Happy 4th of July!

Tina & Queenie


The Sorting of Newt Scamander

I’ve talked about the Hogwarts houses I would sort the Fantastic Beasts characters into, but there’s one we know for sure: Newt Scamander is a Hufflepuff. Except … he doesn’t quite fit the stereotype, does he? The stereotypical Hufflepuff is a “people person”, someone who gets along easily with others and enjoys being part of a group, perhaps to the point of being a conformist. Newt, on the other hand, admits, “People tend to find me annoying”. I would also say that Hufflepuffs are thought of as not being very smart, while Newt is a highly intelligent wizard best known for having written a textbook. He seems more like a Ravenclaw at first glance, doesn’t he?

But no, I’m not going to argue that Newt should have been a Ravenclaw. He actually fits the Hufflepuff traits very well, in a bit of a non-traditional way. We’ve only seen a few well-developed Hufflepuff characters, but it stands to reason that there would be as many ways to be a Hufflepuff as there are to be a Gryffindor or Slytherin, and Newt provides a glimpse of what an introverted, intellectual Hufflepuff might look like. Let’s take a look at the Hufflepuff traits as they’re introduced in Sorcerer’s Stone:

You might belong in Hufflepuff
Where they are just and loyal
Those patient Hufflepuffs are true
And unafraid of toil

Newt is not a strict rule-follower, but in the movie’s themes of justice and injustice, he always falls on the side of doing right by others, both humans and magical creatures. The whole point of his trip to America was to release a thunderbird into its natural habitat after finding it, chained and mistreated, on the other side of the world. He attempts to help his fellow wizards understand magical creatures rather than simply being afraid of them, and along with Tina, he is one of the only characters to show compassion for Credence once his obscurial nature is revealed. Furthermore, he views the harsh American laws against interacting with muggles as “backwards” and therefore unjust.

He has few people to be loyal to in the traditional sense, but he’s fiercely loyal to his magical creatures. He genuinely cares for them and goes to great lengths to keep them safe, even seeming to care more about them than himself when he’s arrested by MACUSA officials. He’s patient enough to spend months and even years studying the creatures with few immediate rewards, and “unafraid of toil” certainly applies; collecting and caring for all those creatures can’t possibly be easy. Finally, “true” is difficult to define: if it means “honest”, he’s not always. However, if it means “genuine”, he definitely is. Everything he does is done with good intentions and to the best of his abilities.

Later Harry Potter books emphasize further Helga Hufflepuff’s willingness to teach all young wizards, not just those with the extraordinary qualities the other three founders valued. Newt certainly isn’t a “process of elimination” Hufflepuff; while he has few Slytherin traits, he’s both intelligent and courageous. However, his own attitudes line up well with Hufflepuff’s. Although he claims to struggle to relate to people, he shows genuine kindness to everyone he meets, whether they are witches and wizards, no-majs, obscurials, or fantastic creatures.

If You Haven’t Read the Books …

A lot of the Harry Potter references in Fantastic Beasts are obvious: Dumbledore, the Lestrange family, alohomora, and the sign of the Deathly Hallows, for example. Others come directly from the spinoff book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. However, what about the more subtle things that carried over from the original series, things that were glossed over or entirely left out of the movie versions? Here are a few things you might have missed if you haven’t read the books:

Undetectable extension charms: Newt’s suitcase is the most blatant use of the undetectable extension charm we’ve seen so far, but Hermione’s bag from Deathly Hallows comes close. It appears to only be big enough for a cell phone and wallet, but she uses it to carry books, clothes, medical supplies, and even a tent. Earlier in the series, we saw magically enlarged tents and learned that Arthur Weasley enchanted the family car to carry the entire family plus all the kids’ school things. Even the movies show their share of things that are larger inside than out, although never to the extent of Newt’s menagerie inside a suitcase.

Nonverbal magic: Often, the characters of Fantastic Beasts simply point their wands rather than shouting out incantations. In the Harry Potter books, Harry and his classmates start to learn nonverbal magic as sixth years, and even the movies show it when Dumbledore and Voldemort duel in Order of the Phoenix. It’s not easy, but the Fantastic Beasts characters are adult wizards rather than children still learning magic. I also wonder if Ilvermorny might place greater emphasis on subtle methods of spellcasting, like nonverbal magic, since America has harsher laws about keeping magic secret.

Wandless magic: Percival Graves repeatedly uses wandless magic, something that very few characters in the Harry Potter world are capable of. However, it’s not unheard of. Most wizards need a powerful instrument to channel their powers, but some characters, including Dumbledore, occasionally perform magic without a wand, both in the books and movies. Graves’ ability to do so is an early sign that he is not the ordinary government employee he’s pretending to be.

Obscurials: While the terms “obscurial” and “obscurus” are new, the idea of a young witch or wizard suppressing their magic is not. As many people – including me – have pointed out, Ariana Dumbledore also bottled her magic up only to have it come out of her in violent, uncontrollable bursts. The idea of an obscurus builds on what has already been described in her story.

Squibs: When Percival Graves calls Credence a “squib”, those who have only seen the Harry Potter movies may be confused. However, the concept of people from magical families with no magic of their own was first introduced in the book version of Chamber of Secrets and brought up again in Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows. Incidentally, both Credence and Ariana are mistaken for squibs.

Legilimency: Queenie Goldstein’s powers are really nothing new. Although we’ve never seen a character be quite so open about the fact that they can read minds, Voldemort’s ability to do so is mentioned in the movies and explored in more detail in the books. Other characters, like Snape and Dumbledore, also have varying levels of skill with legilimency. Queenie’s abilities seem more powerful even than Voldemort’s, since she senses Tina’s fear when they are not in the same room, but this may be a product of the strong bond between the sisters.

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.

Name Meanings: Fantastic Beasts

In the past, I’ve written about the many Harry Potter names that come from flowers and astronomy. Let’s take a look today at the new Fantastic Beasts characters’ names.

Newt Scamander: Newt’s name was set in stone over a decade before there was any thought of making a movie, but it’s certainly significant. Newts, of course, are an ordinary muggle animal often connected to magic, much like owls and cats. His surname was the name of a river god in The Iliad, so it has connections to nature as well as a common origin with the creatures from classical mythology in the Harry Potter world. I think it’s also interesting to note how much it sounds like “salamander”, which is both a real creature and a magical one documented in Newt’s book.

Porpentina Goldstein: I didn’t know this until I started looking for name meanings, but “porpentine” is an archaic word for “porcupine”, used by Shakespeare in Hamlet. Much like a porcupine, Tina is small, easily underestimated, and a bit prickly. Goldstein, of course, is the surname of Anthony Goldstein, a Ravenclaw classmate of Harry’s, so they may be distant relatives.

Queenie Goldstein: I can only assume that, like Tina, Queenie goes by a nickname. It’s an odd name, but she wears it well, and it suits both her bubbly cheerfulness and self confidence. On a different note, minor Slytherin character Daphne Greengrass was originally called Queenie Greengrass, and is also one of two sisters.

Jacob Kowalski: Compared with Newt, Porpentina, and Queenie, the most obvious thing about Jacob’s first name is how ordinary it sounds. The name’s meaning – “usurper” – is probably less important than the fact that it’s one of the few names in the movie one might actually find in 1920’s New York. His surname is a Polish name that means “blacksmith”, again probably less important for its meaning than its sound and origin.

Credence, Modesty, and Chastity Barebone: The surname is obviously intended to be creepy and perhaps a reference to the family’s bare, dismal way of life, as well as being the surname of a real puritan family known for naming their kids things like “Praise-God” and “If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned”. I’m not kidding. Virtue names like Credence, Modesty, etc. were not as common among the Puritans as some people assume (Biblical names were more popular). However, the New Salem cult exists in the 1920’s, not the Salem Witch Trial era, so it makes sense that their imitation of the Puritans would draw on popular ideas about them as much as reality.

Percival Graves: Percival is one of Dumbledore’s middle names, as well as the name of one of the Knights of the Round Table from Arthurian legend. It’s a fitting alias for someone who sees himself as a heroic figure on a quest for powerful legendary items. Graves, obviously, fits the same naming trend as Lestrange, Malfoy, etc.: a vaguely sinister-sounding name that hints a character is not to be trusted.

Different Kinds of Strength

It would be hard to find two women more different than the Goldstein sisters from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. While Tina is serious, desperate to prove herself, and driven to help others but a bit lacking in self-esteem, Queenie is warm, bubbly, totally sure of herself, and far more than just a pretty face. One is quiet and understated, the other outgoing and flashy; one wears pretty dresses and makeup, the other dull neutral colors; and while both have sharp minds and warm hearts, they show this in very different ways. In this day and age, a lot of movies want to have “Strong Female Characters”, but sometimes I think what gets lost is that there are many different ways for women to be strong. Letting them sometimes save themselves is a good place to start, but it’s only a starting point.

Tina is described in the movie as a “career woman”, and her main motivation is to get her job as an auror back. She’s straightforward and serious, with no time to waste on frivolity. Beneath all that, she has a good heart and cares deeply about doing the right thing. She’s not quite a typical leading lady for a Hollywood movie, not least because her wardrobe and makeup are simple and don’t really make her look “sexy”. The conflict between her shaken self-confidence, determination to impress her superiors, and strong moral compass makes her a complicated character.

Queenie, on the other hand, could easily have come across as a stereotypical “dumb blonde”. However, she’s kind, intelligent, and utterly independent in ways that crush that stereotype into nonexistence. She makes good use of her talents – including legilimency – and is as bold and confident as her sister is uncertain. She doesn’t care one bit what others think of her but uses their preconceptions to her advantage. And she falls in love not with the wealthiest or most handsome man around, but with someone who has a beautiful, earnest mind.

And this wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Seraphina Picquery, the female president of MACUSA. Seraphina is not as warm or caring as the Goldstein sisters, but she’s commanding and believable. She acts decisively, and her authority comes across without feeling like she’s trying too much. She portrays yet another version of what it means to be a “strong woman”, this time one who can make the harsh decisions a leader has to without being vilified for it.

The Harry Potter series has always done a good job of portraying well-rounded, distinct female characters who are strong in their own individual ways. One of the biggest flaws of Cursed Child, in my opinion, is that it didn’t give Rose more of a role and instead focused on the two boys alone. However, the new female heroes of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are complex, dynamic, and show the potential to develop even further over the course of the sequels.