Editor's Note: While I thought that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was an absolutely OK sequel to the Harry Potter saga, I was quite overwhelmed to come across the sheer number of Potterheads that absolutely thought of it as the most ridiculous piece of fan fiction ever and the Grease 2 of ignored sequels. Mehvash Peerbhoy argues for the same proposition below, but finds solace in the newly released 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' (read our review here)
I know what you’re probably thinking. This doesn’t sound like a fair comparison at all. Books and movies cannot possibly be compared, they’re such vastly different mediums. And you’re right. It would be completely unfair to compare the two as mediums, but this comparison is based purely on content, I promise! Spoilers galore from The Cursed Child (TCC) as well as Fantastic Beasts coming up below, so tread carefully.
I’m a thoroughbred Potterhead, yeah? A pure-blood, if you will. I love the franchise. But to paraphrase an old friend who grew up reading/watching/living/breathing the series with me: I will give this franchise all my money forever and always but I don’t necessarily have to like it! I know I’m not alone in my dislike for TCC, there are plenty more like me. And if you’re not one of them, I’m happy for you, I really am. It means you were spared a temporary disillusionment.
Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t TOTALLY hate TCC. As a script, I loved it. I cannot even begin to imagine how they’ve portrayed some of the effects given in the stage direction, and I’m sure the experience of watching it live will be superb, no doubt! But still, it left a lot to be desired. As a book, it just didn’t feel wholesome the way the previous books/movies felt. Instead, it felt like a massive ploy to squeeze more money out of the franchise. I was very upset that Rowling hadn’t left well enough alone and spent her time frolicking around in the millions she had already made.
So I was obviously a bit wary of Fantastic Beasts. But I needn’t have been, because it was great! It completely made up for the bitter taste left in my mouth by TCC. And here’s why it did, in no particular order:
1. A MORE LIKABLE PROTAGONIST
The protagonist of Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander, the eccentric and slightly neurotic author of the now-famous Hogwarts textbook, served as a much better protagonist than Albus Severus Potter ever did. His character was better etched out, and was far more relatable than Albus’ was. Maybe Eddie Redmayne has something to do with that, I don’t know. I mean, no one can deny that the man has a way of making his awkward shyness work for him. You found yourself rooting for him in a way you just couldn’t bring yourself to root for Albus. Raise your hand if you ended up liking Scorpius a lot more than you should have liked Albus! Fantastic Beasts had a great sidekick too, in the Muggle (sorry, No-Maj) Jacob Kowalski, but he never took away from the main guy.
2. NEW-ISH ELEMENTS
Fantastic Beasts gave us more insight into the wizarding world we love so much, satisfying a thirst prevalent in all Potterheads everywhere, which was a far-cry from what TCC ended up doing. Other than learning more about how other wizards around the world work, in Fantastic Beasts we also learn more about something that was vaguely mentioned with reference to Albus Dumbledore’s sister Ariana in The Deathly Hallows, but not something that we knew a whole lot about. Fantastic Beasts not only names her inward-turning magic as an “Obscurus” but it also uses it as a major plot-point that totally worked! It was a great reminder that as much as we know and love the Potterverse, there is a whole lot we have yet to discover. Now contrast that with the Time-Turner angle in TCC. No doubt, it was fascinating to ponder over, to see what the wizarding world would have come to if Voldemort had won The Battle of Hogwarts. But it didn’t really tell us anything more than we already knew about Time-Turners, did it?
3. SOLID STORY
Even the most diehard Potter loyalists have to admit that TCC felt a lot like fanfic. I remember reading those when I was younger, in the long wait between each book, just to feel some semblance of being connected to that world. Some of them were quite good, but some of them were ridiculously far-fetched: I mean, please, no one normal wants to read about a Fred and George coupling, guys. No one. TCC was in-between quite good and far-fetched. There were times it felt odd, but it had its moments when it shone. Fantastic Beasts had the advantage of being a completely brand new entity in a known world. But then again, no one asked Rowling to go back and mess with existing storylines, thus turning everything into ugly caricatures! Fantastic Beasts had a crackling story that felt worthwhile, it felt like some thought and effort had been put into it instead of taking an easy way out, and it’s done a wonderful job in setting the stage for the following films.
4. SUBTLE RELEVANT MORAL LESSONS
A recent study found that Potterheads are more tolerant towards people different from them, and that is easily one of my favourite things about the Potter series – it subtly taught us about morality, so that most of us didn’t even realise that we were the way we were because of the series! Fantastic Beasts stays true to this legacy, once again reminding us to be kind and gentle, even if we don’t understand or know something or someone. Just like Lupin was a symbol for people shunned by their community, so is Credence. And given the state of the world today, hearing the proto-Nazi rhetoric from Grindelwald and the Us-versus-Them policies of MACUSA towards the No-Majs, Fantastic Beasts was a constant reminder that art and reality are intertwined, and we need art more than ever.
On the other hand, one of the main things that jumped out at me while reading TCC was Harry’s vehement disapproval of Scorpius purely on the basis of him being a Malfoy. It went against everything we’ve been previously taught; it advocated that it’s alright to judge someone based on their families, without giving them even a sliver of a chance. I mean, come on son, what would James and Sirius say?
5. A BRILLIANT AND BRAND NEW ANTAGONIST
Gellert Grindelwald. Well, he’s not exactly brand new: we’ve heard of him before, but not quite enough. Having a new villain that we will slowly learn more about is exciting! He definitely makes for a much better antagonist than Delphi from TCC, even though she may have been slightly cooler. Delphi’s mere existence felt very implausible to me. Plus, her introduction and role right up until her big reveal felt very forced and overtly exposition-y. She was so OBVIOUSLY the villain that there wasn’t really a shock factor when they did reveal it. That she was Voldemort’s daughter was a WTF moment, but not of the good variety at all. The big reveal of Grindelwald, on the other hand, was definitely a good sort of WTF moment for me! I wasn’t expecting Graves to be him. I could tell there was something off about him (I mean, he had the sign of the Hallows and spoke about the greater good and everything), but I expected him to just be a bad guy who was a follower of Grindelwald – a Death Eater equivalent.
BONUS point! ROWLING WROTE IT HERSELF
Watching Fantastic Beasts felt like being right at home. We were transported back into the Potter realm, even if it was 70-odd years before Harry. TCC felt weirdly tainted, because other people had helped write it and it lacked the heart that is trademark of Rowling’s work: a poor imitation of the real thing. Fantastic Beasts had all the elements in the right place – it had heart, soul, and all the things that made us fall in love with the Potterverse.
Fantastic Beasts had the potential of going very wrong, because so much lay on poor Newt’s nerdy hunched shoulders. It carried the burden of being part of the Potter franchise, when it actually has very little to do with it. What Rowling plans to do next, how she intends to build FIVE (!) films on the ground that she has laid in this film, we just have to wait and watch. It feels like that might be stretching it a bit far in a bid to squeeze as much moolah out of it while she can. But from the glimpses she’s given us through all her tweets, I have a good feeling about the next decade over which the movies will release. I think it’s safe to say that this first installment is a reminder to all of us of the magic Rowling is still capable of, a reminder that she is an effortless storyteller and still has the power to keep us all endlessly enthralled.
Captain's Log: Mehvash Peerbhoy pretends to be smooth AF in front of the students she teaches in The Millennium School, Dubai; but then sneaks home to be thoroughly nerdy and awesome all on her own time. You can follow her @mehvs on Twitter and Instagram.