The no-maj question

This is the second and last post I am writing in response to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them–at least until I watch it again. 🙂  Spoilers ahead.

A few weeks ago I wrote on my blog that one of the aspects of the film I was most excited about was the presence of a non-magical person as a major character.  I predicted that this would be significant for fandom because it would give us all hope that we, too, could become part of that world (since we’ve all pretty much given up on receiving that lost-in-the-mail Hogwarts letter).

What I didn’t realize was that there would be so many non-magical characters in the movie and that they would represent such a wide array of roles.  (And yes, let’s get this out of the way: “No-maj” is kind of an annoying term, but it makes sense.  Americans don’t like saying long words if we don’t have to.)  In Harry Potter, we basically just had the bland yet horrible Dursleys, but in Fantastic Beasts we have…

  1. The Second Salem group, an anti-witch society, composed of a cold, abusive woman and her adoptive children of varying ages, that’s scarier in its way than any of the dark magic in this film.  I haven’t read any movie reviews yet, but I have a feeling that people are probably tagging this joyless family as a caricature of religious fundamentalists.  I think it’s a bit more complicated than that, and I also noticed that the Second Salemers receive a moment of sympathy when they are dismissed and mocked by one of the people in this next group.
  2. The newspaper baron and his competing sons.  If I hadn’t known that this movie was the first in a series, I would have said that these characters were completely superfluous to the story (though the murder of the political son makes a lot more sense when you remember who seemed most sensitive to his mockery in the scene I just mentioned), but I have a feeling we’ll see at least one of them later.  The “I’m trying really hard to get Dad to notice me” son could go in a lot of different plot directions, whether or not he’s retained any memories of the magic he’s witnessed.  And speaking of retaining memories…
  3. The aforementioned major character, Jacob Kowalski.  By making Jacob a lower-middle-class, frustrated in his job, affable but not terribly brilliant schlub, J. K. Rowling has gone out of her way to make us believe that if this guy can make friends with wizards and witches (and get kissed by one too), surely anyone can.  (I’m focusing on surface appearances here; I actually do think Jacob is pretty special–see my previous post–but you see my point.)  But then the ending of the movie cruelly wrenches that hope away from us as Jacob is subjected to the same massive memory-wiping charm as the rest of New York City.  If there hadn’t been a little scene at the end to let us know that Jacob has subconscious recollections of his adventure, I really think I would have walked out of the theater devastated.

Whether or not you think that the ending negated–I should say “obliviated”–any strides toward no-maj acceptance that the movie seemed to make, you have to admit that there’s a much wider range of non-magical characters than we’ve ever seen before.  And I have a feeling we’re going to see even more.

 

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