Literature, Fandom, and Fantastic Beasts; Stan Lee and Sherwood Anderson

I finished a new short story last week.  I’m mentally preparing for the next one by doing some reading and by catching up on other kinds of work.  Tomorrow, I’m going to start a story inspired in part by Sherwood Anderson’s “Godliness: A Story in Four Parts.” 

Yesterday, I posted a short, positive review of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.  Had Flannery O’Connor written “Godliness,” I suspect that David Hardy’s arc would bear more of a thematic resemblance to Credence Barebone’s.  

Since posting my Grindelwald review, more of the negative hot takes I was expecting have started coming in from people who are paid to write about these things.  So have some positive ones.  One critic is arguing that JK Rowling should not have been allowed to write the Fantastic Beasts movies, because George Lucas.

Some of the negative reviews boil down to consternation over seeming violations of Rowling’s canon.  I wonder what people who have those kinds of issues make of the countless retcons and reboots we see in the comics medium.

This post is something like six years old, and is woefully out of date.  It’s also one of the most-read posts I’ve ever done.  Why?  Because most readers understand what Bill Maher doesn’t: comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, these myth-making genres and their creators, don’t really stand outside and apart from the Andersons and O’Connors of the world.

Graphic Policy shared this quote from Lee, which is apropos:

“They take great pains to point out that comics are supposed to be escapist reading, and nothing more. But somehow, I can’t see it that way. It seems to me that a story without a message, however subliminal, is like a man without a soul. In fact, even the most escapist literature of all — old time fairy tales and heroic legends — contained moral and philosophical points of view…None of us lives in a vacuum—none of us is untouched by the everyday events about us — events which shape our stories just as they shape our lives. Sure our tales can be called escapist — but just because something’s for fun, doesn’t mean we have to blanket our brains while we read it!”

With respect to Potter or Star Wars or Star Trek or other properties fans attach themselves to and imbue with personal meaning, remember that  Marvel and DC reboot entire mythical universes every other year.  Fans grumble and complain.  But the iconography of Batman, Superman, and Spider-man is never tarnished.  Their continuity has become a sort of choose-your-own-adventure, and these characters, far older than Rowling’s or Lucas’s or Roddenberry’s, are all the richer for it.

Graphic Policy shares another timely quote:

“Finally, what does Excelsior mean?  Upward and onward to greater glory!” 

That’s what Stan Lee had in mind for his readers.  Not a glory of overmen and jingo, so common in modern politics, not some fanatical appeal to the real-life analogues of Gellert Grindelwald’s “greater good.”  Rather, to the making of big, important stories, life-giving tales of love and justice.  Those are the things that resonate in print, on screen, on mix-tapes.  In comic books and any other thing called literature.

One-Minute, Spoiler-Free Positive Review: The Crimes of Grindelwald

There are some Harry Potter purists who are going to be upset by what this film does.  “It shrinks the Wizarding World.”  “It seems to change some backstories.”  “It makes so-and-so older or younger than we thought!”  “Rowling is too good a writer to contradict her own canon.”

In other words, people dedicated to a certain vision of the Wizarding World may be tempted to treat this the way certain Star Wars fans treat Solo and The Last Jedi (I’m not talking about misogynist fanboys triggered by strong female leads, but about people who get upset when their hallowed continuity gets ruffled).

I had just graduated high school when the first Potter book came out, and I was 27 when Deathly Hallows was published.  That is to say, I have no romantic childhood allegiance to any of that material.  For me, it’s always been middle-grade fiction, sometimes intensely exciting, often vexing.  It’s not as good as people a decade younger than me think it is.  (Star Wars is not nearly as good as most of its fans think it is, either.  But Rouge One was a great film, and I thoroughly enjoyed Solo.)

Grindelwald, to me, is something else entirely.  It is grand in scale, epic in scope.   Its politics are timely (never forget that Ron and Harry couldn’t be arsed to care about elf-kind), and its villain seductively human.  (That Johnny Depp may actually be a villain in real life could be part of that, and no performance, no matter how great, can undo the problems with Depp if the allegations against him are true).  Its plot threads, with one exception, are convincingly developed and come to a satisfying head.  Its struggles, with one exception, are believable.

I can’t say more (even about some of the casting and narrative controversies) without giving plot points away.  So I won’t.  From a technical and artistic standpoint, this is, for me, the best entry in both wizarding franchises.

And Hufflepuff is the best.