Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by J. K. Rowling

Most writers have modest needs. They want to get out the stories roiling within. They want to be read and appreciated for their writing and for the reader to have the same excitement they had putting an idea on paper. And, if you get them stoned enough to admit it, they want to be world famous legends on the order of a Fitzgerald, Hemingway, or, nowadays, J.K. Rowling.

So if you watch the new arrivals on Kindle shortly after Rowling puts out a new best-seller or when they were being turned into movies you’ll find, after a short delay, a spike in books about boys in magical worlds, girls in witch academies, blizzards in Snogwarts, and who knows what else. Most are poor imitations of their inspiration. I’ve written professionally as a journalist and for advertising copy. One thing I can tell you with certainty¬†is that there’s a too common assumption, until they do it, that writing is easy. Since it’s easy it must just be luck that writers like Rowling found a publisher and became one of the best-loved writers in the world. “Oh! They wanted wizards and here I’ve been writing about angsty young writers bitter about not being understood by the parents who now refuse to help with the rent. Well here’s a wizard for you, world.”

This book, which is adorable and the proceeds of which go to support Comic Relief, is a brief and wonderful example of why J.K. Rowling is a galactic distance beyond most writers. It’s a short course in writing so any reader can have fun. The book gives an A-Z look at magical entities (some, apparently like to be called beasts and others don’t) along with their relative danger for the uninitiated and whether commerce in them is legal. Some are new looks at traditional beings (fairies are nothing like muggles imagine) and some that are pure invention. You’ll discover the beast that enjoys dancing in moonlight while coincidentally leaving interesting designs in pastures, ones whose screams can drive even adept wizards insane, several varieties of dragon, as well as refreshers on phoenixes, selkies, unicorns, and other creatures.

Along with the descriptions there are wonderful asides on “real life” experiences had by some wizards in dealing with some of the creatures described. It’s fun, silly. Sure Harry Potter had some awful evil to overcome, but it was also a world filled with Hagrid, Moaning Myrtle, and Weasleys. The books are consistently inventive and exist in a fully-formed world. Even as an aside to the HP “canon” this book includes mentions of well-known characters in the Potter world. Most of all, I don’t think Rowling paused once in her writing to think “Hmm, what would kids like in a book?” She writes to please and entertain herself and lets readers in on the fun.

This is a short and funny book that also helps a good cause. It’s well worth buying a copy for yourself.