What is going on in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald?
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you know that the Fantastic Beasts films are prequels for the Harry Potter saga. If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, I don’t imagine you’re watching the FB films, though if you are you must be thoroughly confused. So, what’s going on in these films and what do we know so far?[SPOILERS ahead.]
The Backstory from Harry Potter
Though it co-opts the title from one of the textbooks from a Care of Magical Creatures class at Hogwarts, the Fantastic Beasts (FB) saga is really focused on telling the story of the Rise and Fall of Grindelwald. You’ll remember from Deathly Hallows that Grindelwald was the most fearsome dark wizard in recent history prior to the advent of Voldemort. Grindelwald believed that muggles should be subject to wizards “for the greater good” and he adopted the symbol of the Deathly Hallows —
— these are the three magical objects that would enable their possessor to avoid death — the invisibility cloak, the resurrection stone and the elder wand. Voldemort pursued the elder wand in an effort to make himself invincible. He tracked the wand to Grindelwald, eventually traveling to Nurmengard — the prison that Grindelwald first built during his ascendancy and in which he was incarcerated after his fall — to procure the wand. Grindelwald had stolen the elder wand from Gregorovich as a boy. However, when Voldemort approached him he no longer had it, since he had lost it to Dumbledore in their famous duel in 1945, as we learn on the back of Dumbledore’s Chocolate Frog card.
That duel is what the Fantastic Beasts series is leading up to, when Dumbledore the young teacher must face his old (more than) friend Grindelwald. This friendship with Grindelwald was one of the great points of controversy in Deathly Hallows — how could Dumbledore have supported a dark wizard whose ideology was steeped in racism? This friendship is also what J.K. Rowling alluded to when she mentioned in an off-handed way that Dumbledore is gay. At the time, fans thought this might have been a flippant attempt to be inclusive or simply to be shocking. However, the Deathly Hallows backstory definitely hints that Dumbledore’s affection for Grindelwald was beyond friendship or hero worship. The friendship with Grindelwald was tragically severed after a dispute between Albus, his brother Aberforth and Grindelwald led to the tragic death of young Ariana Dumbledore. The revelation that Dumbledore had a younger sister who had been hidden away from the world was another shocking discovery for Harry — how could his hero and mentor have tolerated a family that locked away a young sister, the way that Harry had been locked away by the Dursleys?
When we finally get an eyewitness account of the events surrounding Ariana’s death from Aberforth in the Deathly Hallows, we learn that Ariana had been abused by muggles when she was young. The muggles had wandered by while Ariana was doing magic and, our of fear and curiosity, demanded that she perform some magic for them. When she refused, they attacked her. This attack led Ariana to hold her magic inside which resulted in the magic coming out in strange, savage and dark ways — this is the bridge from Harry Potter to Fantastic Beasts. You see…
Ariana Dumbledore was an Obscurial
That’s right. Remember that floating bubble filled with the animate black cloud in the first Fantastic Beasts film? Newt Scamander had captured that Obscurus in Africa and planned to study it. We learn from FB1 that an Obscurus is formed when a witch or wizard attempts to repress their powers. Sound familiar? The Obscurus lives with a host, called an Obscurial, and is a force of powerfully destructive, savage dark magic. We now know how Ariana must have accidentally killed her mother — she released her Obscurus.
In FB1, Newt says he is in America to return a trafficked thunderbird to its home in Arizona. However, in reality he’s been sent by Dumbledore to a) pursue Grindelwald because b) Grindelwald is tracking an Obscurus. The characters and audience believe that the Obscurial is Modesty Barebone, the little girl who lives with Credence in the New Salemers orphanage. Obscurus’ are not know to survive past the age of 10, so it must be the little girl (and the little girl should make us all think about Ariana), right? Wrong. We learn later that Credence is actually the Obscurial when he murders Mary Lou Barebone. Grindelwald (disguised as Percival Graves) had been using Credence to get close to Modesty, but now Grindelwald/Graves begins to recruit Credence to join him, telling him that he is “a miracle,” since he’s the oldest known living Obscurial. But, of course, there’s more to the story…
At the end of Fantastic Beasts, Credence/Obscurus appears to be killed by the Aurors, though a small whisp of black cloud is seen ascending off screen. A deleted scene shows Credence sneak aboard the ship that Newt takes back to England. Credence survived and he’s gone abroad to find out more about his own origins, which is where we pick up in FB2. At this point, it’s important to remember that an Obscurus is a symbiotic force — it attaches itself to a host (and, as a correlate, is therefore separate from its host). Grindelwald learns this from Newt at the mid-point of FB1. That confirmed Grindelwald’s suspicion that he was on the right trail — Ariana’s trail. I’m positing that Grindelwald saw Ariana die, but saw the Obscurus depart from her at her death. This is what he’s pursuing in America. His morbid interest in what he could “use” an Obscurus for is actually what tipped Newt off to the fact that Graves was actually Grindelwald in disguise. As soon as Newt heard Graves ask what he could use an Obscurus for, Newt knew “You’re Grindelwald.” Grindelwald then countered immediately with “these people have to die. Now.”
In FB2, an Obscurus is referred to as a “dark twin” — this, like the fact that FB1 has told us that an Obscurus can survive without a host for a brief time — is critical to the puzzle that we’re supposed to be solving. Together with Newt, Dumbledore and Grindelwald we are following the trail of Ariana Dumbledore and her death. Grindelwald and, I believe Dumbledore (and therefore Newt) are actually looking for the Obscurus that separated from Ariana when she died. Did you catch that when you watched the films? Well, that’s what the first two films were about. Now for the red herring…
In the first film, Grindelwald (as Graves) tells Credence that he had a vision of a child with immense power — this should call up images of Ariana for the discerning viewer. When prodded about whether Grindelwald was a seer or a liar, J.K. Rowling tweeted that he is both a seer and a liar, thus establishing a critical piece of the FB2 puzzle — Grindelwald both knows the truth and will lie about it to get what he wants. And, here’s the bombshell about the bombshell that concludes the second film (this is my prediction anyhow):
When Grindelwald tells Credence that he is a long-lost member of the Dumbledore family, he is both telling the truth and lying. He invents the name Aurelius Dumbledore, telling Credence that he’s Albus’ brother. The name is a lie, fabricated to embolden Credence and prompt him to seek vengance against Albus. However, as Albus already suspects, part of his sister lives within Credence. The Obscurus that attached itself to Ariana departed from her at her death. Somehow, it ended up in America (I assume we’ll find that out in FB3). I personally don’t know what or how much to make of the Corvus Lestrange business. I think it’s a bit of sleight of hand — I do not believe that Kendra Dumbledore was on that boat and I’ll tell you why in a minute. What I do think we can be certain of is this: Ariana’s Obscurus lives in Credence/Aurelius. Grindelwald will now use this as a two-fold weapon against Dumbledore — the immense power of the Obscurus is now at his disposal but, even more importantly, Albus will have to confront the dark force that inhabited his sister and killed his mother. Part of Ariana may yet be in the Obscurus. Confronting his own role in Ariana’s death will be pivotal to Dumbledore’s need to go against Grindelwald.
Why am I convinced that Grindelwald is lying to Credence/Aurelius? Well, for one, Kendra Dumbledore died in 1899 and Credence wasn’t born until 1901. These dates were written into the books and screenplays, so Rowling knows we can find this information out (and she loves detective fiction, so she’s baiting her readers to do some sleuthing). Second, I don’t think she’s a sloppy or shoddy storyteller — I don’t think she’d invent a brother for Albus, Ariana and Aberforth out of whole cloth, without ever alluding to him in the extant material. What she has done is written the material thus far in a way that an Obscurus could have traveled from Ariana to Credence, since that was a major point of the first FB film. Hence the bit about an Obscurus being a “dark twin” — it’s not identical with the host, it attaches itself to the host, and it can attach to several hosts. So, it’s a half-truth — part of the Dumbledore family actaully does reside in Credence/Aurelius. It’s that part which torments Dumbledore and will force him to come out against Grindelwald in the next film. It’s actually Ariana. Credence is merely the host and the pawn in Grindelwald’s hands.
I can’t wait to see what comes next.