Cursed Half-Blood Orphans

Harry and Voldemort have always had a lot in common. They were both orphaned at a young age, raised in cold and uncaring environments, and found the home they had never had at Hogwarts. They were both “half-blood” wizards, coming from old magical families but with muggle relatives as well, and neither of them knew about Hogwarts before they turned eleven. They both spoke Parseltongue and had the option to be in Slytherin house, although Harry chose Gryffindor instead. They were both natural leaders who drew supporters to their cause. Harry and young Tom Riddle are even said to look similar.

It occurred to me that Credence from Fantastic Beasts is a lot like both of them. He is also an orphan, raised in perhaps the cruelest situation of the three, by the leader of a group of witch-hunters who is implied to have killed his mother. He comes from a magical background (spoilers for Crimes of Grindelwald suggest he might be a Lestrange), but is raised by muggles and develops an obscurus by trying to suppress his powers. He does not go to Hogwarts and would be unlikely to be sorted into Slytherin; he’s an antagonist, but he is not ambitious or cunning, and is easily manipulated by others rather than being the one doing the manipulating. However, it seems like he’s become close with the Maledictus character, who is now confirmed to be Nagini, so he, too, has a connection to Slytherin house and snakes.

Credence is who Harry might have been if the Dursleys had tried a little harder to force the magic out of him. If, instead of stubbornly ignoring his early signs of magic, they had gone through with Uncle Vernon’s remark that his abilities were “nothing a good beating wouldn’t have fixed”. Credence is like a version of Harry who never got his Hogwarts letter, never met Ron and Hermione, and instead went on living with the Dursleys until adulthood. Like Harry, he is an unwitting host to a dark force he can’t control, which makes him a target for the main villain of the series: for Credence, his obscurus, and for Harry, the fragment of Voldemort’s soul that attached itself to him when he was a baby. In both cases, it seems as if there is no solution other than their deaths. No one survives being an obscurial, and Harry will have to die in order for Voldemort to die. However, they both survive their near-death experiences – at least for now.

Like young Tom Riddle – and unlike Harry – Credence is a creepy teenager who immediately looks like a suspicious character. His body language and way of speaking tell you immediately that there’s something wrong. And you’d be right. But while Voldemort is a sociopath and a vicious killer from a young age, Credence is an emotional wreck terrified of his own powers. He, like Voldemort, kills several people – including his muggle parent – as a young man, but Voldemort’s actions are cold and premeditated, while Credence is literally possessed by a dark force and is not fully in control of or aware of his actions. Credence, much like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, makes the reader/viewer question who the real monster is: the thing doing the killing, or the person who created it? With Voldemort, no such question needs to be asked. His lonely childhood is not used to excuse or even explain his behavior, and the fact that he was conceived via love potion – the closest thing he has to Credence’s obscurial or Harry’s horcrux status – is something Rowling has described as “symbolic” of his inability to love rather than being the literal cause of it. He is clearly evil through and through.

I just recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling, by “Robert Galbraith” – J.K. Rowling’s adult mystery novel pseudonym. The main character, Cormoran Strike, had a rough childhood. He is not technically an orphan, but he might as well be. Although there is no magic and therefore there are no magical families, Cormoran’s father is wealthy and famous, while his mother was poor and died young. He’s not literally cursed, but things haven’t gone well for him. This is a recurring pattern in Rowling’s work; neither her protagonists and her antagonists come from stable and happy homes or have easy childhoods. Supporting characters like Ron and Hermione are a different story, but Newt Scamander might be the only lead that doesn’t have major family-related baggage.

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Understanding Literary Concepts Through Harry Potter: Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is the main character of the story. They may not necessarily be the “hero” of the story, but they often are. Obviously, Harry is the protagonist of the Harry Potter series.

The antagonist is the main character’s opponent. Harry has several antagonists, the most important of which is Voldemort. The antagonist can be, but doesn’t have to be, the “villain” of the story.

In the main Harry Potter series, hero/protagonist and villain/antagonist line up pretty well, but in some of the newer material, that’s not the case. For instance, in the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander is the protagonist. Tina fills the role of the antagonist at the beginning, up until Percival Graves sentences her and Newt both to death, at which point she becomes his ally. Mary Lou Barebone is a terrible person, but she almost never crosses paths with Newt and his friends, so she isn’t much of an antagonist. Instead, the much more sympathetic Credence fills that role after Tina abandons it, with his transformation into the Obscurus providing one of the main sources of conflict. Percival Graves is the most clear-cut villain/antagonist in the movie, and the last-second revelation makes Grindelwald the big-picture antagonist who the viewer can expect to continue in that role in the sequels.

It’s harder to think of a protagonist who was not a hero. The only one I can think of comes from Tales of Beedle the Bard. The story titled “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” follows a selfish young warlock who uses dark magic to remove his own heart and prevent himself from falling in love. After years of keeping it outside his body, it becomes shriveled and hardened, covered with hair. The young warlock is the villain of the story, but he is also the main character, and therefore the protagonist.

It’s common for the protagonist to be more villain than hero in older tragedies, where they are undone by a tragic character flaw. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Richard III, and Julius Caesar, the protagonists commit murder for political power. They are certainly not good people.

When we talk about heroes and villains, we are talking about a character’s morality: whether or not their actions are, on the whole, admirable ones, and their values ones that the story is endorsing. When we talk about protagonist and antagonist, we are talking about the role that the character plays in the story. It is typical for the antagonist to be a villain, and in children’s stories like Harry Potter, almost unheard of for the protagonist not to be a hero. However, they are two distinct concepts, one describing the character as good or evil, the other describing who is the focal point of the story and who is standing in their way or causing problems for them.

Aunt Bellatrix

So I was playing Hogwarts Mystery, and this happened:

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Do I even need to ask which one of her aunts we’re talking about here?

Actually, it’s strange to think of Filch and Bellatrix being at odds with each other. Filch never misses an opportunity to crack down on students misbehaving, but he doesn’t seem to make any distinction between good-hearted pranksters like Tonks, kids like Harry who break the rules for a good reason, and people whose intentions are truly sinister. Teenage Bellatrix must have really been awful.

So why does Filch not hate Malfoy the way he apparently hates Tonks? Bellatrix is his aunt as well, he’s hardly a perfect rule-follower, and he spends book six actively plotting to bring the Death Eaters into the castle, but Filch seems to have no opinion at all about him. Is it because it’s been longer and his grudge has softened? Because he’s on good terms with Snape and Malfoy is one of Snape’s favorites? Because Narcissa was a rule-follower and Andromeda was more of a rebel? Because the books were written years ago and the game isn’t always consistent?

Understanding Literary Concepts Through Harry Potter: Flat and Round, Static and Dynamic

A flat character is like a pencil sketch of a person. You have some idea of what they look like, what their goals are, even their basic personality, but none of the detail that would make them feel real. A round character is the opposite. They do have those details, and they come across as real people even though the audience knows they are fictional.

There are a lot of round characters in Harry Potter, but there are also many who have only a small part to play and therefore minimal characterization. Pansy Parkinson is Draco Malfoy’s mean-spirited and frivolous girlfriend. Hepzibah Smith was a wealthy and easily-manipulated woman from whom Voldemort stole Slytherin’s locket and Hufflepuff’s cup. Sturgis Podmore is a member of the Order of the Phoenix who Voldemort tries to use to get the prophecy. That’s … pretty much all there is to those characters.

On the other hand, if I said, “Harry Potter is an orphan raised by his aunt and uncle who discovers he has magical powers and is the chosen one of a prophecy”, I have only scratched the surface of who Harry is. I’ve said nothing about his personality, his morals, his friendships, his goals, his hopes, his fears, his doubts, his strengths and weaknesses, or any of the myriad of other things that define who Harry is. And, unlike the characters I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Harry has all those things and more. Flat characters can be summed up in a few words or a sentence, while round characters would require an essay to do them justice.

Another way to classify characters is by their character development. A dynamic character changes over the course of the story, while a static character remains the same. These two concepts are often lumped together, with the assumption that round characters are dynamic and flat characters are static. Most examples fit this pattern. For example, I named Pansy Parkinson as a flat character. Aside from aging seven years over the course of the series, she does not change very much. She does not reconsider her actions, but nor does she go any further down the path that she’s on, (for instance by fighting for Voldemort in the Battle of Hogwarts). In Deathly Hallows, she’s still the same shallow, unpleasant schoolgirl she’s always been. On the flip side, Draco Malfoy looks very much like a flat/static character early in the series. Around the time of Half-Blood Prince, it becomes evident that he is neither. His development in the final two books both deepens his characterization beyond the one-dimensional playground bully and forces him into a situation where he can’t continue to be just the playground bully.

However, a static character (who does not change) can also be a round character whose personality is well developed but remains constant. For example, Hagrid is a major character with a fully-developed and lifelike personality, but he does not change over the course of the story. The Hagrid who delivers Harry to his aunt and uncle’s house in Sorcerer’s Stone is essentially the same Hagrid who carries him back to Hogwarts castle in Deathly Hallows. If he changes, it’s in very small ways. The same is true of many of the other adults in the series as well.

It’s harder to imagine a dynamic character (who changes) somehow not being a round character. In order to understand why someone would undergo a major change, their character would have to be complex. It’s not impossible, though: one example from Harry Potter that comes to mind is Regulus Black. We know he started out as a loyal Death Eater and later chose to betray Voldemort. We know what he discovered that made him reconsider. But his actual personality is extremely vague and is revealed entirely through other characters’ descriptions. Ariana Dumbledore is another such character, one who goes through a dramatic change but is never fully fleshed out as anything more than a plot device. Both are purely backstory characters and are dead before the main narrative begins, and both are defined almost entirely by the change they went through, with very little personality beyond that change.

However, it is true that the vast majority of round characters are also dynamic, and the vast majority of flat characters are also static. Complex characterization usually leads to character development and change over time, while shallower characters who exist only as a pencil sketch idea typically stay the same.

Understanding Literary Concepts Through Harry Potter: The Hero’s Journey

For the next post in my literary concepts series, I’m going to be discussing the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is the basic storyline that many protagonists follow, beginning with a “Call to Adventure” and ending with great personal growth and triumph. It can be seen in everything from classical mythology to modern stories like Star Wars and Harry Potter. The stages of the hero’s journey have been defined in various ways, but I’ll be using Joseph Campbell’s seventeen stages as described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I was going to use Sorcerer’s Stone for this, but when I got to thinking about it, Fantastic Beasts is an even better example.

Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts does not follow a classical hero’s journey. There is no call to adventure or refusal thereof – he’s already been called and is in the middle of an adventure – and there’s no transition for Newt from the ordinary world into a special world, since he is already a wizard and very much a part of the magical world. However, there is a very clear, almost exactly step-by-step hero’s journey story in Fantastic Beasts, and it is Jacob Kowalski who finds himself following it.

Some of the names for the stages of the hero’s journey are overly-specific and don’t give a clear indication of their purpose, so I have paraphrased them. I have also moved “The Meeting with the Goddess” and “Crossing the Return Threshold” out of their typical order to reflect the order in which Jacob’s story unfolds.

The Call to Adventure: Jacob begins in the ordinary world, unhappy working in a canning factory and longing to open a bakery. He meets Newt at the bank and is accidentally exposed to magic.

Refusal of the Call: He is understandably confused by what he has seen and makes a run for it, accidentally taking Newt’s suitcase with him. Ironically, it is by doing so that he avoids having his memories wiped and ends up being part of the adventure.

Supernatural Aid: When Jacob is attacked by Newt’s murtlap, Newt, Tina, and Queenie help him.

Crossing of the First Threshold: Newt invites Jacob into his magical suitcase and shows him his creatures. Jacob realizes he is not dreaming and does not want to forget.

Meeting a powerful and helpful woman (“The Meeting with the Goddess”): Obviously, this would be Queenie.

Entering into danger (“Entering into the Belly of the Whale”): In this stage, Jacob, along with Newt and Tina, is arrested by MACUSA. The others are sentenced to death, and Jacob to having his memories wiped.

The Road of Trials: Jacob, Queenie, Tina, and Newt travel all around New York City trying to recapture Newt’s escaped magical creatures.

Temptation (“Woman as Temptress”): This really doesn’t apply. The main force of temptation in the movie is Grindelwald, but he never tries to influence Jacob.

Atonement with the Father: I’m not sure this applies to Jacob, but if it does, it might actually be his grandmother, rather than a literal father figure. He wants to become a baker partially because of her and apologizes to his picture of her when he believes he won’t be able to. By the end of the movie he has achieved his dream.

Apotheosis: Jacob finally comes to terms with the fact that he won’t be allowed to remember his time in the magical world and accepts it.

The Ultimate Boon: Realizing that Queenie is in love with him and that Newt considers him a friend. Later, Newt will make sure he does not have to return to the canning factory.

Refusal of Return: He spends most of the movie refusing to return to the muggle world but does so willingly when the moment is right.

Magic Flight: Not applicable. He does not have to escape with a treasure. His “Ultimate Boon” is simply realizing his new friends care deeply for him, which will lead to their helping him achieve his original dream.

Crossing the Return Threshold: When he steps out into the memory potion rain and lets himself forget.

Rescue from a final danger (“Rescue from Without”): When it seems that Jacob will be forced to return to the canning factory, Newt anonymously gives him a suitcase full of silver occamy eggshells to fund his bakery.

Master of the Two Worlds/Freedom to Live: Jacob is happier and better off for his experiences in the magical world even though he no longer remembers. He now has his bakery, and he bakes breads in the shape of magical creatures, indicating that he still has some memory of his encounter with magic. At the end of the movie, he meets Queenie again.

Becoming an Obscurial

I’ve written before about Ariana as an obscurial, and I still think it’s a strong possibility – but as much as she has in common with Credence, there are also several major differences between them. If an obscurus forms over a long period of time, as a result of repeatedly trying to suppress one’s magic, maybe they’re not as clear-cut as they seem. It seems like there would be some gray area between “well-adjusted magical child” and “angry dark cloud of destruction”, and that someone who becomes an obscurial would first go through that gray area rather than suddenly becoming one overnight. Here are my thoughts on what that might look like:

Normal Childhood Magic

It’s always portrayed as normal that magical children will not have control of their magic until around the age of eleven. Only in rare cases are they able to use it intentionally, and they may or may not even suspect that what they’re doing is magic. However, young children’s magic is generally harmless.

Involuntary Fear/Anger-Based Magic

I’ve noticed that Harry’s childhood magic seems more volatile and defensive than other characters’. When his mother uses magic in Snape’s memories, it’s to do innocent things like floating through the air or making a flower open and close. When Harry’s magic bursts out of him at the beginning of Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s to get away from bullies, save himself from humiliation, or get revenge against his unpleasant cousin, Dudley. Even later on in the series, he continues to produce involuntary magic when he is angry and upset. For instance, without waving a wand or casting a spell, he breaks his Aunt Marge’s glass and causes her to inflate like a balloon. He clearly is not an obscurial, and he wasn’t aware enough to become one, since the Dursleys put so much effort into making sure he doesn’t believe in magic. However, he is punished when strange things happen around him, and those strange things tend to happen only when he is angry or afraid, whereas for other magical children, they seem more spontaneous. He seems like the sort of child who could have easily become an obscurial if the Dursleys had gone a little further in their attempts to keep him from being a wizard.

Dangerous Shadow

Ariana Dumbledore has a lot in common with Credence Barebone. Like him, she actively tries to suppress her magic and wants nothing to do with it, but it escapes from her in violent outbursts. However, she was raised by a loving magical family and had only one negative encounter with muggles who harmed her because of her powers. She was traumatized, but she was not isolated or brainwashed. She lived longer than any obscurial can, according to Grindelwald (who knew her) and Newt Scamander (who knows Dumbledore), and she died when she was caught in the crossfire of a wizards’ duel, not from her obscurial nature. It seems like she may have had a weak form of obscurus, but that it was kept in check and did not consume her. Perhaps instead of an angry dark cloud, her obscurus was more like a dangerous shadow.

Full Obscurial

If Ariana’s loving family and her lack of long-term brainwashing helped her keep her obscurus under control, the opposite would happen for someone like Credence, who was raised by the Second Salemers. The proto-obscurus I described as a “dangerous shadow” would grow and grow, until it becomes the dark cloud of anger we see in Fantastic Beasts, which lashes out violently and eventually destroys the person it’s taken control of. According to both Newt and Grindelwald, no known obscurial has survived past the age of ten. (Since magic usually reveals itself by age seven, this means they only survive about three years after their obscurus forms). My theory is that, up until this point, the damage caused by the obscurus could be managed, if not reversed, and that only the most extreme cases would become full obscurials.

Super-Obscurial

Credence fits the “obscurial” description in almost every way. He was raised by a group dedicated to stamping out magic, abused by his adoptive mother, and must have been terrified when his magic started to reveal itself. He has hidden it so well that even he doesn’t seem to have any idea he’s a wizard. However, he’s the only obscurial known to have survived to adulthood, and he also has the most powerful obscurus Newt Scamander has ever seen. He manages to survive his full transformation and apparent death at the end of Fantastic Beasts. If anything, rather than making him frail and weak like Ariana, his obscurus seems to have made him nearly indestructible. I would guess we will learn more about what makes him so powerful in the next movie.

Fantastic Beasts of the Circus Arcanus

In all the Crimes of Grindelwald theories I’ve written about, it seems like I’ve barely mentioned Newt Scamander. His role in the first movie was obvious, since it was focused so much on his magical creatures, but even now, with the focus shifting to the war against Grindelwald, he’s clearly still central to the story.

In Fantastic Beasts, Newt was on good terms with Dumbledore and willing to work against Grindelwald, but his main concern was his magical creatures. In Crimes of Grindelwald, he’s now on a mission for Dumbledore, who is seen recruiting him to help in the fight against Grindelwald in the latest trailer. However, he still has his suitcase full of magical creatures, and presumably they will continue to play a role in the story.

I previously wrote [link] that I thought the Circus Arcanus was following Grindelwald. It’s in New York when he’s in New York and in Paris when he’s in Paris. That seems like too much of a coincidence. A circus can travel anywhere at any time without attracting notice, so it would be a good cover story, and – as I mentioned in my other post – people who have “freakish” talents or enjoy using their magic in flashy ways might very well be drawn to a leader who wants to bring wizards out of hiding.

Newt Scamander has devoted his life to magical creatures. The Circus Arcanus seems to include magical creatures in its performances – they have a kappa advertised on one of their posters, and there’s definitely something in that cage in the trailer – and real-life circuses have not always treated their animals very well. If Newt suspected that the Circus Arcanus was mistreating its magical creatures, he might decide to investigate, especially if he was already in Paris on a mission from Dumbledore. Maybe Dumbledore even suspects the circus is linked to Grindelwald and points him in their direction.