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In Praise of a Muggle

December 1, 2016

"With Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, director David Yates and Harry Potter scribe J. K. Rowling welcome us back into the Wizarding World—and this time, they let a Muggle like us play a main character. Fantastic Beasts stars waifish magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) but the show is stolen by magic-less interloper Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and his admirable, openhearted curiosity.


Wizards in Prohibition-era New York, where the movie is set, are a suspicious and stealthy folk, constantly on high alert to keep non-magical people from discovering their parallel society. Magical Brits, we remember from the Harry Potter series, call their mundane fellow citizens “Muggles,” but across the pond the term is “No-Maj”—an ugly little abbreviation that feels less like a whimsical nickname and more like a slur. American wizarding law forbids wizards and witches from fraternizing with Muggles. One detects here a Brit looking askance at America’s shameful history of racial segregation.


We feel the injustice of this treatment of the non-magical more keenly because Jacob the No-Maj is so easy to identify with. He’s an ordinary-looking cannery worker with big dreams of opening a bakery, until a mix-up of briefcases draws him into the magical world. As Jacob encounters fabulous spells, fearsome challenges, and (of course) fantastic beasts, he responds with gee-wiz enthusiasm and a can-do spirit. He quickly becomes fast friends with Newt Scamander, even though the awkward creature-collector is usually better able to identify with his beasts than with his fellow man. Jacob’s unfeigned enthusiasm for everything wins over the wary wizard."


Read the whole piece at Acculturated



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