Back in 2001, J.K. Rowling released a two-book collection that benefited the Comic Relief charity. These books were meant to imitate Harry’s school books that he carried during the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. They even contained cute and silly notations meant to appear like Harry and his friends had written in the book. The collection included Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages.
Looking at them now, they seem a bit silly. Both books are extremely short, clocking in at less than 50 pages each, clearly not the size of a school book Harry would have carried. The notations are fun, the three of them commenting on some of the beasts they’ve encountered, but at the same time, it feels a bit ridiculous. Of course, these are things I have thought about over time, but when released, they were that extra bit of the Harry Potter world fans desired. Remember, this was published just after the first movie came out, when only five books had been published so far. It was also before Rowling decided to change her world through Twitter.
If this book is such a small spec of history in the Potterverse, why should we care? Well, you don’t have to care, I suppose. I just find the whole thing fascinating. It got me thinking about authorial intent, which has gotten Rowling in some murky waters lately. What is authorial intent? Well, suppose you read a book and interpret a scene or character a certain way. For instance, maybe you think Snape is a bully and “nice guy.” If you subscribe to this literary theory, it would mean that you would defer to the author in how the book is intended to be read. So for our example, Rowling has said that Snape is none of those things, he just projected his hatred of James onto Harry, and he was simply deeply in love with Lily. That means, your interpretation is wrong, no matter what the source material says, because the author didn’t intend for the character to come across that way.
Now, I believe that in certain respects, Authorial Intent is the right way to go. Who else would know more about their world than the author? However, once the author has written the book, polished, edited, and released it to the world, it is out of their hands. They have no control over how their work makes another person feel. They can’t determine how people will react to these characters or their actions. Sure, maybe she didn’t intend for Snape to come across this way, but her words in the book say otherwise. And is it fair for an author to later publish (or Tweet) clarifications to a book (or books) that have been read for over twenty years? How does that affect those past readers, and are new readers expected to keep up with the changes?
Changes Post Publication
Which brings me to the real meat of the post. What has changed in the Harry Potter universe since the publication of these small books? Have any of these changes affected this content? Rowling has written two screenplays about Newt Scamander. She has also released an illustrated edition of The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In addition, this original school book has been re-released with additional material.
The new material added to the re-release isn’t much. They add some more information about the existing creatures and add six new creatures located in North America. These changes are made to get things more in line with the movies. Harry’s notations are removed, as is Dumbledore’s foreword (which was more just a letter about why Muggles were able to read the book). These just seem like updates to a slightly outdated encyclopedia. But, there is also a new foreword by Scamander himself and a change to the “About the Author” section.
Some of these details could be considered changes to help with authorial intent, though some people may say it’s just to add depth to a rather underdeveloped character. I will not discuss them here as they could be considered spoilers. In this particular case, I lean toward the latter. Scamander was never intended to be a main character, so when his story started being told, we needed to know more about him. However, there is a line that was changed because the new movie said something that contradicted something in the 2001 edition. So while this is often considered a small, silly book, it has also been considered canon for over fifteen years. The new movie changed canon, so the old canon was changed in turn. In this particular case, it’s a small detail, but it opens the floodgates to more, concerning changes in the original source material (of which there is already a lot thanks to Twitter). I really don’t want to delve into all that muck though, at least not here.
Instead, I thought it would be fun to look for some changes that were made from the original 2001 source material to the 2016 movie edition. I found a list of the creatures that made an appearance on screen, and I studied the book. Many of them are new to the world and are added in that new 2017 edition. Here are the original ones I found that changed, no matter how slightly.
While the looks appear spot on, with the wings attached to its head, it’s the other parts of the description that don’t seem to fit. It is said that the wings spin so fast that the entire creature rotates as it flies. This is not done in the movie, clearly so that we can get a good view of it. The description also lists the creature as native to Australia. I think it’s implied that it escapes from his case, though we never see him recapturing it, so maybe not. Either way, it doesn’t belong in America.
These creatures live in trees, guarding them. It is mentioned how you can placate them in order to collect wand-wood. They are “made of bark and twigs.” Now, I’m probably just nitpicking here (but that’s the fun part), but bark is usually brown. Not to mention, I have never seen a green wizard wand. And it says nothing of leaves. Pickett is still super cute though.
It is specifically stated that this bird is the dodo. They can turn invisible, which is why muggles thought that the bird went extinct. However, this bird does not have the pronounced hooked beak, and it is far too colorful to be the dodo we know (knew?) and loved.
The serpentine body was spot on in the movie, however, it is stated that they “may reach a length of fifteen feet.” The creature in the movie was way beyond this length. There is also no mention of fitting inside the available space, so this part was made specifically for the movie.
This creature is not mentioned in the 2001 edition, and strangely, it is not one of the six that was added to the 2017 version. Considering the rather important role it played, I am surprised to find this missing.
I saved this guy for last for more interesting reasons. Sure, they did a pretty decent job following the source material. My only qualm is that it says the Niffler is “long-snouted,” whereas the adorable guy in the movie has more of a beak in line with a platypus. But, I can’t fault this guy. He is by far the scene-stealer (literally) of the movie. My issue with this guy goes beyond the movie. It actually goes back to early 2016 when we visited Diagon Alley at Universal Studios. Inside Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, there is this creature, labeled as a Niffler. Of course, we got it for my son because it was cute, and at the time, the movie was not a thing. Here are the two Nifflers, side-by-side.
To be fair, it does follow the “long-snouted” note, but not the “fluffy, black” part. Once the movie was announced, I was laughing at the stark difference between these two, and it has become a running joke in our house. I’d have to say that the movie version is closer to the source material. So where the heck did they get this idea from? Apparently, a toy similar to this can be found in the first movie on Neville’s bedside table, and it is said it this creature. So, who finalized these wildly different creatures? I am sure the director and other people on the set play a part, but I’d like to believe that Rowling has a big say.
Changes for Adaptation
Now, clearly, all of these changes are minor and have no major impact on the way we view and interact with the Potterverse. Although, I’d be curious to know if they still sell that creature and what it is now called. This post started out as a fun, lighthearted idea about how this toy was so vastly different than what made it to the screen and it evolved (devolved?) into a discussion regarding post-publication changes when it comes to re-releases and authorial intent. Crazy.
Adding in a movie adaptation causes even more areas for shifts to occur, particularly when the source material is so thin. I do find it interesting that there is no true novel adaptation of the Fantastic Beasts movies. Perhaps this is because Rowling wrote the screenplays and she trusts no one else to write in her universe (I certainly wouldn’t after Cursed Child). It’s too bad though, as this would have been a fantastic opportunity to add in all that new source material she made for the movies, such as the American school and houses. But, should I be complaining that I am getting more of this wonderful world? Well, as it turns out, I can still complain about a lot of it, but that’s a much longer (and more serious) post.
What are your thoughts regarding authorial intent? Do you take the author’s word as gospel, or do you feel that readers are free to interpret the work in their own way?