Let us take you back to a simpler time. A time before Snapchat, before Twitter, and before Facebook. A time when internet access in your pocket was a far-off dream. A time when people were making out to "Fallin'" by Alicia Keys and Britney and Justin wearing way too much denim was considered…stylish.
The new gadget: The Xbox. The hot hair: chunky highlights. The president of the United States: George W. Bush. The year: 2001.
The reading public: antsy.
After all, they'd all finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and had to wait until 2003 for the release of the fifth book…
But J.K. came to the rescue.
In between the two books, she released a slim series companion book called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was published along with another short book called Quidditch Through the Ages and the profits from the two books directly benefited the charity Comic Relief U.K.
Hey, when you can help the world and feed your love for Harry Potter, you know you're doing something right.
Fantastic Beasts was a pretty short book. Weighing in at just around sixty pages, it was written by J.K. Rowling under the pen name Newt Scamander. Mr. Scamander, as she explained, was a world famous magizoologist (say that five times fast) who had travelled far and wide collecting all kinds of information about the magical creatures of the world. He'd written all this knowledge down in Fantastic Beasts, which had been used as a guide for wizarding students as households for the nearly seventy years.
Inside the book, you'll find a basic guide to all the known magical creatures in the wizarding world…and whether to pet them or back away slowly. You'll learn what to do if your house ever becomes infested with Bundimuns. Or how to treat a doxy bite. And what to do if you ever come face to face with a deadly Nundu…
…actually, we'll tell you what to do if you ever meet a Nundu. Run, don't walk.
A slim little volume like Fantastic Beasts might not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but it made a big impact. As of 2009, the two books had raised over $22 million (£17 million) for Comic Relief U.K. That's a whole lot of help to those in need. In case, you've been living under a rock, you probably also noticed that Fantastic Beasts got the big screen treatment, too.
It's clear that what started as a simple little bonus book to the Harry Potter universe has turned out to be so much more. So, let's take some time and explore the world of fantastic, magical beasts.
After all, you never know when you might stumble upon a nest of giant, bloodthirsty Acromantulas…
Because there's a Diricawl under your couch right now. Run.
Nah, come back here. Not only is a Diricawl super-unlikely to be under your couch (they hang out on Mauritius, where we Muggles knew them as dodos), but they can also disappear at will. You're never going to find that thing. And if you ever did, the Diricawl isn't going to mess you up.
And you would have known all about that if you'd already read Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.
But that's not actually why you should care about this book—although, don't get us wrong, knowing your Billywigs from your Bundimuns is useful stuff. The reason you should care is a little less magical sounding…but a lot more pertinent to your everyday life.
Underneath the spells and the critters and the faraway places detailed in Fantastic Beasts is a story about classification: about determining who's a "being" (like a human, either Muggle or wizard) and who's a "beast." And that's actually a process that's more than complicated.
Because there's no "being" test, exactly.
You can't look at a creature and say, "Whoa, you're a beast," the way you can look at your friend after she spends a day at the pool without SPF on and say, "Whoa, you're sunburned." You can't take a sample of a creature's blood and say "You're a being" with the same certainty you'd say "Your blood type is A-." You can't even score a creature, SAT-style, and say "Wow! 1600! You're definitely a beast."
In fact, the criteria of what makes a beast a beast and a being a being have changed over time in the Wizarding World. And—get this—even a being who is characterized as a being using the super-formal Ministry of Magic standards can decide to be a beast. The term "beast" and "being" is actually pretty fluid.
This is some heavy-duty social commentary, guys.
We use categorization all the time. In fact, it's so ubiquitous that we can't really escape it. We say, for example "He's an old white man" or "She's a young Indian woman," but we rarely stop to think about what factors in to our categorizing process.
But we should. Because although our signifiers are useful (and accurate, most of the time), they have changed.
"Old" used to refer to anyone over forty. People used to stop being "young" around twenty. "Woman" and "man" used to refer to only cisgender people. The term "white" used to refer to only people of Anglo or Germanic heritage—for example, the Irish weren't considered white. And the country of India used to cover a different area than it does today—as recently as 1971, it contained the area now known as Bangladesh.
Yeah. It kind of makes your mind explode like an Erumpent during mating season.
Fantastic Beasts might not consider itself super-deep reading—after all, it's a book about crabs that shoot fire out of their butts. But reading this slim little encyclopedia will definitely make you think long and hard about the process of characterization: how we name, why we name, and how our naming process changes over the years.
Why Potter less when you can Pottermore? This official site includes all new content from J.K. Rowling related to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and the rest of the Harry Potter universe.
Harry Potter Wiki
Explore everything Potter-related (and the beasts of the wizarding world in particular) at this comprehensive fan-run wiki.
Comic Relief U.K.
Find out how you can support the efforts of Comic Relief (hint: you already did your part if you bought a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Movie
The trailer for the first part of a planned trilogy of movies.
Fantastic Beasts Film Website
Everything you need to know about the film series.
J.K. Rowling Interview
This Q&A is from way back in 2001, when both Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch Through the Ages were first released. Wow. So much has happened to Harry since then.
Fantastic Beasts Review from Entertainment Weekly
Harry Potter stories are probably some of the most review-proof books on the market, but it never hurts to throw some in. Even back when they first came out, folks though this slim volume was a delightful addition to what we already knew about the wizarding world.
Magic in North America
We already know there are wizards all over the world, but magic in America isn't something that's been touched on in the Harry Potter universe…until now. In 2016, J.K. Rowling released a series of new stories about magic in North America to tie in with the new Fantastic Beasts film series. Watch and be dazzled.
Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Ever wondered how American witches and wizards learn magic? Welcome to Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You can also go on Pottermore and read all about how the school was started and how it grew into the main school of magic for American witches and wizards.
Newt Scamander: Epic Hero
This little video was made as a tie in with the Fantastic Beasts movie series and it's all about—who else?—Newt Scamander. Not only does it have lots of cool clips from the movie, it also features several short interviews with J.K. Rowling and Eddie Redmayne.
Judging a Book By Its Cover
The original cover art from the 2001 edition.
Fine Art Fantastic Beasts
Fan-made art of one of Fantastic Beasts' entries.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Poster
The poster for the 2016 film, with Mr. Scamander looking especially dashing.
Bowtruckles on the Big Screen
The movie version of a Bowtruckle. Cute!
Show Business Billywigs
And here's a Billywig flying over a crowd of Muggles (or No-Majs as they're called in America).
A Demiguise on Film
Here's a Demiguise rushing through New York City. It might want to think about becoming invisible any time now.
Nifflers in Hollywood
This is a Niffler doing its favorite thing—snatching someone's pocketbook.
An Occamy on the Silver Screen
And here's an Occamy coming in from out of the shadows.