The general gist of the wizarding world, which Hermione was most stringently opposed to, was that witches and wizards were at the top of the magical food chain, while other creatures with their own powerful magic and intelligence were somehow second-rate.
Whether they worked in servitude or were denied the same rights as witches and wizards, circumstances seemed both very similar and very different in a variety of ways. This occurred across two different countries and time periods in Fantastic Beasts vs Harry Potter.
We thought we’d take a look at some examples.
We never exactly warmed to the goblins who made an appearance in the Harry Potter stories. From employees at Gringotts bank to that bunch going after Ludo Bagman when he couldn’t pay his bets following the Quidditch World Cup, goblins weren’t presented as a friendly bunch. At all.
In fact, goblin viewpoints were very much explained by Bill Weasley, when Harry, Ron and Hermione were hoping that Griphook would help them break into Gringotts:
‘We are talking about a different breed of being,’ said Bill. ‘Dealings between wizards and goblins have been fraught for centuries – but you’ll know all that from History of Magic. There has been fault on both sides, I would never claim that wizards have been innocent. However, there is a belief among some goblins, and those at Gringotts are perhaps most prone to it, that wizards cannot be trusted in matters of gold and treasure, that they have no respect for goblin ownership.’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
In the Harry Potter series, the goblins we met were never happy with their lot, a theme that cropped up time and time again with intelligent magical creatures. For goblins, it was because witches and wizards refused to share their magical knowledge with them, or let them bear wands, despite goblins being just as intelligent as witches and wizards. This led to all of the Goblin Rebellions that Professor Binns droned on about, and seemed like a pretty rough deal for the goblins... particularly when you also consider the Fountain of Magical Brethren in the foyer of the Ministry of Magic. It showed goblins looking up to humans.
Tallest of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch, a centaur, a goblin and a house-elf. The last three were looking adoringly up at the witch and wizard.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
In the magical world of 1920s New York City, things seemed a whole lot worse for goblin-kind. Two goblins operated in the NYC underground world at a speakeasy. While one was a performer at the club, the other was a gangster named Gnarlak, who ran a hard bargain with Newt and Tina for information while secretly selling them out to MACUSA. Although his motives were never exactly clear (other than he was a nasty piece of work) it sent a message; goblins weren’t even close to being as respected by witches and wizards as they were in the Harry Potter stories, and even then, it left a lot to be desired.
And, despite their known intelligence, the only other goblin we met was Red, a bellboy. Although there’s nothing wrong with being a bellboy, the working-class position in MACUSA sums up goblins’ positions in 1920s NYC in comparison to 1990s Great Britain.
House-elf welfare was as puzzling for us as it was for Hermione in the Harry Potter series. Although they technically worked without pay and in servitude until they were released by being given clothes, most house-elves – aside from one brilliant, genius, irreplaceable exception – actually liked it. They thought that being paid for their work was dishonourable, and were shocked and horrified when the brilliant, genius, irreplaceable house-elf, Dobby, wanted pay for his work.
At least a hundred little elves were standing around the kitchen, beaming, bowing and curtseying as Dobby led Harry past them.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Although we heard very little about house-elves in the first Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them film, they were still present. In fact, we saw one who worked a machine at MACUSA headquarters that polished wands for the witches and wizards, who seemed to be the magical substitute of a shoeshine. Since house-elves have their own, powerful brand of magic, this doesn’t exactly seem like the best sort of work they could have been doing.
But we also met a house-elf who most certainly didn't fit the usual description of the eager-to-please, sweet house-elves who live to take care of witches and wizards: a house-elf bartender at the Blind Pig speakeasy. The house-elf was brash, rude to Jacob and certainly didn’t seem to be serving anyone (except the customers, of course).
‘What? Ain’t you ever seen a house-elf before?’
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay
Either way, it certainly seemed that the American house-elves didn’t have the same reverence towards witches and wizards as British ones. But why? Could it simply have been a cultural difference, or were there circumstances that led house-elves to where they are now in the two different countries and time periods?
In Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, we were introduced to Irma – half house-elf, half human, which is the first time we’d seen the like in the wizarding world. We don’t know much about ‘part elves’ yet, mind you...
Perhaps it’s because the story has been set in New York City and Paris where there are no forests, but centaurs have yet to make an appearance in the Fantastic Beasts series. Chances are, this was because Newt helped magical creatures, and yet centaurs rarely, if ever, require help from witches or wizards. As Newt’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Hogwarts library book says: ‘The centaurs’ habits are not human-like; they live in the wild, refuse clothing, prefer to live apart from wizards and Muggles alike and yet have intelligence equal to theirs.’
The centaurs we met in Harry Potter were also exactly how Newt described. They stuck to their own kind, with the only exception being Firenze after he was forced out of the pack, and managed all of their own affairs, only intervening with witches and wizards at the Battle of Hogwarts when absolutely necessary.
Centaurs aren’t the only ones who have entered the ‘beast or being’ debate. Creatures such as sphinxes and Acromantula can also talk – but their intelligence also comes with violent behaviour, hence their classification as beasts.
It’s an interesting and layered topic, certainly. And when you look at people like Professor Umbridge and her attitude towards centaurs, there’s still a lot of work to be done in the wizarding world when it comes to intelligent creatures and prejudice.