Fantasy epics can all be judged by the merit of their respective world building. Creatures are a big part of that, especially in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter universe. Combining cultural details with a nice helping of her own imagination, Rowling introduced readers all over the world to a menagerie of magical creatures, both awe-inspiring and dangerous.
On the one hand, you've got the genre standards — werewolves, vampires, unicorns, manticores, hippogriffs, gnomes, elves, goblins, giants, and many more besides. On the other hand, you've got totally new beasts of the author's imagination, including Billywigs, Erumpents, Blast-Ended Skrewts, Acromantulas, Thestrals, Nifflers, Occamies, and Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. OK, fine, that last one is just a figment of Luna Lovegood's imagination... for now.
Whether she's using established critters or completely imaginative ones, Rowling has always made magical creatures a major part of her Wizarding World and the stories within it. She even created a main character, Rubeus Hagrid, whose main job is to basically be fascinated by them. That's how we find ourselves almost two movies deep in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
To celebrate the upcoming theatrical release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, we decided to look back at some of the most important "beastial" moments in the world of Harry Potter that really moved the plot forward in significant ways or paid off certain world-building checks cashed early on.
While our list is by no means definitive, it comprises some of our favorite creature-related moments. So, tie up your Thestral, get comfy with a nice tall glass of Firewhisky, and enjoy!
The dead unicorn (Sorcerer's Stone)
This is our first encounter with the fact that Voldemort is so determined to live, he'll slaughter something so pure and innocent as a unicorn to stave off death by drinking its blood. As Firenze the centaur tells Harry, such an act curses a person, relegating them to a "half-life," which may have led to Voldemort's doomed rebirth and rise to power later in the series.
Aragog's exposition (Chamber of Secrets)
Arachnophobes need not apply. There's nothing more terrifying than a giant hairy spider with the ability to speak and an insatiable lust for fresh flesh.
However, Aragog offers up important information, particularly that Hagrid did not open the Chamber of Secrets and that he, Aragog, was not the fearsome monster that lived inside the chamber and killed Moaning Myrtle.
Buckbeak attacks Malfoy (Prisoner of Azkaban)
Professor Hagrid may have started off his first-ever Care of Magical Creatures lesson with advanced beasts, but we can also agree that Draco Malfoy was an idiot for daring to insult a hippogriff.
After Buckbeak slashes the young Slytherin, a number of events are set in motion — events that involve time travel and saving the life of an innocent man from the Dementor's Kiss.
Professor Lupin's transformation (Prisoner of Azkaban)
If only he'd remembered to take his Wolfsbane Potion!
Thanks to Lupin's transformation, Peter Pettigrew is able to escape, leading to Lord Voldemort's resurrection a book later. Without Pettigrew, Sirius Black is unable to clear his name and must, unfortunately, remain on the run from the Ministry until his death.
The founding of S.P.E.W. (Goblet of Fire)
No one (with the exception of Dobby) is interested in Hermione Granger's Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare. However, Hermione's crusade to liberate elves from slavery slowly but surely softens Harry's feelings toward Kreacher, the House Elf he inherits from Sirius. Had it not been for Kreacher, Harry may have never learned of the whereabouts of the locket Voldemort turned into a Horcrux.
The Merpeople in the Second Task (Goblet of Fire)
Harry's first (and last) adventure in the Black Lake allows us to explore a staple of the Hogwarts grounds. Before the Second Task of the Triwizard Tournament, we knew that a giant squid lived in the lake. What we did not know is that an entire civilization of Merpeople could be found at the bottom as well. They like hunting the squid for sport and keeping Grindylows as dog-like pets.
Thestral express (Order of the Phoenix)
They may only be visible to those who have witnessed death, but Thestrals are one of the most reliable modes of magical transportation.
When Harry is tricked into traveling to the Ministry of Magic to "save" Sirius, he, Hermione, Ron, Luna, Ginny, and Neville all fly to London on the backs of the skeletal winged horses. Sadly, Harry's impatience to get to the Ministry is a major factor in Sirius's death.
The Phoenix Lament (Half-Blood Prince)
The cry of a Phoenix (at least in the Harry Potter series) is one of the most beautiful and saddest things a person can hear in the magical world. Following Albus Dumbledore's death, Fawkes, the headmaster's pet Phoenix, flies around Hogwarts, screeching out a hauntingly musical cry of great sadness. Eventually, Harry notices that the rebirthing bird's song has ended, meaning that Fawkes has left the school, never to return... just like his master.
Pop goes Bathilda (Deathly Hallows)
Remus Lupin's warning about unimaginable magic comes true in Godric's Hollow when Harry is attacked by Voldemort's snake, Nagini, which has been occupying the dead body of magical historian Bathilda Bagshot.
As one of the darker and more macabre moments of the series, Nagini's "Xenomorph" scene underscores the horrors of Voldemort and his complete disregard for what is good and decent.
Making a dragon-sized withdrawal (Deathly Hallows)
When Harry, Ron, and Hermione encounter a dragon outside of the Lestranges' high-security vault at Gringotts, it's Rowling paying off her fans who have been there since the beginning.
When Harry first visits the wizarding bank on his 11th birthday, Hagrid makes a passing reference to the fact that the rumors speak of dragons outside the older, more private vaults. Getting to see that come true is literary reincorporation that deserves an A+!