Fantastic Beasts and Obscurials: the Price of Ignorance

When Newt Scamander first tells Tina Goldstein he’s writing a book on magical creatures, she asks if it’s an extermination guide. No, he corrects her, he’s writing to help his fellow wizards understand magical creatures and encourage them to protect the creatures rather than killing them. It’s a theme that is present throughout both of the movie’s main storylines and is very important in the real world as well: that ignorance breeds hate and fear, which can only be combatted with understanding.

While Newt struggles to make other wizards understand that his creatures are not dangerous – at least from his perspective – the children of the New Salem Preservation Society stand in the streets handing out flyers as their leader rants against witchcraft. What do they actually know about magic? They certainly know or suspect that it exists, and they’re right that some wizards are dangerous, but their ideas are mostly based on their own fear rather than the truth they claim to know.

This ignorant fear and hatred leads Credence, the son of the New Salem leader, to suppress his magic and pretend it doesn’t exist, probably even denying it to himself. But magic can’t be suppressed easily, and the movie makes it quite clear that the only options are to learn to control it or be controlled by it. The Second Salemers’ hateful views of magic end up creating the greatest magical threat possible as one of their own becomes an obscurial, with powerful and uncontrollable magic literally exploding out of him.

The Second Salemers are aware of magic and determined that it’s evil, while Jacob Kowalski – another muggle who encounters magic – quickly learns to see witches and wizards as not so different from other people. Unlike the Second Salemers, he has actually spent time with magic-users and gotten to know them as people. Rappaport’s Law, the strict separation of the magical and “no-maj” worlds in America, actually does more harm than good in keeping wizards safe, because it means that any “no-maj” who finds out about magic will be kept ignorant.

And finally, near the end of the movie, Credence in his obscurus form is killed by MACUSA officials – although apparently there was a deleted scene that would have shown he survived? Anyway, their intent was to kill him. One gets the feeling in that scene that the other wizards don’t really see him as a person. To MACUSA he’s a dangerous threat, although as far as they know he’s a child less than 10 years old, and to Grindelwald he’s a weapon to be used and discarded. Only Newt, who has worked with and tried to help obscurials in the past, and Tina, who lost her job for trying to protect Credence from his mother, realize he’s human and try to save him. Again, ignorance makes people look at each other in fear, while understanding leads to compassion.

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Fantastic Beasts Spoilers!

The concept of an obscurus casts much of the Harry Potter series into a new light. I know I wasn’t the only person to think of Ariana Dumbledore. But what about Harry himself?

Like Credence, Harry is raised by a horrible family that hates everything to do with magic. They aren’t quite as extreme – they pretend it doesn’t exist instead of fighting it openly – but they punished Harry harshly for his childhood outbursts of magic. As a child raised in the muggle world, he would have had no idea that there were others like him, or that he would be able to leave the Dursleys for Hogwarts once he turned eleven. He would only have known that the strange things he could do made Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia very angry, and that they obviously thought there was something wrong with him. Harry could easily have suppressed his magic and let it destroy him from within, just like Credence. Yet he obviously never develops an obscurus, and I think the answer to why he doesn’t is the same thing that protects him throughout the series: his mother’s love.

Lily Potter’s love does so much to protect Harry in very literal ways. It shields him from Voldemort’s attempt to kill him and burns Quirrell when he tries to harm him. Lily’s love for Harry temporarily defeated the most powerful dark wizard of all time. It’s not that hard to believe, at least for me, that it also prevented an obscurus from forming within him, no matter how badly he was treated by the Dursleys.

Sorting Hat Saturday: Fantastic Beasts

Usually, on Saturdays, I sort characters from other stories into Hogwarts Houses. But today, I’m going to look at the Fantastic Beasts characters instead. Since they come from America rather than Britain, none of the new characters except Newt Scamander have Hogwarts houses. Here are my thoughts on where they’d be sorted if they’d gone to Hogwarts instead of Ilvermorny:

I tried not to give away the biggest plot twist, but Fantastic Beasts spoilers ahead!

Tina Goldstein: Gryffindor. Tina struggles to be brave, but only because trying to play hero has left her scarred in the past. At heart, she’s someone who follows her gut and stands up for what’s right, and she finds that part of herself again over the course of the movie.

Queenie Goldstein: Slytherin. If it’s even possible for a Slytherin to have such a big heart and warm personality – which I think it is. Queenie is quite capable of using what she learns via legilimency to manipulate others, especially to protect her loved ones. She’s skilled at coming up with believable lies and gets the others out of a near-death situation by being cunning rather than by rushing in to fight. The only part I’d hesitate on is ambition, because Tina is the career-minded sister. But like most Slytherins, Queenie will do anything to achieve her goals. It’s just that her goals aren’t power, money, or other things we normally associate with ambition.

Jacob Kowalski: Hufflepuff. Jacob is the most “normal” character in the movie, and his down-to-earth personality is reflected in his goal: to start a bakery and make a living doing something he loves. He quickly becomes loyal to Newt and is eager to see himself as part of the group, reminding Queenie at a key moment that she herself said he was one of them. While Newt – unusually for a Hufflepuff – struggles at dealing with people and gets along better with his magical creatures, Jacob is a natural people person.

Seraphina Picquery: Slytherin. As President of MACUSA, Seraphina is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the International Statute of Secrecy – whether that means standing up to Grindelwald, arresting Newt, or ordering the death of an emotionally broken young man. While the other houses might debate what can be justified “for the greater good”, Slytherins are more pragmatic and tend to believe that the ends justifies the means.

Modesty Barebone: Gryffindor. I’m basing this mostly on the moment when she admits the wand is hers instead of letting Credence take the blame. That’s a very brave thing to do, especially since she’s seen firsthand their mother’s cruelty and hatred of witchcraft.

Credence Barebone: Hufflepuff. Credence was probably the hardest character to sort because his internal conflict overshadows anything else we might see of his character. He’s repressed not only his magic but much of his individuality. However, he is in search of a place to belong and someone to be loyal to, and goes to great lengths to try to conform to the group he’s part of. He is desperate for human connection despite the lack of love in his family, as seen in his relationships with Percival Graves and Modesty. Emotional isolation is hard for almost anyone, but especially for Hufflepuffs, who thrive as part of a group.

Mary Lou Barebone: Gryffindor. As the leader of an anti-witchcraft movement, Mary Lou would no doubt be horrified to know I’d sorted her into a Hogwarts house, but all the more reason to do it. Gryffindors often fight for a cause they believe in, and that’s exactly what Mary Lou is doing, in a very twisted way. Her cause is based in hatred, but she stands up for it as boldly as any Gryffindor. I hesitated to put her there, however, because she’s not just a well-intentioned crusader doing awful things “for the greater good”. Her cruelty towards her children is absolutely horrific and not something that can be justified by her belief that she’s fighting evil. But as seen with Peter Pettigrew, Gryffindors can be capable of evil. Mary Lou is not cunning or ambitious, not loyal or fair, and certainly not intelligent or wise. She fits Gryffindor by far the best out of the four houses.

Grindelwald: Slytherin. Isn’t this obvious?

Contrasting Motives and Where to Find Them

One thing I’ve noticed about Fantastic Beasts is that each of the main quartet is motivated by love, while the rest of the cast is motivated by fear or hatred.

Newt loves his animals and spends the movie trying to protect them. Tina seeks to do what is right and is driven to help those who are vulnerable, while Queenie loves people, especially her sister. And by opening a bakery, Jacob wants to be able to make other people happy doing something that he loves. When they are drawn into the movie’s conflict, it is in defense of the things they hold dear.

In contrast, President Seraphina Picquery is motivated by fear that the magical world will be exposed, Credence Barebone by fear of his own repressed powers, his mother Mary Lou by hatred of magic, and Grindelwald and his supporters by anger at the status quo and disdain for muggles. All three competing factions – MACUSA, Grindelwald, and Second Salem – define themselves by hatred and fear of each other.

While Newt and his friends are of course afraid in dangerous situations, they never allow their fear to control them. They certainly never give themselves over to hate. This contrast between the film’s four heroes and the world that surrounds them emphasizes the fact that in spite of their circumstances, they are constantly trying to do good and acting in defense of the things they love and value.

Percival Graves, Credence Barebone, and the Sign of the Deathly Hallows

“You want to join the wizarding world,” one of the latest Fantastic Beasts promos begins. “I want those things, too.”

Wait … things, plural? What else was on that list? I have some ideas, but I’ll get to them later. The same voice continues: “There’s something else. Something I haven’t told you.”

 

Yes, that’s the sign of the Deathly Hallows, and that’s Percival Graves talking to Credence Barebone, again. Unlikely allies is a pretty big understatement, with one being a wizard and the other a Second Salemer, but I’m more convinced than ever that they’re working together on something, and I’m certain Graves is working for Grindelwald. Why? Because this is not the first time he’s been linked with the sign of the Deathly Hallows, which of course was used by Grindelwald during the same time period when the movie takes place. It’s right there on his poster:

percival-graves

It’s also not the first time he’s said things that sound like Grindelwald. “We’ve been living in the shadows for too long” comes straight out of Grindelwald’s talk about wizards revealing themselves and dominating muggles.

So here’s a theory: Credence Barebone – adopted son of the Second Salem leader – is in fact a wizard. Because of the strict American separation of the magical and “no-maj” worlds, as well as his family’s anti-magic views, he never had the chance to attend Ilvermorny or be a part of the wizarding world. Percival Graves is drawn to Grindelwald’s ideas as an alternative to Rappaport’s Law and a way to bring down the New Salem witch hunters – or maybe just because he’s power-hungry, depending on how (un)sympathetic a character he turns out to be. He discovers Credence’s secret and draws him into their plans, with the conflict between their faction and the Second Salemers unfolding at the same time that Newt’s magical creatures get loose – and, of course, the two plotlines becoming tangled together.

Watch the promo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB_F_Pzc-Vw

 

Fantastic Beasts Speculation

One thing I’ve said before is that it looks like Fantastic Beasts will be about what happens when the magical and muggle worlds collide. With Rappaport’s Law preventing wizard/muggle marriages and even friendships, the Second Salem group looking to start a witch hunt, and of course the basic premise of magical creatures loose in New York City, that seems fairly obvious.

Oh, and there’s Grindelwald. I didn’t make the connection before, but Grindelwald’s rise to power – mentioned in one of the trailers – was all about muggle vs. wizard conflict. He believed that wizards’ powers gave them the right to rule over muggles, and that taking control would be “for the greater good” – or at least, that’s the justification he gave to Dumbledore. Whereas the Death Eaters believed in excluding muggles and muggle-borns, something that was dependent on staying hidden, Grindelwald’s agenda could only have been fulfilled by revealing their existence. Stepping out of the shadows, so to speak.

Wait a moment. Where have I heard that before?

In the most recent Fantastic Beasts trailer, two men are standing in an alleyway, looking at a wall plastered with Second Salem flyers, and one tells the other, “We’ve been living in the shadows for too long”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the two men are Percival Graves, a MACUSA auror, and Credence Barebone, from the New Salem Philanthropic Society – an odd couple of people to be having that sort of conversation. Who is “we”?

But what if … Credence Barebone, who is supposed to be important somehow, is in fact a wizard? It must be hard to be a muggle-born wizard under Rappaport’s Law, and even harder if your family is devoted to wiping out magic. Someone in that position might hide their powers and lash out even harder against witches and wizards, or might be vulnerable to manipulation by someone like Grindelwald, who thought wizards should take control.

Surely he had followers, or else he never would have gotten where he did. In a setting like 1920’s Wizarding America, where tensions between wizards and muggles apparently are already high, it’s not hard to imagine that some people would have thought he had the right idea.

And with that in mind, with five movies to go, it would be a lot more interesting to see Grindelwald’s rise and fall than to watch Newt Scamander chase magical creatures around different muggle cities. I hope that’s the direction the series will take.