Ariana Was an Obscurial: Part 2

Very mild Crimes of Grindelwald spoilers

This is hardly a new idea, but it’s worth revisiting after Crimes of Grindelwald. I think it still works, perhaps even better than before.

First of all, Dumbledore seems to know a lot about obscurials. That could just be his tendency to provide whatever explanation the audience needs, but it could also confirm that he has past experience with them and, perhaps, a personal reason for obtaining that knowledge. Most wizards believe that obscurials no longer exist, but Dumbledore has all kinds of ideas about how their curse works and how it might be cured. He describes the obscurus as a “dark twin” born out of loneliness and says that finding his real family – a real brother or sister – might be enough to save Credence.

Obscurials typically don’t survive childhood, but Ariana was a teenager when she died. She didn’t even die from being an obscurial; she died when she was caught in the crossfire of a duel between the Dumbledore brothers and Grindelwald. You would think if Newt learned about obscurials from Dumbledore, he would have known that ten years old is not a hard limit and been less surprised when Credence turned out to be the obscurial in New York. However, Ariana was the exception. She was afraid of her magic and refused to use it, but she had a family who did their best to protect her, even if they didn’t fully understand what she was going through. Most obscurials don’t escape so easily from the circumstances that made them develop an obscurus in the first place, and most don’t have a loving family to watch over them. If Dumbledore did research after her death and found records that said most obscurials died before a certain age, he might have just assumed his sister was the exception.

Dumbledore does not seem surprised that Credence survived to young adulthood as an obscurial and suggests that he could be saved by the love of a family, which is exactly what kept Ariana alive for so long.

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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.

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.

The Five Stages of Obscurial Grief

In the Crimes of Grindelwald trailers, there are clips of Credence apparently pushing away his obscurus – but as I said before, I don’t buy that it’s going to be that easy. I would guess that in this scene, he’s not permanently getting rid of the obscurus; he might be trying to, but I can’t imagine it will just let him go.

Screenshot (11)

According to the first Fantastic Beasts movie, an obscurus is formed when a young witch or wizard tries to suppress their magic. Credence was brought up among fanatical witch-hunters, so he must have been terrified by the early signs of his powers. By the time of Fantastic Beasts, he’s bottled up his magic and no longer seems to be aware of it himself, except when it takes control and turns him into a dark cloud of anger. Obscurials become what they are out of self-preservation, but the obscurus is like a parasite that slowly destroys them.

How do you stop being an obscurial? It’s never been done before. Credence is the only one to even survive to adulthood. Clearly it’s not as easy as simply accepting your magic, because Credence spends most of Fantastic Beasts meeting with “Percival Graves” in secret and wanting to join the magical world. He asks “Graves” to teach him magic and doesn’t argue when “Graves” claims he’s “unteachable”. Simply deciding that Mary Lou is wrong about magic being evil does not get rid of the parasitic dark force inside of him. However, self-acceptance would have to be the first step, because if you’re still trying not to have magical powers, there’s no way you’re going to learn to control them.

By the end of Fantastic Beasts, Credence isn’t denying the existence of his powers. He’s embraced them, and he’s letting them control him. He’s overflowing with anger and not trying to reign it in at all – although I think it’s noteworthy that even in his obscurus form, he never harms Modesty and begins his transformation trying to protect her. The obscurus is all Credence’s anger and violent impulses running wild, but it’s not acting blindly or randomly.

Extreme denial followed by violent anger. That seems to be about as far as most obscurials get, but I wonder if we’re dealing with a Five Stages of Grief type of process. Credence, after the end of Fantastic Beasts, is clearly no longer a dark cloud of anger ripping up buildings and killing people, at least not at the moment. That potential is undoubtedly still inside of him, though. The feelings of fear and betrayal that led him to transform at the end of the movie would certainly not go away overnight. I don’t think a lifetime with the Second Salemers would either; he’s probably still not sure exactly how he feels about magic. There’s no one he can really trust or go to for support: Newt wanted to help him but now believes him to be dead, Percival Graves turned out to be Grindelwald, and his family drove him to become an obscurial in the first place. It looks from the trailers like he’s found a friend in Paris, but until they meet, he’s alone. In other words, he still has a lot of emotional trauma to work through.

The remaining stages of grief are bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It makes perfect sense that his storyline in Crimes of Grindelwald would explore these, especially the first two. He’s now aware of his place in the magical world and presumably doesn’t want to explode into an obscurus, but he won’t know how to go about learning to control his powers, and he may very well still have mixed feelings about doing so. “Please, don’t let me transform into that thing again, I’ll do anything to stay human …” “It feels so strange to hold a wand. What would my mother say if she knew?” “Can’t I just be normal? A normal muggle? A normal wizard? Anything but an obscurial?” That creeping realization that he might never be a normal wizard and will certainly never be a muggle, along with his extreme isolation, could make anyone feel depressed and hopeless. I wonder if the emotional struggle for him in this movie will be less about repressed anger lashing out and more about being tempted to just give up. To stop trying to control the obscurus, stop trying to find a place in magical society, and let the dark smoke loose again.

If I were going to come up with a “cure” for being an obscurial, I think I’d have it be casting a patronus. The patronus charm is powerful and difficult to cast, something that is not even usually taught at Hogwarts, so to be able to do it, from a purely technical standpoint, you would have to be in very good control of your magic. It’s rooted in your happiest memories, and one of its functions is as a magical protector. It can ward off dementors, which – much like obscuruses – are physical manifestations of people’s most dangerous and desperate negative emotions. There’s a difference, of course: an obscurus is a part of the person it’s formed in, while a dementor is an outside force. However, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to say that an obscurial who gained enough control of both their magic and their emotions to cast a patronus would no longer be at risk of letting their obscurus control them, and that such a negative force would slowly fade away in a person who it no longer has power over.

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.