeling he couldn’t be trusted with power — retreated to a life of educating future wizards and witches.
But as Grindelwald’s threat grows over the Fantastic Beasts films, we know Dumbledore is ultimately forced to confront his former friend once and for all to decide the fate of the Elder Wand — one of the powerful Deathly Hallows — and the wizarding world. More on that in a moment.
Grindelwald appears at the very beginning of Fantastic Beasts as he wipes out a team of Aurors sent to capture him. Then he reappears at the climax as the presumptive antagonist of the remaining Fantastic Beasts movies.
In the movie, his primary goal is to capture and weaponize an Obscurus, which the Fantastic Beasts movie shows us is a lethally destructive parasitic force that forms when magical children are forced to repress their magic while growing up. But fans know Grindelwald as one of the most dangerous Dark wizards ever mentioned in the series, considered second only to Voldemort himself. And while his time in Fantastic Beasts is relatively limited, we already know more about Grindelwald’s story than nearly anything else in the film.
At 16, he was expelled from Durmstrang Institute for “twisted experiments” in the Dark Arts. In 1899, Grindelwald visited his aunt and author of A History of Magic, Bathilda Bagshot, in the town of Godric’s Hollow — the town where the Dumbledore family lived, and later, the Potters.
It was in Godric’s Hollow that Grindelwald and Dumbledore began their plans to collect the Deathly Hallows and overthrow the Muggle world “For the Greater Good,” a phrase that would become the slogan of Grindelwald and his followers. During this time, the two young men also became romantically connected.
Fantastic Beasts picks up years after that summer, as the threat of Grindelwald has grown to be dangerous to the entire wizarding world.
And while the movie ends with him captured in the custody of MACUSA, it’s unlikely he stays imprisoned for long. As already recounted in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Grindelwald eventually returns to Europe, where he constructs a prison-fortress called “Nurmengard” to hold his opponents, gathers an army of followers for his revolution, and attempts to overthrow the magical governments of Europe with a goal of installing wizarding rule over Muggles.
By 1945, the threat of Grindelwald becomes too great for even Dumbledore to ignore. He rouses himself from his station at Hogwarts and confronts Grindelwald, battling him in what is described as the “greatest wizarding duel of all time.” Defeated, Grindelwald is imprisoned in his own fortress of Nurmengard for the remainder of his life, until he is murdered by Lord Voldemort in pursuit of the Elder Wand.
The Second Salemers:
The sort-of villains of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the New Salem Philanthropic Society (also known as the Second-Salemers) isn’t really heard of again in Harry Potter lore. However, it seems that their efforts to have a second Salem Witch trial is doomed to ultimately fail, given that the 1994 Quidditch World Cup (featured in Goblet of Fire) sees a delegation from the The Salem Witches Institution, a Salem-based women’s group.
On one hand, knowing all of this mythos minutiae isn’t imperative to enjoy Fantastic Beasts or the upcoming four films. But having placed Fantastic Beasts within the context of the Potterverse has helped me come to terms with the movies glut of unsolved story elements. Unlike so many other films with tacky cliffhangers, we know that the creators have a roadmap and a powerful final destination. Rowling isn’t just making things up as she goes along.
If anything, Fantastic Beasts feels like a prestige television series. Each episode will garner its own criticism, but I suspect, a decade from now, I’ll savor the series over a Thanksgiving weekend binge.