January 31, 2023

#08-280: Fantastic Beasts

A phoenix in a medieval bestiary (Wikipedia)

Note: In the history of science, many imaginary animals were once thought to be real (though some were just literary inventions). Let's meet a few.

Get Ready: Can you name any imaginary animals that people once believed in?

In the "Wizarding World" inhabited by Harry Potter and his friends, author J.K. Rowling has created a marvelous fictional universe filled with magic, wonder, and quite a few "fantastic beasts"--a phrase found in the name of a series of three prequels that have been spun off of the original books and films.

Some of the beasts we meet are entirely made up by Ms Rowling, but others are borrowed from the world's traditional cultures. Let's meet four that appear in the Fantastic Beasts series.

The first "beast" hails from China. It is the Qilin, sometimes inaccurately called a Unicorn as it sometimes appears to have one (uni-) horn (corn). But many Qilin have two horns, and the Qilin is different from the unicorn, in both its appearance and its characteristics.

For example, the Qilin is larger in body than the Unicorn, and has a more melodious voice. In some ways Qilins are associated with dragons, including in their ability to produce fire.

In the Harry Potter world, the Qilin--like the western Unicorn--are pure themselves, and can discern the purity of the heart of a human.

Another animal seen in Fantastic Beasts that will be familiar in China is the Phoenix. Again, there is some similarity between the Eastern and Western versions: both are birds, and both are related to fire and associated with the color red.

But while the western Phoenix has a very unusual life cycle--being reborn in fire after living an extraordinarily long life--the Chinese Phoenix simply doesn't die (usually), so is essentially immortal.

In the Harry Potter stories, the Phoenix is especially connected to the family of Dumbledore, including Fawkes, the "pet" of Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster at Hogwarts (Harry's school).

Two lesser-known animals seen in the Fantastic Beasts films are the Wyvern and the Manticore.

The Wyvern will, in fact, seem quite familiar to anyone: it is basically just a Dragon with two legs and two wings, and a pointed, poisonous tail. (The "ordinary" Dragon has four legs.) Its name is related to the English word "viper," a venomous snake. In Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, a Wyvern carries Newt Scamander (the main character) to safety after he saves the life of a baby Qilin.

The Manticore is a peculiar beast found in Persian literature. It is not unlike the Egyptian sphinx, with the head of a human, the body of a lion, and a tail with venomous spines, or else a tail like that of a scorpion. The type with spines can eject them like arrows. Newt must save his brother Theseus from one large, and many smaller, Manticores living in a cavern (though the ones in the film don't resemble the traditional beast at all!).

These are just a few of the "fantastic beasts" you'll meet in the Harry Potter films.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. discern
  2. eject
  3. extraordinarily
  4. immortal
  5. inaccurately
  6. prequels
  7. purity
  8. resemble
  9. spun off
  10. venomous

  1. adapted or derived
  2. in an unusual or notable way
  3. look like
  4. stories that come before others
  5. innocence
  6. able to live forever
  7. shoot out
  8. not correctly
  9. poisonous
  10. recognize; distinguish

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 31, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. g; 3. b; 4. f; 5. h; 6. d; 7. e; 8. c; 9. a; 10. i