1899: The Year That Changed Everything
J.K. Rowling/WB’s Fantastic Beasts (Eddie Redmayne & Katherine Waterston) and Disney’s Newsies  (Kara Lindsay & Jeremy Jordan)
Spoiler Alert: This blog post will contain spoilers for the films, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016), and Disney’s Newsies (2017).
Since the musical stage version of Disney’s Newsies became available in the cinema (in February, special encore in March, & there will be an encore in August) and now digitally (in the U.S., and July 3 aka my birthday, internationally), I’ve become very passionate about this musical. Also recently when I received the Blu-Ray of Fantastic Beasts, I’ve been pondering more about these two stories together. Mostly because as an English scholar, fan of MuggleCast, and a fangirl/nerd in general, my mind is wired to make connections. The first most notable connection is the same setting, New York City. Another would be, throughout Fantastic Beasts, there are many characters, especially kids who wear newsboy caps, just like the Newsies do. Once you begin to see these two films side by side, there are more connections that you might not even realize. They both have major connections to newspapers, and print writing. Also focus on important issues that expose truths, and empower characters. Even comparing and contrasting the characters brings some additional insight into these two stories that might not be explored as much.
First, I have to point out something that blew my mind when I made the revelation. The year 1899 changed the world. “A little hyperbole never hurt anyone.” While this year was important for the newsboy strike, which actually happened. This same year in London in J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, Albus Dumbledore’s life was changed forever, which eventually influenced Newt Scamander’s and Harry Potter’s lives after. At the age of 18, Dumbledore lost his mother, met Grindelwald (who will later become a threat to be defeated), and his sister Ariana accidentally gets killed. This happens in a few months time, around the summer. Another interesting fact, Jack Kelly is 17 that same year, though the actor who plays him, Jeremy Jordan, is older. Also quite like the actor who plays Newt, Eddie Redmayne. Originally the broadway musical began in 2012, and the original film was released in 1992, so that lead me to wonder, is it possible that J. K. Rowling was inspired by Newsies, the newsboy strike, or both? Could she possibly have decided to set Fantastic Beasts in New York City on purpose? Besides giving new broader insight Wizarding World, and giving recognition to the success of her books being popular in the US. As well as the city was the capital of the US before Washington, DC. J.K. Rowling has always put a lot of meaning, and planning to every detail in her stories. So it wouldn’t at all be surprising, if there was a connection here. On another note, the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will get a chance to be on Broadway in NYC real soon. Let’s not get side tracked.
It surprised me to imagine that Dumbledore was just a year older than Jack that same year, and both dealt with hardships, but ultimately pull through and become heroes and influence more than what they could ever imagine. Dumbledore, I believe, influences Newt enough I believe to make this Hufflepuff explore his passion and protect the fantastical creatures he’s fascinated by. No only to help his former student, after a set back, but also possibly in hopes that would bring Newt towards being a hero that Dumbledore couldn’t be. In Newsies, Jack helps bring forth the newsboy strike, and inspires Katherine Plumber to write about it. Jack and Katherine’s relationship mirrors Newt and Tina’s relationship as people who don’t quite fit in, but together they improve and push each other towards being their best. While Newt is a traveler, and even one planning to go out west to release the Thunderbird in his case, Jack is starts off feeling trapped in NYC for being limiting, and his desire to travel, especially out west. Both stories deal with some real issues that influence their period. In 1899, it is the struggle of the poor, orphaned, the use of child labor, and fighting for better wages and working conditions. J.K. Rowling poses the issues of unjust treatment, especially of the other, magical or not, in her stories. It’s noticeable in Fantastic Beasts, where it begins in 1926, when Newt arrives in NYC. She also exposes a truth that influences today with institutional orphanages, places where they are perceived as good, are actually not beneficial for the kids, and many in these institutions aren’t even orphans, but children who’s families can’t afford taking care of them, or persuaded by institutions to give up their child, all for the benefit of these institutions to keep running. It is not for the benefit of the kids and their families, and this can be seen as similar to what The Refuge is for the Newsies, where kids are being taken to this place to get them off the streets but not taken care of. As well as child labor being used in both stories for someone older taking advantage because of greed, or for their own agenda to single out the Other, which in this case is those with magic.
Writing, and Art in general, becomes a way for empowerment in these two stories, which also leads towards friends becoming family. Katherine uses writing as way to let others know about the newsboy strike, and later on, the children’s crusade. Newt writes a textbook towards letting the wizarding community understand, and work towards protecting these magical creatures. Drawing provides Jack a chance to expose what is going on with The Refugee, as well as express his own desires of heading out west, and his love for Katherine. Through music, dancing and singing gives opportunities for these characters to bond, but also to shine in their own way to define who they are, at a time when they don’t really know themselves. Newspapers and print also have their downsides according to who is in charge, and lead towards unjust treatment. This presents how something as good, as print to expose the truth, can be used in a negative way when people have the desire for power. Just like many good stories, the good wins out the evil in these tales. Newspapers, print, writing and art ultimately are used for good at the end to create positive change. In Newsies, it shines the light on the injustice with child labor, wages, and The Refuge, and provides relief to those who are treated unjust. While in Fantastic Beasts, Newt’s experience in NYC pushes him even more towards publishing his textbook to help the magical creatures receive just treatment, but also bring forth, an understanding of the Other, that humanity treats unjustly those that they fear, do not understand, or for some, an opportunity to disempower in their desire for power. The main characters in these stories already start off with a family bond, where it is by blood or similar experiences, but as the stories go on, they become closer towards being more a different kind of family, one that they can create. Love becomes a bond between these two stories as well, with family, but also in romantic relationships by being the greatest power for good.
I could go on for much longer, but then this post would get very long. I do want to leave with one more thing. It is common now to sort characters, that aren’t in J.K. Rowling’s stories, into Hogwarts and Ilvermorny school houses. I find it a fun, and interesting exploration about what people think about characters and their traits and where they would fit in the Wizarding World. It gives us another way to understand our favorite characters, as well as ourselves, which is really why we love stories so much besides being relatable and many other reasons. So I noticed that a fellow fan had sorted Jack Kelly into Gryffindor. Everyone has the right to their own opinion, and it’s an interesting perspective. I think he would be sorted into Ravenclaw. I might be bias since that is the house I was sorted into on Pottermore, but because of that experience, it opened my eyes to understand the Ravenclaw house, as well as the other houses a bit more. It could also be because Jack wears blue most of the time, which is a color for Ravenclaw. I think many would sort Jack into Gryffindor because of being brave and being a leader, but I think that really defines Davey so much more. Jack’s talents and desires lead me to believe he would be in Ravenclaw, and Thunderbird. Jack calls Davey the intelligent one, but the Ravenclaw house isn’t all about intelligence, it’s also about wit, wisdom, and creativity. Plus it’s also great to see heroes be outside of the normal Gryffindor house, which we’ve seen with Newt being Hufflepuff and Merlin being in Slytherin. Katherine Plumber reminds me of Tina Goldstein a lot, especially with her desire towards a successful career. So I can see Katherine being sorted into Thunderbird, just like Tina. I could also see Katherine being a hat stall at Hogwarts between Ravenclaw and Slytherin, but choosing Ravenclaw. Crutchie reminds me of Newt and Jacob in different ways, I think Crutchie would be in Hufflepuff and Pukwudgie, for his loyalty, patience, and heart.
It’s such a joy to enjoy these two stories, make connection, but also to imagine these characters meeting each other. I hope you all have enjoyed reading my discussion, and let me know what you think as well. From what I’ve have seen online, I know that there are many, and hopefully will continue to be, fans who enjoy both stories. So this is for you. I also want to thank the ones who inspire me, give me hope, and brighten my days: J.K. Rowling and Jeremy Jordan. Also my friends and family for continuing to let me fangirl at my hearts content.
Lots of love to you all.