Featured in the August 2022 issue of The Rowling Library Magazine.

Exit pursued by Qilin: The stage directions of The Secrets of Dumbledore

1983 words.
By Beatrice Groves.

The Secrets of Dumbledore screenplay ends with the tantalising words:

Screenplay by J.K. Rowling & Steve Kloves
Based upon a screenplay by J.K. Rowling

For those of us interested in Rowling’s writing, it is – of course – that second screenplay which we’d really like to read. That original screenplay must exist, and it would be great if we got to see it someday. In the meantime, I very much enjoyed reading the collaborative screenplay – in particular its stage directions (the only bits we haven’t seen before). I enjoyed learning, for example, that the Qilin foals were born on ‘the Angel Eye’ (a real mountain in Vietnam) and the names of the characters of Zabini and Carrow: names that create links with the Harry Potter universe that are not present from viewing the film alone. But reading these stage directions also made me suspect something else, which is that they have been at least substantially rewritten, and probably substantially written, by Kloves.


One reason for thinking this is that the word ‘carom’ – a word Rowling has never used in her writing – turns up twice in fairly quick succession: ‘The blood troth flashes red and flies free, caroming off the floor and to the wall.’ ‘With a decisive yank, Teddy caroms across the carriage where he is caught by Jacob.’ In British English ‘carom’ is pretty much solely used for a shot in snooker or billiards in which the cue ball hits more than one ball successively (and even then, most people would use the word canon). But in American English this billiards terminology has widened out into a wider metaphorical word for any rebound after a glancing blow – as it used here. Another place where I felt I was reading Kloves not Rowling is the stage directions for the cut between scenes 54 and 55:

Newt suddenly adopts an odd, crab-like pose. The baby Manticores copy him.
Plates of lobster are being ferried to tables.

This juxtaposition creates a visual pun between the crab-like baby Manticores and the plates of lobster – a visual joke that I’d be happy to bet comes from the writer who works primarily on screen rather than on the page! Conversely, stage directions which do not seem to draw on Rowling’s deep research into the literary and mythical origins of her beasts, look to me to be written by Kloves. See, for example, with this rather charming description of the Qilin:

She’s a QILIN: part dragon, part horse, powerful but with a sweetness to her. She’s breathing fast, her skin flecking and twitching, insects and bits of jungle and dust caked into her hide. She lets out another cry. A GOLDEN LIGHT begins to suffuse the ground beneath her. Newt smiles, entranced. Slowly, slithering out from beneath the mother, a BABY QILIN appears, beautiful and fragile, its eyes blinking blindly. SNIFFING curiously, it softly BLEATS, its tiny body pulsing with GOLDEN LIGHT, briefly illuminating Newt’s and Pickett’s faces as they peer down at it.

I’ve been following the Qilin with interest since the first trailer came out, back in December 2021, when I wrote about its traditional associations with gold and golden fire, and of how in Chinese mythology it is ‘a righteous animal whose appearance proved the existence of a just ruler or monarch.’1 Both traditional aspects of the animal are crucial to the film as the Qilin glows with golden light to express the righteousness of the ruler it has chosen. Grindelwald expresses this traditional understanding of the Qilin, a mythology on which his plan hinges: ‘When a Qilin is born, a righteous leader will rise, to change our world forever.’ The film as a whole is precise in its use of traditional lore and Rowling has clearly researched this animal thoroughly (including reading an ancient Chinese bestiary, as I have discussed2). As discussed in that post, the vexed question of what a Qilin might actually look like gives the picture of ‘the body of a roe-deer, the tail of an ox, the feet of a horse with round hooves, light brown in colour, and with a single horn, not of bone but of flesh.’ And this, it seems to me, is a close description of the Qilin we see in the film (minus the horn, which I assume was dropped to stop viewers thinking it was a unicorn). But it is not close to the perfunctory description of this stage direction – ‘part dragon, part horse’ – which leads me to think that, once again, it is not Rowling writing here.


So, I went back over the stage directions of Rowling’s that we do have – those for the scripts of Fantastic Beasts and Crimes of Grindelwald – to compare them with the stage directions of Secrets of Dumbledore. And the main difference seems to me that there are far more similes and metaphors – and more unusual ones at that – in Secrets. Rowling’s stage directions are mostly clear and direct (the product of someone new to the screenwriting business who has imbibed the screenwriting mantra of ‘less is more’) but Kloves appears to be happy to be a little more expansive. For example, this unusual simile used to describe the blood troth:

Theseus nods, eyeing the troth, watching as the droplets of blood circle one another like weights in a clock.

This is a simile that is more unusual than any of those found in the stage directions of the first two movies and likewise this unusual metaphor for a crowd:

Grindelwald stares—with cool fascination—at the FUNHOUSE OF FACES beyond the tinted glass.

Both are out of keeping with Rowling’s stage-directional style, and likewise there is nothing like either of the following stage directions in the previous films:




The world goes slowly STILL, as if the rotation of the earth itself were slowing.

The troth continues to spin slowly through the air, its center cracking.

Their spells evaporate. Grindelwald’s and Dumbledore’s eyes meet, both realizing in the same moment that they have been emancipated.

Instantly, their wands rise, FLASHING again and again—fire and parry, fire and parry—in a dizzying—and cathartic—display of power.

As they continue to battle, they draw closer and closer, neither able to get the best of the other, neither willing to concede, until finally, nearly face-to-face, their arms cross and they…

Stop. Chests heaving. Eyes locked on each other. Dumbledore reaches out, delicately puts his hand on Grindelwald’s heart. Grindelwald does the same, hand on Dumbledore’s.

The first of these stage directions aspires to be a poem by Ezra Pound; the second is telling a whole short story via the medium of stage directions. Neither sounds anything like Rowling.

Another point where it seems we’re clearly reading Kloves not Rowling is the rather lovely description of Lally Hick’s book-magic: ‘As she extends her hand, the pages riffle faster and faster, then explode from the binding, dispersing into the air like a kaleidoscope of butterflies.’ ‘Kaleidoscope’ is the collective noun for butterflies – and its a nice touch for the reader – but I don’t think Rowling has ever used one of these much-beloved-of-internet-listers but still slightly esoteric collective nouns.

It is a stage direction, however, I really enjoyed because of the pleasure it takes in the bookishness of Lally’s magic. It highlights the symbolic connection between Lally’s academic nature and her book-based magic (something I wrote about3). It’s a connection which is likewise obliquely supported by a comment by Eddie Redmayne printed in this script – because he intuited the same connection between Newt’s magic and his character: ‘Newt uses more organic things, sending leaves into whirlwinds or shields, for example. His magic is not, perhaps, the most impressive, but it feels specific to who he is as a character.’ I don’t think we’ve ever seen this link between character and kind of magic before in the Wizarding World, or at least not so conspicuously.


This screenplay, as we know, is something of a departure from the two previous screenplays – in its collaborative nature, its lack of a MinaLima cover and its appearance months after the release of the film. Another difference is that it contains comments (such as Redmayne’s) from actors and others involved in the production. Many of these provided interesting perspectives – particularly, I thought, those of Christian Manz, who worked on the film’s visual effects. For example, see his discussion of the train:

“We’ve obviously seen the Hogwarts Express a lot in the Potter films, which we’ve always treated as a real train that Muggles just don’t see. The difference here is that they’re in a carriage attached to a Muggle train, so we had to move past the concept of a train that’s invisible from the outside. When we see the train pull into the station in Berlin and the camera travels from outside to inside, this beautiful carriage is revealed within a tattered baggage car at the end of the train. So it’s magically hidden rather than being invisible and that felt more interesting for the world of this film.”

Manz suggests here that to be disguised rather than invisible is more suitable for Fantastic Beasts – certainly it fits in well with the central thread of the film in which both Grindelwald and his Qilin are disguised. But there is also the implication that disguise is a more ‘adult’ solution than the invisibility of Harry Potter: more compromised and more interesting.

Finally, Manz also provides some stimulating ideas about another new aspect of the Wizarding World revealed in this film: the ‘mirror dimension’ (which I discussed with the Potterversity faculty4). Manz calls this place a ‘mirror world’:

Dumbledore and Credence are in a mirror world, and that gives us the chance to really show off Credence’s unique skills as a wizard and come up with new ways to visualize spells, which ultimately are like these beautiful sculptures in the air. One thing we did was experiment with changing matter, so what looks like it should be solid becomes a liquid, or a massive tsunami of rubble becomes snow with the flick of a wand. And in the end, we’re left in this world that’s gone completely black, but in the melted puddles all over the ground you can see daylight and traffic in the real Berlin going on just as it was.”

The stage directions also have some evocative descriptions of the mirror dimension:

The world around them seems different, slower somehow, like we have shifted into a subtle mirror of BERLIN, a reflection of itself

With a flick, the STREET around them is sucked into it, melting like a painting, leaving a negative image of the real world as if it were a distant memory.

These creative analogies with painting and film negatives help a reader to visualise this new creation of the mirror world – but, once again, they are far more ornate than anything found in the stage directions of the first two films (and I’m confident that the second, at least, is not Rowling’s writing). Kloves’s expansive word–painting in the stage directions make for a great experience for the reader but it does suggest that many if not most of the stage directions are his work. Which, in its turn, makes me suspect that quite a bit of this script is more Kloves than Rowling. Here’s hoping that someday they let us into the archive to see Rowling’s original, Brasil-based script – but for now, what we’ve got is a very enjoyable read.


[1] https://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/ beatrice-groves-the-qilin-in-the-secrets[1]of-dumbledore/

[2] https://www.mugglenet. com/2022/04/the-phoenix-and-the[1]qilin-in-secrets-of-dumbledore-fantastic[1]bestiaries-and-where-to-find-them[1]part-3/

[3] https://www.hogwartsprofessor. com/beatrice-groves-literary-allusion[1]in-secrets-of-dumbledore-fantastic[1]beasts-3/

[4] https://www.mugglenet. com/2022/05/potterversity-episode-22- secrets-of-dumbledore-and-the-deathly[1]hallows/

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