Fans of the books and films will remember that JK Rowling's world of wizardry is populated with a host of magical and frightening creatures, from elves, pixies and familiars to trolls, giants and werewolves, and everything in between. This new book is a fascinating look at how this menagerie was brought to life for the film series. All of the best-loved creatures are here, including Dobby the house elf, Mrs Norris, the long-haired tabby cat companion, and Crookshanks, described by Ron Weasley as "a pig with hair" (he's actually a fluffy ginger tom with a snub face). There are detailed profiles of each, plus full-colour illustrations and behind-the-scenes photographs charting the genesis of many of the creatures, which are an important element in the stories, as producer David Heyman notes in the book's introduction. "Harry Potter's story could not be told without them. They provide lessons and challenges to our hero that ultimately help him gain the skills and confidence needed for his battle with Lord Voldemort and the Dark Forces."
It's amazing to see the attention to detail the production team brought. The visual development artists studied birds and horses so that creatures such as the Hippogriffs and Thestrals were rooted in reality. While a team led by Nick Dudman, creature effects supervisor and special makeup effects artist, built a fire-breathing dragon just because they wanted to. And then there's the actual-sized "Whomping willow", big enough to "whomp" a real car. (I think I'm in the wrong job.)
It's amazing, too, to look back and see just how many top British actors appeared in the Harry Potter films, including Jim Broadbent, Dame Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Miriam Margoyles, David Tennant, Robbie Coltrane and Gary Oldman.
The book is divided up into "realms", so we get Lake Dwellers such as the Merpeople, Forest Dwellers such as the centaurs and unicorms, Sky Dwellers (dragons and pixies), and Greenhouse (mandrakes and the aforementioned Whomping Willow). There's also a chapter on the creatures of the Dark Forces, which is not for the faint hearted (or very young. The illustrations of Harry being engulfed by the Devil's Snare might be nightmare-inducing for some).
This book would make an ideal gift for fans of the books and films, or a budding special effects artist. There are a couple of nice touches: there's a poster featuring each of the creatures, as well as an interactive Heylops Owl Emporium, that make this title something to treasure.
Harry Potter: The Creature Vault (Titan Books £24.99) is available from Amazon.co.uk and all good bookshops