6 August 2017

Fantastic Beasts and Why We Find Them

In my latest Fortnightly Favourites, I featured a post by From Roses on combatting loneliness. In particular, I loved her idea of Podcasts and was surprised I'd never thought about it before. Thanks to Rebecca, I was resolved to try it; there was just one slight problem... my "grand plans" typically have the success rate  of Neville in a Potions Class. However, this time I was actually triumphant! Or, some may say, Erumpent....

... okay, perhaps I've taken the HP/FB analogies a bit too far with this one? No doubt you're feeing slightly confunded - and I wouldn't blame you. So to benefit  your no-mag eyes, I'll hit 'Muggle Translate' before I introduce... MuggleCast! No, I promise, 'Muggle Translate' really is turned on. MuggleCast is very much a Real Show - in a Real World - which takes place every week for a whole 90 minutes. Oh My God Gringotts, how did I not know about this?! I consider myself a PotterHead through and through, so am still questioning my priorities for the last 22 3/4 years.

After just one episode of MuggleCast, however, I can solemnly swear that I am here to stay! As I tuned in for the first time last week, I was rambling through the meadows with Millie moo and a lot of cow poo. For starters, I couldn't have chosen a better setting, because this episode united two of my favourite things - Harry Potter and Nature/Animals. What's more, it saw the arrival of guest star Evanna Lynch, aka Luna Lovegood, aka my two biggest role models in the Magical and Muggle worlds....

...Luna and Evanna, that is! My love for the former needs no introduction (simply read the description of her bedroom), but Evanna casts a powerful spell of her own. As a passionate advocate for Animal Rights, I love following her on Twitter and actually found MuggleCast through her account! She was the perfect choice for this Fantastic Beasts themed episode, empathising with Newt's Character in particular and recognising an affinity to Luna; it's clear to see how she ended up marrying his Grandson, Rolf (a fact that true PotterHeads will know. Obviously!) They are the free-spirits: eccentric, whimsical and unafraid to be themselves.... on the outside.

Evanna opened my eyes to a deeper analogy: Newt and Luna both struggle with human connection. When we read them on a page, it's easy to picture them in a bubble, immune from the real world; after all, how many people do you see courting Erumpents Elephants in Central Park, or searching for Wraskspurts on the Hogwarts Express First Great Western!? Yet if you read between the lines, the story is quite different. Not only does Luna face the death of her mother as a child, but she is often alienated and mocked by her peers - including 'heroes' like Hermione and Ron! In Fantastic Beasts, the scene that stayed with me was between Newt and Queene, when he begs her "please don't read my mind" - it breaks my heart every time, not least due to Eddie's brilliant acting, because that inner pain is so raw.

Evanna's own experiences are a real-life testament to the age-old phrase "don't judge a book by its cover". She shares on her own experiences in the podcast, notably her struggle with self-confidence, and has previously talked about her recovery from anorexia. On the surface, Evanna was  Luna - right down to handmade jewellery - and this synergy was instantly recognised by the producers (in the podcast, she reveals that they encouraged her to make her own accessories for the film!) Nevertheless, her empathy for Luna went far beyond radish-shaped earrings; she identified with her vulnerability.

So where do we find animals in all of this? Quite simply - connection. From Newt's Pocket Pickett, to Luna's feeding of the baby Thestral, they find belonging outside of humanity. We see it with Hagrid too, who had a difficult childhood and sees animals as his family - even seeing Norbert as his child. When Evanna is asked to choose her favourite scene from Fantastic Beasts she describes the moment between Newt and the Erumpent. Her answer was my favourite line from the whole episode:
"Animals have a wonderful way of letting you be who you are...
Quite simply, animals let you BE. They have no concept of fame, fortune or 10p freddos (oh the bliss) - only love, loyalty and licking every inch of your face; Millie's "welcome home" greeting is priceless. In my recent blog post on Vegetarianism and Mental Health Recovery, I described feeling a greater sense of "peace" than ever before, even describing myself as "The Luna in a world of Malfoys". As I wrote it, I remember worrying that it sounded "cheesy" and nearly deleted. Hearing Evanna speak, I'm so glad I didn't! Less thinking, more being.

If my time in CBT has taught me one thing it's that humanity spends far too much time thinking. Analysing, deliberating and tying ourselves in knots - a subject I've spoken about before, as I work to embrace the "let it go" mindset of animals... and kids! The two are very similar in this respect; one of the reasons I know Primary Teaching is right for me. Kids say it how it is and see it how it is, without the analysis-paralysis of adulthood. So I'm embracing my inner Millie and Matilda, which includes making up stories on Millie rambles, ft. hilltop renditions of Let it Go. She can't understand me, contrary to the humans who walk past and stare, but in that moment they don't matter. She does.

Humans have done incredible things over the centuries, but we've also caused horrors beyond comprehension. In nearly all the latter cases, the greatest enemy is ourselves; the dementors of comparison, judgement and fear. Evanna draws on this contrast to animals in the podcast, as they simply "don't prejudice against the same things that humans do" They love you for you. By contrast, while we've made progress in areas such as LGBT rights, gender equality and mental health stigma, we're still far behind children and animals.
"That's right adults, you don't know everything!" 
So thank heavens for little balls of fur! Thank all The Great Hall stars for Fantastic Beasts, great and small, short and tall, muggle and magic - even Blast-Ended Skrewts. They made Hagrid happy, which  is reason enough. The most extraordinary part of all, in human-animal relationships, is that you don't even need to say a word. Being is enough. Dumbledore may have said that "words truly are our most inexhaustible source of magic" and, in 97.5% of scenarios, I would be inclined to agree with him. However, Fantastic Beasts are that invaluable exception. In every corner of the world, both Magical and Muggle, there is a Platform 1/4 for Newt's Briefcase, Hagrid's Hut and Luna's Hare Patronus; for any soul in search of home. 

Back in our World, we may not have talking plants and flying postmen, but muggle mammals can cast their own spell. One of the best examples is the ever-growing number of Therapy Dogs in the UK, particularly for people with mental illnesses like Depression and Social Anxiety; I recently read about a dog who supported his owner with public speaking, which is just calling out for a Hollywood production of The King Charles' Speech.  On that note, I've concluded that we definitely need more films about animals - I would choose Fantastic Beasts or Madagascar a thousand times over Eastenders or Love Island. Fact of life and I'm not ashamed to say it! Llamas over human dramas, thank you very much... 
If you've been hit by the MuggleCast spell and decide to give it a listen, please do share your thoughts in the comments - the same goes if you're already a loyal follower... let's hope that, in 19 years time, mt priorities will be fully straightened out! Until then, I am off to finish my 5th crochet Niffler, which I'm quite tempted to send one to the MuggleCast studio... if I can find some Gryffindor courage, that is. I think I'll turn to Luna for inspiration there, as a fellow Ravenclaw (thank-you PotterMore!)

Last, but not least, thank-you to Evanna. After quite a turbulent week, this podcast couldn't have come at a better time and I could feel myself smile throughout. I can't wait for her Podcast - The Chick Peeps to start - cue heart eye emojis for all fellow veggies! Until then, I'm sure I can find enough magic in MuggleCast, meadows rambles and a Mooncalf or two. For more news on that last one, along with Neville the Niffler, my next post will be just your cup of Etsy...

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