Harry Potter gets political in new prequel

Potter politics: Eddie Redmayne stars as the ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander. © Scope Features

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a tale of quirky magical creatures causing chaos in New York City. It is also a warning about Donald Trump. Should children’s stories be political?

What’s happening

Populist forces are taking over America. The country is ‘caught in the jaws of fear and paranoia’. This is not 2016 but 1926 in New York, where ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander has arrived from the UK. There, he finds that wizards and witches are being persecuted by a group named the Second Salemers.

Find out more

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is out in cinemas, is the first of five Harry Potter prequels created by J.K. Rowling. The film shows the history of the world Harry, Ron and Hermione will inherit. It is also ‘the first anti-Trump blockbuster,’ says Rolling Stone. It is a story ‘about building a wall… to keep out scary things people don’t understand’.

Rowling is no stranger to politics, and has said that her heroes always ‘feel themselves to be set apart, stigmatised’. She once warned that Voldemort was ‘nowhere near as bad’ as Donald Trump.

Her readers seem to be influenced by her views. In 2014, a study found that ‘the Harry Potter generation’ is more tolerant of outsiders. Could Fantastic Beasts have the same effect?

Some say…

Must we talk about politics? Children’s stories – especially fantasies – should be about joy, about escaping the real world. Who wants to think of Trump while watching a blockbuster about spells and magical creatures? Can writers not create imaginary worlds for young people without sending out a political message at the same time?

Others think…

The best children’s stories have always had deeper meanings. Fairy tales once warned children about the dangers of strangers. Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped to change people’s minds about slavery. And Harry Potter is about the consequences of fear and prejudice. That is one of the things that make the stories so interesting – and so successful.

You Decide

  1. Should children’s stories be political?

Activities

  1. List three books or films which changed the way you think about the world.

Some People Say...

“Artists are people who change things.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

Newt Scamander
An expert in magical creatures. His book is studied at Hogwarts.
Salemers
A reference to the Salem witch trials which took place in America in the 1690s. Twenty people accused of witchcraft were executed.
Rolling Stone
An American pop culture magazine.
Stigmatised
To be seen as inferior or disgraceful.
More tolerant
Harry Potter readers have ‘greater support for equality’, says Anthony Gierzynski, co-author of the book Harry Potter and the Millennials.

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