Phoenixes and Family Connections

There’s no mention in the book Fantastic Beasts of phoenixes bonding with families as opposed to individuals. Even if it’s true that they have some special connection to the Dumbledore family (or perhaps one particular phoenix does), that doesn’t mean they couldn’t also appear in other places, to other people.

Phoenixes are famous for dying in a burst of flame and being reborn from the ashes, which makes them a pretty good symbol for the Dumbledore family. They apparently had a noble ancestor accompanied by a phoenix, which vanished when he died. By the time Albus Dumbledore and his siblings came along, their family was definitely in the “ashes” stage of a phoenix’s life. His father was in Azkaban, his mother was dead, his sister was unwell/probably an obscurial, his brother was coarse and ignorant, and Albus Dumbledore himself was easily manipulated by Grindelwald, who went on to be one of the most powerful dark wizards of all time. Elphias Doge’s “In Memoriam” piece in Deathly Hallows describes how, when eleven-year-old Albus Dumbledore arrived at Hogwarts, his name did him no favors; he was viewed with suspicion and distrust, not the respect and admiration he later received.

Of course, later in life – after fighting and defeating Grindelwald, not to mention making a name for himself as a great scholar and teacher – Dumbledore’s humble origins were more-or-less forgotten. Just as nobody cares, looking at an elegant red-and-gold phoenix, about the ashes it rose up from, no one cared about Dumbledore’s father who died in prison, his rather unpleasant brother, his mysterious younger sister, or his youthful association with Gellert Grindelwald.

Major Crimes of Grindelwald spoilers below!

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The Sorting of Queenie Goldstein

Crimes of Grindelwald spoilers.

Shortly after the first Fantastic Beasts movie, I said that if Queenie went to Hogwarts, she would be a Slytherin. Now that Crimes of Grindelwald is out, all I can say is …

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What Deathly Hallow Would They Choose?

In the time period when the Fantastic Beasts movies take place, Grindelwald is searching for the Deathly Hallows. He already has the wand and will never obtain the stone or cloak, so I don’t think they will play a large role in the movies, but the symbol has already appeared, and they’re bound to be mentioned at some point. I wonder if at some point the characters will hear the Tale of the Three Brothers, and if they did, which Hallow they would be most drawn to. Here are my thoughts:

The Wand

Gellert Grindelwald. Although he’s actively looking for all three, Dumbledore claims that they both were drawn more to the first two Hallows and mostly interested in the cloak simply because it completed the set; they did not see much practical use for it. However, while Dumbledore longed to bring his parents back from the dead, he admits to Harry that Grindelwald more likely saw the stone as a way to create inferi, which isn’t what it does at all. Inferi are reanimated corpses, basically zombies, that do the bidding of a dark wizard, while the people the stone brings back are more like ghosts. Its only real purpose is to talk to someone who has died. Therefore, if Grindelwald knew what each of the Hallows really does and knew he would only ever obtain one, he would almost certainly choose the one he already has.

Theseus Scamander. As an auror, his first impulse is to fight. He doesn’t seem to be in mourning for any lost loved ones, and he’s too much a man of action to see the value in the cloak, so I don’t think there’s any doubt he would choose the wand.

Tina Goldstein. At least, Tina before she met Newt would definitely have chosen the wand. The Tina from the second movie, who has “gone middle head”, as Newt puts it, might hesitate a moment longer. She might consider that the cloak has value as well (I doubt she’d be too tempted by the stone). In the end, though, she’s still an auror and still the most practical and straightforward of the main four. I would guess she would still choose the wand.

Credence Barebone. Or whatever his true identity is. Credence has been completely powerless for so long – abused by his adoptive mother, forced to suppress his magical abilities, manipulated by Grindelwald – that an unbeatable wand would no doubt appeal to him. I don’t know who he would want to bring back with the resurrection stone, and an invisibility cloak might be useful when he’s on the run in Crimes of Grindelwald, but it wouldn’t compare with what the wand offers (or seems to).

The Stone

Albus Dumbledore. Even as an old man, in Tales of Beedle the Bard, Dumbledore writes that he would have the easiest time turning down the third Hallow, though he seems aware that the third one is the wisest and “right” choice to make. Dumbledore does end up finding all three Deathly Hallows, but the wand is the only one he keeps and uses for a long period of time. However, he does not seem to think it’s the most valuable Hallow and notes that it is far from unbeatable, having been beaten many times and passed from one person to another when its owner is defeated. It is perhaps the stone that is the greatest temptation for Dumbledore; even as an old man, he tried it on and attempted to use it despite knowing that Voldemort had turned it into a horcrux and that it would be dangerous to do so. Having lost so many loved ones at a young age, it’s understandable he would long to bring them back.

Queenie Goldstein. Queenie’s greatest strength is also her greatest weakness: she loves deeply and cannot let go of those she loves. If she would make the choices she makes in Crimes of Grindelwald for the sake of her romance with Jacob, you can bet she would pick the stone, too. In a heartbeat.

Leta Lestrange. She has spent most of her life feeling guilty about Corvus, a situation which is even compared outright to Dumbledore and Ariana. Surely she would jump at the chance to bring him back.

The Cloak

Newt Scamander. Obviously. Newt rarely uses combative magic and would not see the need for an “unbeatable” wand. While he’s a compassionate person who would no doubt grieve if he lost loved ones, he would also be wise enough to understand that no magic can truly bring back the dead. He would find the invisibility cloak extremely useful in all the sneaking around he does, as well as to hide his magical creatures when necessary.

Jacob Kowalski. As a muggle, Jacob would be unable to use the wand and likely couldn’t use the stone either. Anyone can hide under an invisibility cloak. Even if he were a wizard, he’s a pretty humble guy who probably wouldn’t care for the power offered by the wand, and his willingness to step out into the memory potion rain suggests that he can let go and move on after a great loss, so he probably wouldn’t choose the stone.

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.

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.

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.