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BOOK REVIEW

Textbooks for Wizards

Rowling Offers Two Brief Windows to the Wizard World

By Jane Maduram

Staff Writer

Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them

Written by Newt Scamander

Published by Scholastic Press/Obscurus Books

$3.99

Quidditch Through The Ages

Written by Kennilworthy Whisp

Published by Scholastic Press/Whizz Hard Books

$3.99

The author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, has already said that she won’t be releasing a new addition to the series this summer. To fill this gap, the upcoming Harry Potter movie has spawned Potter posters, mugs, figurines, plaques, diaries, key chains, and calendars, among other things. It must be acknowledged, however, that as Rowling’s books are far superior to these accessories, the true Potter addict will have to shiver and hope that 2002 comes quickly. To speed up the time, however, Rowling has published two small, witty books under charming pseudonyms.

The books, which add to a combined length of 97 pages, will be familiar to anyone lost in the wizard world. Quidditch Through The Ages, by Kennilworthy Whisp was one of the first books Harry Potter checked out from the library in his first adventure. Similarly, Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them, by Newt Scamander (full name Newton Artemis Fido Scamander) is one of Harry Potter’s textbooks. Both textbooks carry Rowling’s ready wit and more than their share of in-jokes -- recommendations for Quidditch Through the Ages are written by Guilderoy Lockhart (former Hogwarts teacher), Ludovich Bagman (athlete/compulsive gambler), and Rita Skeeter (magical paparazzi) among others. As usual, though, Rowling’s books can stand by themselves and serve as tightly-constructed introductions to the wizard world.

Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them is presented as a duplicate of Harry Potter’s copy of the textbook and is thus replete with scribbles, comments, and games. The notes will be familiar to anyone who has ever studied a textbook -- in the title “A Brief History of Muggle Awareness of Fantastic Beasts,” someone has circled ‘Brief’ and written “you liar.” Rowling’s understanding of kids is evident as well, as demonstrated by the following quote: “The Puffskein ... has a particular preference for sticking its tongue up the nose of sleeping wizards and eating their bogies. This tendency has made the Puffskein much beloved by wizarding children for many generations and it remains a highly popular wizarding pet.”

While Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them has many such gems, Quidditch Through The Ages is definitely the better of the two books, probably because the narrative style gives Rowling’s wit more room than the dictionary style of Fantastic Beasts. With its affected air, primary sources ranging from newspapers to epic poetry, and dry humor, the book is absolutely delicious. While discussing the evolution of broomsticks, for example, Rowling writes: “A German illuminated manuscript of this period shows three warlocks dismounting from their brooms with looks of exquisite discomfort ... a Scottish wizard writing in 1107, spoke of the ‘splinter-filled buttocks and bulging piles’ he suffered ...”

It turns out that in the vastly improved modern broom, a cushioning charm provides a pillow midway on the stick. The attention to detail and minutiÆ continued throughout the book makes this a masterpiece.

What makes these books worth buying (aside from their obvious quality) is that all of the proceeds, including Rowling’s royalties, will go to Comic Relief UK, a humanitarian association that fights poverty, injustice, and disaster. All I can add is that the postscript to Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them is written, apparently, by Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Magic and Order of Merlin, First Class.