Fantastic Beasts Are Just the Beginning

by Devyn Rorem

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the newest instalment in JK Rowling’s wizarding world, premiered last weekend. The story centres around Newt Scamander, an expert in Magizoology, as he tries to recover his creatures that have escaped in New York City. Behind the whimsy of Newt and his new American friends chasing down Nifflers and Demiguise, a more sinister story is taking place. Grindelwald, a dark wizard, has been terrorizing Europe and there is a fear that America will be his next target. But who is this new nemesis, and is he going to take the lead in this new franchise? Fear not dear reader! I am going to Nancy Drew this bad boy and give you a summary of who this villain is, where he showed up in the Harry Potter franchise, and what the next four films may look like.

Who is Grindelwald?

Gellert Grindelwald was a gifted young wizard who attended the Durmstrang Institute (which you may remember as the school of Victor Krum in the Goblet of Fire). He was soon drawn towards the darks arts, eventually getting expelled for conducting disturbing experiments (an impressive feat at a school that has a reputation for the dark arts). He soon befriended a young Albus Dumbledore, seducing him with the promise of leading the wizarding world in a revolution to make muggles subservient to wizards. A confrontation involving Albus, his brother Aberforth, and Grindelwald led to the accidental death of Ariana Dumbledore. Grindelwald fled the country and was defeated by Albus in 1945. Instead of killing him, Grindelwald was locked away in a remote prison of his own design.

Where does he show up in Harry Potter?

The  information in the last paragraph was disseminated via excerpts from Rita Skeeter in the seventh book. However, Grindelwald made a quick appearance much earlier on in the series. In book one, The Philosopher’s Stone, while on the Hogwarts Express, Harry receives Dumbledore’s chocolate frog trading card. We learn that Dumbledore’s most famous accomplishment was the defeat of Gellert Grindelwald. In book seven, The Deathly Hallows, Harry has a vision of Voldemort interrogating and eventually killing Grindelwald in a quest to learn the location of the elder wand. We learn that Grindelwald stole this wand from famous wandmaker Gregorovitch. Following Grindelwald’s defeat in 1945, the most powerful wand in the world was passed on to Albus Dumbledore.

What will his role be in the new franchise?

So how do we know that Grindelwald will be the focus of the new series? For starters, JK Rowling has confirmed that the five confirmed films will take place between 1926 and 1945. This perfectly lines up Grindelwald’s rise to and fall from power in the original series. Furthermore, the studio opted to cast Johnny Depp as our new main villain. I doubt they would spend the money to hire such a big actor if he wasn’t playing a pivotal role.

Beyond great story telling, JK Rowling has shown her ability to weave important social issues into her narratives. I think the Fantastic Beast Series will be no exception. There are numerous similarities between this wizarding war and WWII in regards to timeline, ideologies, and places (for example Grindelwald is held in Nurmengard after he is defeated, while many Nazis were prosecuted in Nuremberg). Fantastic Beast director David Yates described Grindelwald in the following quotation, that reminded me of a certain famous fascist leader:

“Unlike Voldemort, who was an angry brute, the next iteration is much more lethal. He wants to win the hearts and minds in a way that’s quite beguiling and sophisticated, but his values are dangerous.” Such new nemeses are “able through sheer charisma and ability to inspire and hypnotize and carry the crowd, and take the world to a darker place. That’s where the next story is going.” – David Yates

A more modern parallel I couldn’t help but notice came with Grindewald’s slogan “For the Greater Good”. This phrase was to be used to justify the atrocities that would take place in an attempt to make the muggles subservient.  In light of recent events, this phrase reminded me of President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”. Both slogans attempt to rouse a population to take action to oppress a less powerful group and restore a society where white men… I mean wizards, control the masses. I look forward to seeing how the upcoming films mirror our society, and what call of action they may help to inspire.

So what does this new series have in store for us? I’m predicting we’ll get a glimpse of the wizarding war that fed off of WWII, a much younger Dumbledore battling his former friend, many more insights into the adult wizarding world, and perhaps even a glimpse of a young impressionable Tom Riddle (who attended Hogwarts from 1938-1945). Perhaps we will see that the battle between good and evil isn’t something that happens once at the end of a children’s book series, but must be fought forever as history continues on in its cyclical pattern – much like in our own world.

Photography courtesy of Zosia Czarnecka.