Fantastic Beasts: ‘Absurd Fan Theories’

The only reason to watch the two videos below? So you can say you did, a marker of your thorough research into all things Fantastic Beasts.

The first one with Miller and Fogler also serves the purpose of reaffirming your conviction that actors must be the last people you ask about anything of importance (see The Apology of Socrates for more — and, yes, I know Socrates didn’t even talk to actors in his search for wisdom or why he was the wisest man in Greece). This performance is an ugly throwback to Cheech and Chong videos in which the audience is supposed to be amused by two stoners who think they are funny.

But the Q&A does have Miller almost answer the question about whether Ariana Dumbledore was an Obscurial. Maybe he did answer it and then realized he’d be in big trouble if he reported what Rowling had told him. Anyway, it’s a non-answer. How does Ariana as Obscurial qualify as an “absurd fan theory”?

This conversation is much more enjoyable, if only because the actresses are relatively modest and take the silly situation in which they find themselves (and for which they are being paid) seriously enough to try and answer the questions posed. Back to the screenplay and real conversation about the story and future possibilities tomorrow!

Crimes of Grindelwald: Queenie’s Quest

Jan Voetberg wrote this originally as a response to my post on ‘Crimes of Grindelwald: Interior Texts‘ but I thought it important enough to give it its own place as a Guest Post. As you’ll see, Queenie’s situation is its own interior text — and one with so many mysteries that we surely have not been told what her mission to Paris is all about. [For more on the absurdity of the Queenie surface story see ‘Crimes of Grindelwald: The Deleted Scenes‘ and the discussion there on ‘Is Queenie Out of Her Mind or Crazy like a Fox?’ and ‘After Scene 51.’]

Crimes of Grindelwald: Queenie’s Quest by Jan Voetberg

Crimes of Grindelwald: Interior Texts’ was a delightful read, as always, John. My thought on reading it, besides being impressed by the number of stories Rowling has embedded in the series, was that you missed one, namely, the Queenie story, what we’re told versus what is actually happening.

I think the embedded text and the mysteries circling around Queenie springs from the torn postcard. There’s something strange about it from the start.

Queenie says to Newt in his London flat that “Tina and I aren’t talking.” Which doesn’t correspond with Tina’s loving words on the postcard, ending with “X,” a kiss. The loving words don’t correspond with the postcard having been torn up, and it being torn up doesn’t correspond with keeping it in her case. The suggestion is for the careful reader that she has artfully dumped it on Newt’s floor for him to discover, reassemble, and decide he needs to head to Paris immediately — just as Dumbledore wants him to do.

I do not remember any sign of Tina opposing a Magic-No Maj relationship between Queenie and Jacob in the first Fantastic Beasts film. Queenie’s reaction when Newt tells her that not he but Theseus is engaged, is not: “Oh, but that’s wonderful! I will inform Tina as soon as possible!” but “Oh! Oh dear….” She tells the disappointed Magizoologist that Tina is now dating an auror by the high-powered name of Achilles Tolliver (scene 36, p 66). That name is a macho push because in the Iliad there is a heavy fight between the river Scamander and Achilles, greatest of the Greek warriors in the Trojan war, and ‘Tolliver’ is the anglicization of the Italian Taliaferro, ‘iron cutter,’ “a nickname for a metal worker or a fierce fighter.”

What is Queenie up to here? She must know that Newt had written harsh words about aurors being thugs in a letter to Tina that had upset Queenie’s sister as much as the mistaken Spellbound announcement about Newt’s engagement to Leta Lestrange. It seems to me that Queenie wants to bring her sister and Newt together — per Dumbledore’s direction? — so she gives him the ‘Achilles Tolliver’ challenge and the card clue, a clue he is that much more ready to believe because he has “discovered” it himself (see Raphael’s alibi trick in Lethal White). Here I think is the reader of an embedded text like the ones you described in your post, a reader-mirror inside the story making a mistake we are being warned not to make ourselves as we read or watch the larger story.

Queenie was counting on Newt’s doing the right thing per Jacob, because, as Dumbledore tells him, that is what Newt does as an unbreakable reflex. She has only brought Jacob to London to be sure these two come to Paris to help her and Tina in their missions to defeat Grindelwald. Newt’s “discovering” that she has bewitched Jacob quite literally and freeing him from that charm gives her the excuse she needs to dump him at Newt’s home and go by herself on her secret mission to Paris.

I think she has a mission because of the events in Paris involving Queenie that are at least as bizarre as her time with Newt and Jacob in London. [Read more…]

Salamander in Crimes of Grindelwald?

Hard to miss when you’re aware of the salamander and its alchemical significance, right? (See ‘Crimes of Grindelwald: The Salamander if you want a review.)

In the printed Crimes of Grindelwald screenplay on page 82, scene 41, all that is mentioned is “Fireworks burst overhead.” It is Tina’s first scene in the film, of course, and we’re getting a visual pointer to her salamander quality.

Just sayin’!

Crimes of Grindelwald: The Interior Texts

Rowling is a writer who writes about the experience of reading.

Every book and screenplay we have had from her to date has had, first, embedded texts which characters struggle to come to terms with and, more important, both good guys and bad guys create narratives they want others to believe to manipulate or trap them.

In Harry Potter, the two types of texts vary book to book, Chocolate Frog Card to Beedle the Bard, with the Prophecy linking Voldemort and the Boy Who Lived the ur-text behind the overall story.  Dumbledore and the Dark Lord are the master manipulators through story-telling; think of how Tom Riddle, Jr., uses the Diary in Chamber to convince Harry that Hagrid is the Heir of Slytherin and dreams in Phoenix to get him to the Department of Mysteries — and Dumbledore’s use of select memories in the Pensieve in Prince to frame Harry’s understanding as the Headmaster wants it for Hallows.

Rowling’s dramas are protagonists and antagonists simultaneously dealing and dueling with stories just as we are struggling alongside them to figure out what the external creator of these internal authors and readers is doing.

I think it hard to overstate how important this is to grasping Rowling’s artistry and meaning; the goal of her story-telling is to foster greater reader ‘penetration,’ not only, not even especially while reading but in how we see and think after what we’ve experienced as serious readers. We are meant to learn from our decoding and deciphering the dueling narratives and to realize again and again that like the characters we were deceived and need to be more attentive and less gullible in future. She achieves this transformed vision in her readers through a variety of fascinating traditional tools, from literary alchemy to ring composition, but always by providing us with a mirror within the story we are reading both of characters trying to understand a text and white and black hats writing a story to deceive them.

Crimes of Grindelwald, the second Fantastic Beasts franchise film, is no exception to this rule. If anything, the movie suffers from too many interior texts and manipulative story tellers so we’re never quite sure whose narrative we’re in, Newt’s, Dumbledore’s, or Grindelwald’s. Join me after the jump for a list of the various texts characters are trying to read and understand in Crimes of Grindelwald as well as of the narrative strands that others are writing for someone else to follow. [Read more…]

Is Vladimir Nabokov Credence’s Father?

J. K. Rowling is a big fan and serious reader of Vladimir Nabokov. For all the times she has said he is — with Austen and Collette — one of her three favorite writers, “the writer I really love,” and to read about his influence on her work (e.g., cryptonyms, literary alchemy, ring composition, the-dead-who-never-leave-us, etc.) read Harry Potter and Lolita: J. K. Rowling’s ‘Relationship’ with Vladimir Nabokov (Names, Politics, Alchemy, and Parody) and Harry Potter and Lolita: Rowling’s Rings and Vladimir Nabokov’s Story Mirrors (The Alchemy of Narrative Structure).

Nabokov is a big deal in Rowling studies and, with the exception of Collette, the most neglected author among Rowling’s essential influences. Just as a ‘for instance’ of this, go ahead and seach the internet for possible meanings of Credence’s supposedly ‘real name, ‘Aurelius.’ You won’t find a single reference to the author from whom Rowling almost certainly found the name ‘Grindelwald’ (read Pale Fire, my favorite Nabokov novel and many say his best, and you’ll find it, trust me). But Nabokov wrote a short story called ‘The Aurelian’ in 1930, the translation into English was published in November, 1941, and you can read it in The Atlantic Magazine online archives.

It is the story of an older lepidopterist and struggling shopkeeper in Berlin who has dreamed since he was a child of traveling the world to see the butterflies he loves in their native surroundings.

Although once or twice he had had the chance to switch to a more profitable business—selling cloth, for instance, instead of moths—he stubbornly held on to his shop as the symbolic link between his dreary existence and the phantom of perfect happiness. What he craved for, with a fierce, almost morbid intensity, was to net himself the rarest butterflies of distant countries, to see them in flight with his own eyes, to stand waist-deep in lush grass and feel the follow-through of the swishing net and then the furious throbbing of wings through a clutched fold of the gauze.

Why is he an “Aurelian”?

[Paul] Pilgram belonged, or rather was meant to belong (something—the place, the time, the man—had been ill-chosen), to a special breed of dreamers, such dreamers as used to be called in the old days ‘Aurelians’—perhaps on account of those chrysalids, those ‘jewels of Nature,’ which they loved to find hanging on fences above the dusty nettles of country lanes.

What possible meaning could this have for Credence Barebone, the man Gellert Grindelwald tells us is really ‘Aurelius Dumbledore’? I think we’re meant to think of chrysalis, the transformation of pupa to butterfly here, a completely natural and wonderfully miraculous metamorphosis akin to alchemical magic of lead being changed into gold. Paul Pilgram’s sad fate, though, as well as his name, suggests that Credence’s end will not be majestic if his heart is not right.

Do read the whole thing and let me know what you think. ‘The Aurelian’ is a small jewel from Nabokov, a fellow lepidopterist who found himself essentially trapped in Berlin in 1930, and, given the Russo-American novelist’s outsized influence on Rowling, the short story might be a pointer to Credence-Aurelius’ fate.