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.

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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.

Modesty

Warning: Fantastic Beasts spoilers

One thing I would like to see in the Fantastic Beasts sequels? Newt and Tina adopting Modesty Barebone. I know, you’re probably wondering where that came from, but just hear me out:

After what happened in the first movie, Modesty is now on her own. Somewhere in that obliviated city, she’s waking up with no memory of what just happened, in an empty house, with her mother and Credence nowhere to be found. Maybe she wanders out into the city, looking towards a brighter future but still vulnerable and haunted by everything that’s happened to her. Maybe she wanders right into a familiar face, someone who had been kind to her and her siblings before: Tina Goldstein.

She doesn’t remember, but Tina does. She tried so hard to protect the Barebone children before, so she takes Modesty under her wing, ignoring Rappaport’s Law for what she knows is right. Not just for Modesty: she starts trying to help the other New Salem kids as well, getting the ones in the worst situations out, finding them new families, watching for any signs of young witches or wizards so that she can protect them from what happened to Credence. And if we do see Credence again (I think he’s dead, but it’s hard to say for sure), what would be more heartwarming than for him to find his little sister happy and safe?

But Modesty is still haunted by memories of an abusive mother, and maybe calling someone else “mom” hits a little too close to home for her. So Tina and Queenie become her aunts.

Maybe Modesty, who hid a wand under her bed and threw away Second Salem flyers, turns out to have magic in her after all. Maybe with Aunt Tina and Aunt Queenie’s guidance, she learns to accept it instead of letting it destroy her, and once she’s eleven they send her off to Ilvermorny to learn how to use it. Or maybe she never develops powers of her own, but finds the love and warmth her old family lacked in the magical world.

By the time Newt comes to see Tina again, Modesty is barely recognizable. She skips across the sidewalk, singing an ordinary song instead of a creepy chant, bright-eyed and smiling. She still sometimes has nightmares, still sometimes panics when something reminds her of her old life, but she’s learning to be a kid again. He’s immediately won over. She doesn’t know much about magical creatures, so he decides to teach her, because it’s always better to understand something than to be ignorant and scared. Maybe he even gives her a pet kneazle, Tina having put her foot down when he suggested a niffler. And a few months later, or maybe a few years later, he takes her aside and asks her how she’d feel about having a new uncle.

“Only if it’s you,” she tells him. So Modesty Barebone becomes Modesty Goldstein-Scamander. Just like Harry, she leaves behind a miserable childhood and finds a new family in the wizarding world.

Unlikely, I know, but wouldn’t it be sweet?

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.