The myths that inspired Harry Potter

The myths that inspired Harry Potter

Nicolas Flamel was a real person, and many of Rowling's fantastic beasts she borrowed from elsewhere - including from the ancient world, writes Natalie Haynes.

If the trailers are anything to go by, we already know where to find fantastic beasts: Eddie Redmayne has a suitcase full of them in 1926 New York.

But where did they come from, the dragons, unicorns and hippogriffs of the Harry Potter universe?

Monsters and mythical beasts perform a role in JK Rowling's work which transcends that of world-building: they add symbolic and psychological depth, as well as reminding us that we are visiting a magical place.

Rowling is both an inventor and archivist of fantastical animals, populating her universe with a mixture of what one might term 'classic monsters' (trolls, centaurs, mer-people) and folklore staples (bowtruckles, erklings), alongside her own inventions (dementors).

Some of these collected monsters are vastly better known than others: grindylows and boggarts, for example, have origins in Celtic and English folklore, but they are hardly household names.


These relatively minor creatures often have a less-than-fantastical backstory: grindylows live in shallow water and threaten to grab at children with their green, reed-like arms.

It isn't difficult to see here both an explanation for the existence of the grindylow - it shares many characteristics with water plants, which are usually mobile and thus have their own disquieting appearance - and an explanation for why such stories might thrive - as a warning from parents to their children to keep away from a potential hazard, even if the risk was more likely to come from drowning than a malevolent water sprite.

But the vast majority of Rowling's best-loved monsters have winged their way from the Ancient World to her modern, magical one. Fawkes the Phoenix is not only a fantastic beast, capable of auto-regeneration, he's also a historical one.

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