The definition of a ‘beast’ has caused controversy for centuries. Though this might surprise some first-time students of Magizoology, the problem might come into clearer focus if we take a moment to consider three types of magical creature.
Werewolves spend most of their time as humans (whether wizard or Muggle). Once a month, however, they transform into savage, four-legged beasts of murderous intent and no human conscience.
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.
Trolls bear a humanoid appearance, walk upright, may be taught a few simple words and yet are less intelligent than the dullest unicorn and possess no magical powers in their own right except for their prodigious and unnatural strength.
We now ask ourselves: which of these creatures is a ‘being’ —that is to say, a creature worthy of legal rights and a voice in the governance of the magical world — and which is a ‘beast’?
Early attempts at deciding which magical creatures should be designated ‘beasts’ were extremely crude.
Burdock Muldoon, Chief of the Wizards’ Council1 in the fourteenth century, decreed that any member of the magical community that walked on two legs would henceforth be granted the status of ‘being’, all others to remain ‘beasts’. In a spirit of friendship he summoned all ‘beings’ to meet with the wizards at a summit to discuss new magical laws and found to his intense dismay that he had miscalculated. The meeting hall was crammed with goblins who had brought with them as many two-legged creatures as they could find. As Bathilda Bagshot tells us in A History of Magic:
1 The Wizards’s Council preceded the Ministry of Magic
|Little could be heard over the squawking of the Diricawls, the moaning of the Augureys and the relentless, piercing song of the Fwoopers. As wizards and witches attempted to consult the papers before them, sundry pixies and fairies whirled around their heads, giggling and jabbering. A dozen or so trolls began to smash apart the chamber with their clubs, while hags glided about the place in search of children to eat. The Council Chief stood up to open the meeting, slipped on a pile of Porlock dung and ran cursing from the hall.
As we see, the mere possession of two legs was no guarantee that a magical creature could or would take an interest in the affairs of wizard government. Embittered, Burdock Muldoon forswore any further attempts to integrate non-wizard members of the magical community into the Wizards’ Council.
Muldoon’s successor, Madame Elfrida Clagg, attempted to redefine ‘beings’ in the hope of creating closer ties with other magical creatures. ‘Beings’, she declared, were those who could speak the human tongue. All those who could make themselves understood to Council members were therefore invited to join the next meeting. Once again, however, there were problems. Trolls who had been taught a few simple sentences by the goblins proceeded to destroy the hall as before. Jarveys raced around the Council’s chair legs, tearing at as many ankles as they could reach. Meanwhile a large delegation of ghosts (who had been barred under Muldoon’s leadership on the grounds that they did not walk on two legs, but glided) attended but left in disgust at what they later termed ‘the Council’s unashamed emphasis on the needs of the living as opposed to the wishes of the dead’. The centaurs, who under Muldoon had been classified as ‘beasts’ and were now under Madame Clagg defined as ‘beings’, refused to attend the Council in protest at the exclusion of the merpeople, who were unable to converse in anything except Mermish while above water.
Not until 1811 were definitions found that most of the magical community found acceptable. Grogan Stump, the newly appointed Minister for Magic, decreed that a ‘being’ was ‘any creature that has sufficient intelligence to understand the laws of the magical community and to bear part of the responsibility in shaping those laws’.2 Troll representatives were questioned in the absence of goblins and judged not to understand anything that was being said to them; they were therefore classified as ‘beasts’ despite their two-legged gait; merpeople were invited through translators to become ‘beings’ for the first time; fairies, pixies and gnomes, despite their humanoid appearance, were placed firmly in the ‘beast’ category.
2 An exception was made for the ghosts, who asserted that it was insensitive to class them as ‘beings’ when they were so clearly ‘has-beens’. Stump therefore created the three divisions of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures that exist today: the Beast Division, the Being Division and the Spirit Division.
Naturally, the matter has not rested there. We are all familiar with the extremists who campaign for the classification of Muggles as ‘beasts’;we are all aware that the centaurs have refused ‘being’ status and requested to remain ‘beasts;3 werewolves, meanwhile, have been shunted between the Beast and Being divisions for many years; at the time of writing there is an office for Werewolf Support Services at the Being Division whereas the Werewolf Registry and Werewolf Capture Unit fall under the Beast Division. Several highly intelligent creatures are classified as ‘beasts’ because they are incapable of overcoming their own brutal natures. Acromantulas and Manticores are capable of intelligent speech but will attempt to devour any human that goes near them. The sphinx talks only in puzzles and riddles, and is violent when given the wrong answer.
3 The centaurs objected to some of the creatures with whom they were asked to share ‘being’ status, such as hags and vampires, and declared that they would manage their own affairs separately from wizards. A year later the merpeople made the same request. The Ministry of Magic accepted their demands reluctantly. Although a Centaur Liaison Office exists in the Beast Division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, no centaur has ever used it. Indeed, ‘being sent to the Centaur Office’ has become an in-joke at the Department and means that the person in question is shortly to be fired.
Wherever there is continued uncertainty about the classification of a beast in the following pages, I have noted it in the entry for that creature.
Let us now turn to the one question that witches and wizards ask more than any other when the conversation turns to Magizoology: why don’t Muggles notice these creatures?