Crimes of Grindelwald: The Salamander

Here are three notes about the “salamander eyes” conversation in Crimes of Grindelwald and the literary alchemy of it. Believe it or not, I think Tina and Newt’s back-and-forth in the French Ministry’s Records Room amounts to something like a wedding proposal and her acceptance, an alchemical wedding of fire and water, the aquatic newt and the fiery salamander. First, we’ll review the conversation from the Original Screenplay (sic), then the mystery of Tina’s volunteering “Salamander” to finish Newt’s sentence about the quality of her eyes, and finally, the alchemical glyphs and cryptonyms involved! All after the jump —

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Is World War II Wizarding World Canon? Crimes of Grindelwald Means and Ends

Welcome Evan Willis to the faculty at HogwartsProfessor.com!

Crimes of Grindelwald, in its climactic scene, has Grindelwald presenting a prophecy of World War Two. This, I suggest, was one of the largest plot twists the movie provided, in that it leads us to consider Grindelwald’s motivations as good, but his means to achieve them as evil.

Is World War Two Wizarding World Canon?

From the Harry Potter books, films, and other canon materials, one can learn very little of muggle history. We have no guarantee that muggle history unfolded as we know it did, given that we are dealing with an alternate world in which wizards exist and have an effect, however much hidden, upon history. So, what do we know about what happened, within this alternate world? World War One clearly happened, as Theseus and Jacob both fought in it. I can find no evidence of the Russian Revolution in the text, leaving that an unknown.

However, as far as I can find, there is in the entire text only one reference to the existence of World War Two, in a brief comment at the opening of Goblet of Fire, in which Frank Bryce is described as having “come back from the war with a very stiff leg and a great dislike of crowds and loud noises…,” (Ch. 1). This is our only source that World War Two happened in this alternate world in which magic exists, and is a fairly vague reference at that. It could be possible, with minimal damage to existing text (less drastic than certain already existing plot elements), to have World War Two never occur in this alternate muggle history.

The lack of evidence does not prove a thing’s non-existence. However, one could argue that the Wizarding World could not have remained detached from the war, such that they would have seen the devastation caused by the war and known the ideologies from which it arose. Such a knowledge would, perhaps, have rendered far more difficult the rise of Voldemort, possessing a near-Nazi ideology. If however, the Second World War did not occur, the wizarding world would not have been as on guard against such ideologies, helping to explain Voldemort’s rise.

That said, I think all that this shows is that we, as audience, have been left seeing the Second World War as a merely possible, not historically guaranteed, event. We know as much about this version of the 1940s as Newt and Grindelwald themselves do.  However, World War Two not having happened would still be something of a plot twist, and so the following analysis is going to be relatively independent of whether or not it did.

Good Ends, Bad Means

What, then, does the new film give us? While we have certainly been previously led to see a parallel between the Grindelwald wizarding war and World War Two (cf. Dumbledore’s Chocolate Frog Card providing the 1945 date, Deathly Hallows symbol paralleling the swastika, etc.), I think that we have just been given the plot twist that the principles fought for on the two sides do not parallel the two sides of the muggle war.

With the war with Voldemort, the Death Eater’s goal was clearly one of wizard supremacy over the muggle population as an end in itself. At least publically, Grindelwald presents the argument that the muggle population is prophesied to begin another world war and that the only way to stop this is to provide muggles magical help, in the form of rulership by the wizarding population. Wizarding supremacy is for the muggles’ benefit, so goes Grindelwald’s argument (borrowed from Dumbledore’s letter to him in Deathly Hallows Ch. 18), in that being in the magical community places one in an enlightened elite who can solve the muggle’s problems.

Thus, wizarding supremacy is portrayed as a means to the “greater good” of progressive and enlightened policies (and thus, incidentally but not in itself, it appeals to those like Rosier who desire wizarding supremacy for its own sake). And Rowling goes out of her way to present about as clear an enlightened and progressive “greater good” as one could ask for: stopping World War Two from ever having happened. (This reminds one of the old moral dilemma that asks “If you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby, would you?” Part of the beauty of the contingency of the Second World War in this universe is that you don’t know what is going to be chosen.)

Dumbledore’s group is opposed to the tyrannical wielding of power to achieve those progressive ends. Thus, this film reveals the battle between Grindelwald and Dumbledore to be one over means, not ends. Both favor progressive policy (e.g. allowing muggles and wizards to intermarry), but Grindelwald wishes to accomplish this by the conquest of the muggles, Dumbledore will not use such means. It is precisely on account of the parallelism that we had been led to expect with the sides of World War Two (i.e. Grindelwald as wizard-Hitler) that this new formulation is such a remarkable plot twist.

This distinction is foreshadowed by prior elements of the plot. At the opposite end of the movie, we see Queenie’s willingness to use magical power to attempt to force Jacob to marry her counter to the regressive laws present under MACUSA. This alone, I think, is enough to demonstrate the natural agreement of her views with Grindelwald’s: progressive ends, tyrannical means. Newt here, in disenchanting Jacob, shows his support for enlightened ends, in that he truly desires their marriage, but denies the validity of the means Queenie attempted to use. 

Prophecy

Beyond this, there is the treatment of prophecy by both sides. Grindelwald, believing that the prophecy will be fulfilled unless stopped, is trying to use whatever means necessary to keep it from happening. It is entirely possible that he, like Voldemort, will be so eager to stop the prophecy from happening that he causes the prophecy to be fulfilled. Thus, I expect World War Two will happen, but largely because Grindelwald attempted to stop it. Part of the value of us not knowing whether the prophecy will be fulfilled is that we can side with Dumbledore and Newt, not willing to step beyond what is right even to stop a terrible prophecy, with the possibility that by thus refraining one might keep it from being fulfilled. This may be the origin of Dumbledore’s insistence that prophecy’s power is only over those who believe it to be true, who consequently wield power rather than relying upon love (Half-Blood Prince, Ch. 23).

 

Three Crimes of Grindelwald Reviews

My head is still very much buried in the idea that Newt Scamander may be the long-lost Dumbledore rather than Credence Barebone, but, while I wrestle with that idea, its promise as well as its absurdity, I want to share three critical reviews of Crimes of Grindelwald I have been sent by thoughtful readers. Each represents a point of view that you won’t find at fan sites like MuggleNet or here at HogwartsProfessor and every one of them presents a challenge to lazy reading and acceptance of the film.

Kim Kirby writes in ‘Magic without Wonder: Fantastic Beasts as a Cautionary Tale’ that the Crimes of Grindelwald differs from and is much less satisfying a story than the Harry Potter novels and film adaptations because they lack the originals’ excitement of discovery about the enchanted world in which we live and and of which we were largely unaware.

Kadeen Griffiths explores the tired “tragic mulatto” narrative Rowling employs in the life (and death?) of Leta Strange. Leta Lestrange’s Storyline In ‘The Crimes Of Grindelwald’ Is The Last Straw For Me As A Black ‘Harry Potter’ Fan is worth a read despite its neo-Marxist PC content because it highlights and reminds us of the relative laziness of Rowling in her Cursed Child  bad-dad story and misappropriation of Native American beliefs in ‘History of Magic in North America.’ Will Newt turn out to be as good as he is with animals because his mother was a Native American — and ‘all Indians have a mystic relationship with the natural world’? Egad.

The Rev Ted Giese raises a subject, the proverbial elephant in the reading room, inLosing the Magicthat few have the courage to discuss, namely, the centrality of Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald to the story line and the embedded messages about same sex marriage in the Queenie-Jacob broken engagement. Giese thinks that Rowling and Warner Brothers are trying to satisfy simultaneously the LGBTQ+ members of their audience and the traditional believers on these points (not to mention the Chinese censors…) which deftness requires a subtlety that softens the messaging and blurs the story-telling.

Let me know what you think of these reviews — and please feel free to share in the comment boxes below others that are as challenging and novel!

 

Is Newt Scamander a Dumbledore?

Last night I was re-reading a post that a reader had told me in the comment boxes had two undecipherable sentences. I found a link in that Fantastic Beasts 1 deleted scenes discussion to Rowling’s having said in an interview that the Demiguise was her favorite fantastic beast: “They have the ability to become invisible at will, which is a power that has always appealed to me, so I love the Demiguise.”

I wondered, “Could the Demiguise be Newt’s Patronus?” That would be a nice surprise and appropriate somehow, given Newt’s private nature and that he baby-sits all his magical creatures the way Dougall does the baby Occamy in the first Beasts film. I googled “Newt Scamander patronus” to see if anyone else had thought of this before I shared it here.

No, no one had written it up online at least. But I learned through that search that Rowling had been asked the question on her Twitter feed and she had responded that telling us Newt’s Patronus would be a “Big Spoiler.” I sent this information to my private cadre of Potter Pundits along with my Top Ten list of probable Patroni (Patronuses?) for Newt and the request that they share any beasts I left out that would be “Big Spoilers.”

Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, immediately responded with, “I feel like a phoenix would make the biggest spoiler…!” When pressed for her reasoning, i.e., was she suggesting that Newt was a Dumbledore,  she shared,

I wasn’t meaning anything too wild – just that Newt was also a Dumbledore! (given that Dumbledore’s patronus is a Phoenix – so in this case it can be about who you are, not just who you are in love with). Given the phoenix imagery in Crimes of Grindelwald – and the idea that this bird proves you are a Dumbledore, I’d have thought it was one of the beasts with the most symbolic potential in the series hence the one with biggest spoiler potential *and* we don’t know anything about Newt’s parentage?

I wasn’t working from the ‘who might Newt be?’ end of things, just from the ‘what animal might be the biggest spoiler?’ end of things!

Huh. Newt Scamander a Dumbledore? … That would be a big reveal if Rowling’s telling us Newt’s Patronus suggested that. Join me after the jump for discussion of this “Big Spoiler” theory, ‘Newt Scamander-Dumbledore.’

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Crimes of Grindelwald: Homunculus

Susan Sipal posts fun YouTube videos about the Fantastic Beasts film franchise in which she breathlessly offers up theories about what is really happening in the movies. I recently recommended her as one of three Crimes of Grindelwald critics to read if you’re looking for challenging commentary beyond our analysis at HogwartsProfessor.com.

I wrote then that Sipal was something of a moving target because she changes her positions with each video, and, sure enough, she has dumped the ideas she offered in the discussion I recommended for an alchemical theory of who Credence/Aurelius really is. ‘Aurelius’ or ‘the Golden One,’ she now believes is the product of an alchemical experiment gone wrong or left unfinished at the time of Gellert and Albus’ break-up and Ariana’s death. Credence/Aurelius according to this view is an alchemical homunculus. The video is posted here and a transcript  can be read here.

Sipal offers three citations from the text to support this idea:

(1) “A baby Chupacabra — part lizard, part homunculus, a blood-sucking creature of the Americas — is chained to GRINDELWALD’s chair.” (Scene 2, p 2)

(2) “We see TEENAGE DUMBLEDORE and TEENAGE GRINDELWALD facing each other in a barn. Both score their palms with their wands. Now bleeding they interlace their hands…” (Scene 73, p. 163)

(3) GRINDELWALD “The path has been laid, and he is following it. The trail that will lead him to me, and the strange and glorious truth of who he is….” “Credence is the only entity alive… who can kill him [Albus Dumbledore].” (Scene 46, pp 96-97)

The argument of the theory, drawn out from these text citations, combined with interpretation of an image of a homunculus found via Google images at this web site, and Grindelwald’s referring to Credence more than once in Crimes as “my boy,” is that Credence is the love-child consequent to the Alchemical Wedding of young Gellert and Albus. The reference to a barn as the site of the Blood Pact is important, Sipal suggests, because Paracelsus says the creation of a homunculus involves a horse (see the Wikipedia entry for Homunculus for that reference). From the transcript of Sipal’s video:

The nature of Credence as a human created by these two young gods would open up so many themes and questions to be explored, some already touched on in the series: experimental breeding, or eugenics, manipulation of matter via physics, cloning, and perhaps free will, but also the rights of same sex couples to marry and have children. In fact, as Bestiary points out, it’s possible that the blood pact is in fact a marriage between Albus and Gellert.

I will be writing about the alchemical imagery in Crimes of Grindelwald in the coming weeks, work that Elizabeth Baird-Hardy began with her post on Midsummer Night’s Dream last week. The homunculus is on my list of things to discuss, especially in light of what Lyndsey Abraham writes in The Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery and its use in Goethe’s Faust and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’ll weigh the possibility of whether Credence was an alchemical homunculus at greater length then, but, for now, I think Sipal’s theory, Credence Homunculus’ has to be included among the more interesting theories of Credence/Aurelius’ origin, along with the ‘Credence Ariana Theory‘ of Bob Rectenwald and the ‘Credence Gaunt Theory‘ of Leslie Barnhart.

I say this despite it being a departure both from metallurgical alchemy’s symbolic descriptions of the homunculus — which birthing involves the death of the Red King and White Queen — and from Rowling’s previous literary alchemical work, in which there is a ‘Philosophical Orphan’ naturally born that becomes the Philosopher’s Stone. It is, after all, the bicentennial of the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein which may have been on Rowling’s mind as she planned the five films. Let the conversation begin!

Update: Did I say “moving target”? Here is Sipal’s latest on her Credence Homunculus Theory.’ I’m told she discusses Faust. Cheers!