It’s easy enough to look at fandoms and make a guess as to why people join them. The plots that lure our imaginations into wild rides of fantasy, the characters with whom we relate or aspire to be, captivating worlds where some force of magic exists larger than ourselves, and maybe finally some universal truth that can explain all the suffering and make our reality more bearable: these are all reasons for why we are so captured by a particular story and recreated as a loyal fan. But with all the stories out there, why don’t we love every story? Why do some speak to us and others don’t? And, more particularly, why do we love one branch of a story but not the entire tree? Why *not* the whole franchise?
If you have any familiarity, no matter how passing, with pop culture, then you have heard of the phenomenon of Harry Potter, a series of books and movies by J. K. Rowling. The story starts with Harry, a lonely and abused 11-year-old orphan living with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, receiving a letter inviting him to attend a private school for wizards. Through his time at the school Harry makes new friends, learns many life lessons, and battles an evil entity known as Voldemort. It’s a classic good vs. evil story where the underdog is the hero. My FAVORITE.
The original series was seven books long, which spans Harry’s entire time at the school, and was later followed by movie remakes of each book, a screenplay called Harry and the Cursed Child, accessory books, a themed area at the Universal Studios amusement park in Florida, and a prequel movie called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. That doesn’t begin to touch on the huge fan site Pottermore, the merchandise, the Lego sets, the video games…
“Harry Potter is popular” is an understatement.
But, not everyone is a swooning fan. Some self-identifying sci-fi/fantasy geeks turn their noses up when Harry Potter is brought into the conversation. “That’s just for kids,” they say. (It’s not, booger-breath.) “It’s too popular.” (Ahem, so is Star Wars.) “There’s nothing in it that I can relate to.” (Aha, maybe now we’re getting somewhere.)
What’s really interesting is mentioning the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, an offshoot of the Harry Potter series, elicits a completely different response. “Oh, yeah, I liked that movie. I thought it was pretty good.” Wait, what?
How can two different stories in the same story universe inspire such diverse reactions? In a nutshell, the naysayers believe the Harry Potter series is for kids and Fantastic Beasts is for adults. Rubbish, but that’s the perception. To better understand why they might think that, let’s break it down.
The biggest and most obvious difference is the lead characters and their ages. Most people want to relate to the lead character so they can really immerse themselves in the movie, right? So, is your inner lead character a teenager or an adult? (Um, don’t answer that out loud.)
Harry Potter is 11 years old at the beginning of the series and 18 by the end, giving the books and movies more a feeling of young adult literature than adult fiction. In other words, welcome back to middle school and high school, a period of time most of us want to forget, not relive. Puberty the sequel? No, thanks.
Newt Scamander, the lead wizard in Fantastic Beasts, is an adult of indiscriminate age, although one site surmises he is 29 in the movie. Regardless of his actual age, he is mature enough to hold a job and chase down a work project gone awry. Yep, I can relate.
While both Harry and Newt are fighting the good fight against evil, they have their own daily lives to deal with as well. Newt, as an adult, has a full-time position working in the Beast Division by studying and tracking magical creatures. Harry is your typical student working hard to make good grades and practicing his Quidditch game on the field when he can.
Another large impact on the stories is their locations. Harry’s story takes place in multiple locales, although the primary setting is the wizarding school and its many classrooms, subjects, and teachers, all coated with the stereotypical school drama. Newt, on the other hand, travels the world and spends most of the movie in New York City, either scouring the city alleys for escaped creatures or in the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) headquarters.
Does it matter if the movies appeal to different groups of people?
If you’re already a fan of the Harry Potter world, it doesn’t matter one bit. It’s just more stories to thrill your imagination. Not a fan? Yes, it matters, because you’ve been introduced to a new story, one that the rest of us have loved for a long time. And, maybe, just maybe, the next time you have a discussion with your friends that love Harry Potter, you can understand their references to the shared stories’ universe and even find some commonalities between the movies that you both really enjoyed.
Maybe that is Fantastic Beasts’ most impactful purpose: it introduces a new group of fans to a favorite story of an existing fan base and sparks conversation between the two.
Welcome to the Wizarding World. We don’t care how you got here. We’re just happy to have you!
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald releases in theaters on Nov. 16, 2018.
Featured image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures