To Being Or Not To Being…
This is it, guys.
This is the fundamental question of Fantastic Beasts. It's the Big Daddy of categorization in the Wizarding World: bigger than "hot or not?" "will they or won't they?" or "tragedy or comedy." The question of whether a creature is a being (wizard-style) or a beast (Puffskein-style) is what Newt Skamander's little encyclopedia's all about.
Lucky for us humble Muggles, Fantastic Beasts drops some knowledge on us at the beginning:
The definition of a "beast" has caused controversy for centuries. Though this might surprise some first-time students of Magizoology, the problem might come into clearer focus if we take a moment to consider three types of magical creature.
Werewolves spend most of their time as humans (whether wizard or Muggle). Once a month, however, they transform into savage, four-legged beasts of murderous intent and no human conscience.
The centaurs' habits are not humanlike; they live in the wild, refuse clothing, prefer to live apart from wizards and Muggles alike, and yet have intelligence equal to theirs.
Trolls bear a humanoid appearance, walk upright, may be taught a few simple words, and yet are less intelligent than the dullest unicorn, and possess no magical powers in their own right except for their prodigious and unnatural strength.
We now ask ourselves: which of these creatures is a "being"—that is to say, a creature worthy of legal rights and a voice in the governance of the magical world—and which is a "beast"? (4.1-5)
Yeesh. This is gonna be tougher than it looks.
So who exactly gets to be called a "being"? At first humans thought it should only be creatures that walked on two legs…but that didn't work out so well when the trolls walked in and smashed everything. Then, they thought it could work if they included anything that could speak human language. Of course, that left out merpeople.
Classification, guys: it's not as easy as Sesame Streets wants to make you believe. (Just ask our boy Darwin.)
The final compromise took into effect the intelligence of individual creatures:
Not until 1811 were definitions found that most of the magical community found acceptable. Grogan Stump, the newly appointed Minister for Magic, decreed that a "being" was "any creature that has sufficient intelligence to understand the laws of the magical community and to bear part of the responsibility in shaping those laws." (4.10)
That actually sounds pretty smart. If you've got a brain and you can use it (for good), then you're in the club. We like this Grogan Stump guy.
And you know what? This massive question of "beinghood" doesn't just exist in the Wizard World. We American Muggles have had a lot of problems, for example, in determining who got to vote.
First we thought it was a good idea to restrict the right to vote to landowners. Then only to white dudes. Then only to dudes. Then only to people who weren't of Native American or Asian ancestry. Then only to people over twenty-one.
It was a long road.
It's taken us hundreds of years to get to a point where we're approaching something resembling equality…so we can't knock wizards too much for taking some time to figure it out too.
Hey, progress is slow, but it does happen.