Hunting for the Hallows

the deathly hallows

I haven’t seen Crimes of Grindelwald yet (I’m going this afternoon), but here’s a picture I’ve been working on in anticipation.

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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.

Ice Queens and Obscurials

You know who Credence from Fantastic Beasts reminds me of? Elsa from Frozen. Yes, you read that right. What do they have in common? Both are born with magic, and both try to suppress it, with disastrous results.

Of course, there are some major differences. While Elsa has a loving and supportive family who just have no idea how to help her, Credence is the son of a woman whose mission in life is to eradicate magic. Therefore, he suppresses his magic far more than Elsa does, to the point that he himself is not even aware he’s a wizard. While Elsa runs away from home after her powers are revealed, her loving sister finds her and helps her find a way to control them. Newt tries to fulfill a similar role for Credence after he is revealed as the Obscurial. However, Newt has only met one such person before and was not able to save her. Unlike Elsa’s ice magic, Credence’s suppressed powers are a death sentence, and all characters involved are shocked that he has managed to survive to young adulthood as an Obscurial.

It is not enough for Credence to acknowledge his powers or to accept that his mother is wrong about magic. In fact, Grindelwald is easily able to manipulate his desire to be a part of the Wizarding World long before either of them suspects what he is. When he becomes aware of his powers, his bottled-up anger is released, and if anything, the Obscurus in him seems to grow stronger. We’ll see how that plays out in future Fantastic Beasts movies, but if he ever manages to channel that power in a controllable way, it’s clear it won’t be an easy process.

I’m also reminded of Morgana from BBC’s Merlin series. Like Credence, she grew up in an environment that was completely hostile to magic, and she quickly had to come to terms with her magic, which she struggled to control. However, she soon gained control, and from that point on it was really her own anger, rather than her powers, that consumed her and caused her to lash out against others.

If anything, Elsa’s situation is more like Arianna Dumbledore’s. Arianna was fully aware she was a witch, and yet she still suppressed her magic and refused to use it. Her condition is described in a way that has convinced many people, me included, that she may have been an Obscurial. Arianna, like Credence, lived longer than most Obscurials, and I wonder if that might be because she grew up in a family of wizards who did not judge her and had at least some idea of how to help her.

However, being a Disney heroine, Elsa has something that none of the other characters I’ve mentioned have had: a happy ending. With her sister’s help, she is able to gain control of her magic, thaw the winter, and overcome her own fear and anguish.

There’s something about these stories that rings true, even though the magic powers part is fiction. Bottling up emotions never really works the way we intend it to, does it? Someday, that shaken-up bottle of emotion explodes all over everything. But besides that, the hostile environments these characters grew up in left their mark. Isolation and loneliness. Fear. Anger. Learning to hate or be afraid of themselves because of something beyond their control. In Credence’s case, outright physical abuse. Although all the characters I named have harmed or killed people, they all (aside from Morgana) come across as victims rather than villains, and it’s the people that drive them to those extremes that truly look horrible. I think the message, if there is one that we can apply to the real world, is that it’s very easy for hate and fear to breed more hate and fear, so that everyone involved ends up suffering. It’s better to look at others with kindness and understanding, and to love those around us regardless of their differences.