Study Guide

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Appearances

By J.K. Rowling


Troll representatives were questioned in the absence of goblins and judged not to understand anything that was being said to them; they were therefore classified as "beasts" despite their two-legged gait; merpeople were invited through translators to become "beings" for the first time; fairies, pixies, and gnomes, despite their humanoid appearance, were placed firmly in the "beast" category. (4.10)

Newt Scamander is explaining some of the compromises that came down under the new categorizing rules in 1811. They came down to this—you couldn't just label a creature by the way it walked or the way it talked. You had to look at its mind to figure out what it was. It was a novel idea.

The Acromantula is a monstrous eight-eyed spider capable of human speech. It originated in Borneo, where it inhabits dense jungle. Its distinctive features include the thick black hair that covers its body; its legspan, which may reach up to fifteen feet; its pincers, which produce a distinctive clicking sound when the Acromantula is excited or angry; and a poisonous secretion. (9.1)

Okay, so in the case of this giant, terrifying spider what you see is what you get—a freaky monster. Even though these Acromantula can talk and are super-intelligent, they also can't stop themselves from eating people. That's definitely why they wind up being grouped with other dangerous beasts.

The Chimaera is a rare Greek monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a dragon's tail. Vicious and bloodthirsty, the Chimaera is extremely dangerous. (11.4)

Again, you're mixing a couple of animals—a lion and a goat—to get an even more dangerous beast. Appearances are not deceiving you. This is one bad beastie.

Perhaps the most beautiful type of dragon, [the Antipodean Opaleye] has iridescent, pearly scales and glittering, multi-coloured, pupil-less eyes, hence its name. This dragon produces a very vivid scarlet flame, though by dragon standards it is not particularly aggressive and will rarely kill unless hungry. Its favourite food is sheep, though it has been known to attack larger prey. (12.9)

Okay, so all dragons are killing machines, but this one is beautiful, so maybe that's means it's less of a killing machine. Rowling tends to describe the more aggressive dragons with more aggressive features (like spikes on their tails). Did those dragons develop those warrior traits because they're fighters…or did they start fighting because they had the equipment to back it up?

The fairy possesses a weak brand of magic that it may use to deter predators, such as the Augurey. It has a quarrelsome nature but, being excessively vain, it will become docile on any occasion when it is called to act as an ornament. Despite its humanlike appearance, the fairy cannot speak. It makes a high-pitched buzzing noise to communicate with its fellows. (14.2)

Muggles loves fairies. But wizards? Not so much. We find out from Mr. Scamander that fairies are actually just tiny, boring, kind of weak little creatures. Sorry, Tinkerbell.

This British and Irish water demon can take various shapes, though it most often appears as a horse with bulrushes for a mane. Having lured the unwary onto its back, [the kelpie] will dive straight to the bottom of its river or lake and devour the rider, letting the entrails float to the surface. (19.3)

This creature is a shape-shifter, so it's definitely not what it appears to be. Its main goal is to lure riders onto its back and then drown them and eat them. You might want to be leery of any pretty horses you see standing near lakes or rivers.

I turned over in bed, with my back to the window, and caught sight of what appeared to be a shapeless black shadow sliding underneath my bedroom door. I lay motionless, trying sleepily to divine what was causing such a shadow in a room lit only by moonlight. Undoubtedly my stillness led the Lethifold to believe that its potential victim was sleeping.

To my horror, the shadow began to creep up the bed, and I felt its slight weight upon me. It resembled nothing so much as a rippling black cape, the edges fluttering slightly as it slithered up the bed towards me. Paralysed with fear, I felt its clammy touch upon my chin before I sat bolt upright. (20.3-4)

And now we're gonna have nightmares for the next week. Lethifolds are pretty sneaky because they take on the appearance of shadow or an ordinary everyday piece of fabric. Who'd expect their blanket of trying to kill them? You might want to sleep with the lights on the tonight… and bright-colored towels stuffed under all the doors.

The oldest recorded merpeople were known as sirens (Greece) and it is in warmer waters that we find the beautiful mermaids so frequently depicted in Muggle literature and painting. The selkies of Scotland and the Merrows of Ireland are less beautiful, but they share that love of music which is common to all merpeople. (21.5)

If you remember from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, this is the first thing that Harry notices about the merpeople when he dives into the Black Lake—they're really ugly. Appearances can be deceiving. But, as Mr. Scamander points out, there are some "traditionally beautiful" mermaids hanging around Greece, too. Hey, we think all merpeople are lovely. Don't let it get your self-esteem down under the sea, merfolks.

In retaliation, so the story has it, a gang of McCliverts surrounded the MacBoon dwellings one night and Transfigured each and every MacBoon into a monstrous five-legged creature. The McCliverts realised too late that the Transfigured MacBoons were infinitely more dangerous in this state (the MacBoons had the reputation for great ineptitude at magic). Moreover, the MacBoons resisted every attempt to turn them back into human form. The monsters killed every last one of the McCliverts until no human remained on the island. (25.2)

So, these monsters are actually human? Maybe. They look a little bit like angry Scotsmen and they are fighting mad, so we guess they've decided that it's better to look like beasts and be powerful than look like men and be kind of half-witted with a wand.

The unicorn is a beautiful beast found throughout the forests of northern Europe. It's a pure white, horned horse when fully grown, though the foals are initially golden, and turn silver before achieving maturity. (29.1)

We end with the most beautiful of all the magical beasts—the unicorn. Sure, beauty doesn't equal goodness (just look at the merpeople), but in the unicorn's case we'll make an exception. Pure white coat. Long pointy horn. This fantastic beast is just screaming how fabulous and fierce and magical it is.