Magizoology and Zoology

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According to Pottermore, had I attended Hogwarts, I would have been placed in Ravenclaw. I’m not sure whether the description of the house fully describes me but since I really like Ravens, I’m pretty happy with that assessment. What I do know, is that were this the wizarding world, I would likely have pursued a career in Magizoology.

Like many people, I have read all 7 of the Harry Potter original series books. I first read them in Brazilian Portuguese when I was a child and later in English when I was a teenager. It’s interesting to see the slight changes in the Portuguese translated version - changes that I assume were meant to make the newly created words of the Harry Potter world feel more ‘Brazilian’. I also watched all the films in both languages, and the English version numerous times.

Caio, Otto, Alex and Tali at Harry Potter World.

Caio, Otto, Alex and Tali at Harry Potter World.

Earlier this year, I bought the ‘Hogwarts Library’ book collection during a visit to the Harry Potter World in Watford, London and had a good time reading ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to find Them’. The book made me realise that J.K. Rowling must have drawn inspiration from the real word issues we face in wildlife conservation.

Runespoor | Taken from the Pottermore website.

Runespoor | Taken from the Pottermore website.

The book is ‘written’ by Newt Scamander, a fictional character who is a Magizoologist himself. In the films, you often see Newt show a huge amount of compassion towards every magical creature he encounters and is often encouraging other wizards to respect and admire them as well. Much like real life, people tend to fear what they do not know or understand. A big part of conservation efforts of the more ‘scary-looking’ animals concentrate on the de-mystification of such animals and the education of the general public.

In the introductory part of the book, under the ‘Why Magizoology Matters’ heading, Newt answers the question of why the wizarding community should continue to protect these magical creatures and conceal their existence from muggles with the following argument: “to ensure that future generations of witches and wizards enjoy their strange beauty and powers as we have been privileged to do”. Privilege being the imperative word used.

We often see fantasy stories and folklore tales base their mythical creatures on the most ‘unusual’ animals to have inhabited the Earth. Amphibians, reptiles and arthropods unsurprisingly make up a good proportion of the inspiration for such creatures and snakes feature quite heavily on the ‘dangerous’ creature scale. This is illustrated by creatures such as the Basilisk, the Horned Serpent, Dragons and the Runespoor.

Interestingly, the Runespoor, described as a three-headed serpent from Burkina Faso, seems to have been based on the snake motifs of the Lobi and Gan people - tribes in Burkina Faso that viewed snakes as not only sacred, but also mediators between this world and the next. They used a three-headed snake as a symbol in much of their brass and copper artwork for protective amulets and even currency.

Image from  beprimitive.com

Image from beprimitive.com

The connection between snakes and evil in the wizarding world is quite strong. From the very first book we learn that Slytherin is the house of wizards that have gone bad and its symbol is, of course, a snake. Voldermort was a Parselmouth and so had the ability to communicate with snakes. His dearest pet (and also a horcrux), Nagini, was also a snake. The first Basilisk was bred by Herpo the Foul, an evil Greek wizard who bred the creature by hatching a chicken egg beneath a toad…of course it would be an amphibian.

Herpetologists, however, may not despair alone for our entomologist brothers and sisters will feel much of the same being applied to their chosen creatures of study. Spiders have also long been depicted in folklore and fiction as a symbol of evil and danger. In the wizarding world, one has only to look at Aragog, an ‘Acromantula’, to see that the trend continues.

Despite all the negative representation, some positives can also be drawn. Aragog had a connection with Hagrid and really just wanted to be left alone. We come to sympathise with Nagini when we discover that she was a ‘Maledictus’; a woman with a blood curse that will eventually turn her into a beast. It is also worth mentioning that in one of the early scenes of the first book, Harry has a heartfelt moment with a Brazilian boa constrictor that he frees from captivity. If we set aside the reality that ‘freeing’ a captive-bred individual from a tropical climate into England would almost certainly spell its demise, the camaraderie between Harry and the snake is nonetheless heartwarming.

Perhaps fiction will one day aid conservation efforts of less ‘cute’ species. Until then, it’s a good thing that authors need plot twists, or we may never get to sympathise with the dangerous and evil creatures that are based on the stunningly beautiful and important animals of real life.