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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them


I dressed up in my Harry Potter tshirt, necklace, and socks last night like a true nerd to arrive at a nearly empty theater. I was stunned. Did other people know something I didn’t? Was I clinging onto some nostalgia for a bygone age by seeing a lukewarm prequel?

I was not disappointed. From the get-go, the look and feel of the film was incredibly compelling. Soundtrack and costumes launched me into a very well-imagined and fascinating world. An air of mystery which held some dramatic irony for Harry Potter fans lead fairly quickly into a scene in a bank which, without giving too much away, had me in stitches.

Characters were good, particularly “no-mag” Jacob, but I think the most compelling relationships were between Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander and his creatures. Scamander has an awkwardness about him coupled with a very palpable tenderness and adoration for his creatures, who all have personalities of their own.

I have to comment on the plotting and pacing; had I not been so invested in picking up all the little Harry Potter Easter eggs sprinkled all over the film, it definitely would have dragged. My husband described it as “one long filler episode.” Some scenes and characters felt irrelevant. There was also no strong antagonist (yet) to act as a true foil for Scamander. When I think of the way Delores Umbridge brought out the best and worst qualities of Harry in Order of the Phoenix, well, let’s just say we haven’t gotten there yet, and consequently the film had a decided lack of tension. I am going to assume the film works better to set the stage for the rest of the series than as a standalone.

All in all, I give it four stars. Don’t expect a whirlwind plot, but you can be confident in all the enchantment you can expect from Rowling, all the pizzazz of 1920s New York, and all the cuteness of your favorite Internet cat videos. And yet, the film was good in its own right, and stood on its own two legs, or, should I say, four legs.

Creatures and Happiness: Unicorns

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Week three of the Creatures and Happiness series! Much can be said about unicorns; of their purity, their beauty and their powers. Today, I would like to focus on one particular trait: their unbelievability.

The unicorn, perhaps more than any other magical creature, has come to symbolize that which is impossible to find, irrational, extremely rare, or does not exist at all. It has been equated with those who are irrational or gullible as well as eccentric, I.E. “I’m not weird; I’m a unicorn.” I even once had a philosophy professor use the unicorn to question the definition of existence: “If the idea of a unicorn exists, does that mean a unicorn exists?”

This desperate need to believe in the unbelievable with regards to unicorns has probably been laughed at since the first Viking tried to con some unsuspecting European into buying Narwhal tusks: “Oh SURE it is a magical unicorn horn with special powers (hehehe, suckers!).”

Often mention of “special unicorns” and the like is done mockingly by the most rational among us. However, is admiration of unicorns such a bad thing? Consider this: if the unicorn were commonplace, if we could catch them and breed them and discern their properties, would they still be unicorns? Maybe, but they would certainly lose a lot of their mystique.

The unicorn, in this way, represents the quintessential power of magic. We cannot ever hope to capture it, explain it, or quantify it. And we shouldn’t. This doesn’t mean that it denies facts or stands in opposition to them. Rather, magic’s job is to make us look beyond that which can be concretely explained; to imagine, to dream, to create, to wonder. To realize that there is always more to explore. This is what the unicorn, in all its white rainbow horned sparkly glory, reminds us. Those who admire unicorns know how important it is to believe in the extraordinary. For those who believe, the unicorn is, and always will be, just over the next horizon.

For an intuitive and absolutely hilarious take on the connection between unicorns and happiness, you can’t miss Shawn Achor’s talk on Amy the Unicorn. Check it out.

(Source: Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Unicorns)

 

 

Creatures and Happiness: Dementors

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The dementor is a creature of J.K. Rowling’s invention. Cloaked in a dark hood, the dementor feeds off happy thoughts and leaves victims with a sense of hopelessness. The dementor also has the ability to give a “kiss” that sucks the soul out of the body.

How did such creatures come to be imagined?  In an interview with Oprah, Rowling explained that she based dementors off of her own experience with depression. She said, “It’s not sadness; sadness is- I know sadness; sadness is not a bad thing, you know, to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling, that really hollowed out feeling; that’s what the dementors are.”

Interestingly, the more horrors in a person’s past, the greater the effect the dementors have. How, then, does one fight a dementor? By focusing on a positive, happy memory. This memory creates a light force, called a patronus, which chases off the dementor.

Now, it may be a vast oversimplification to say that depression can be fought with “happy thoughts” and it would be irresponsible of me to suggest that as the only solution; in fact, there are times when we need to acknowledge and validate our “negative” feelings. However, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a popular method of treating depression, does focus on correcting unhealthy thought patterns, such as the distorted negative thoughts that depression, like a dementor, can bring about. Harry Potter’s “patronus training” in book three of the series reminds me in a way of the structured nature of CBT therapy.

I think the important thing to note about fighting dementors is that the wizard has a toolbox of happy memories prepared in his arsenal ahead of time and has trained and prepared for the dementor’s appearance.  They are able to recognize why they are feeling hopeless and they know what helps to put themselves in a better frame of mind. In that way, they regain control over their feelings of hopelessness.

Whether you have full-blown Major Depressive Disorder, dysthymia, or just get into a funk from time to time, I do think it is a good idea to have a toolbox of coping mechanisms available to help during your worst days in addition to traditional treatments. Maybe you have a happy memory, or a Pinterest board of things that make you smile, or a favorite go-to chocolate, someone you call on the phone, or a “comfort” box of your favorite things. Be proactive: think of this ahead of time, because you certainly won’t feel like it in a dark moment. Let this toolbox be your own real-life patronus. It may make a difficult day just a little bit better.

Is there a creature you would like to see me cover in the Creatures and Happiness series? Let me know in the comments below.

source: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Creatures and Happiness: Dragons

img_1152In anticipation of the premier of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I am excited to reveal my new series, Creatures and Happiness, where I will examine the symbolism of magical creatures and what they can teach us about our own wellbeing. First up: Dragons!

I love dragons and could talk all day about the different things they symbolize. Today I will talk about one of their less-thought-of attributes: the attainment of wisdom. Dragons are often portrayed as particularly cunning. They love riddles and tricks. They are also, of course, very dangerous. To meet with a dragon is a great risk, but it is also an opportunity. Defeating a dragon takes a lot of courage and a lot of brainpower. In short, it is a chance to find one’s inner strength and see the full extent of what a person is made of.

The dragon, thus, can be seen as a trial. On the other side of that trial is a stronger, wiser person: the kind of person who has had the courage to face their greatest fears. To best a dragon is to grow as an individual into a stronger self, to shed one’s old skin, so to speak, and step into a new self.

Is there a dragon in your life that you have been avoiding because it is scary or involves taking a risk? Think of it this way: the stronger, wiser “you” is waiting on the other side of that dragon. And let’s face it: that person is pretty awesome. So, perhaps this is the week to strap on your sword and get to it. Your dragon awaits, as does the hero you will become by facing it.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Dragons

 

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