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.

The Predictions of Tycho Dodonus

Out of nowhere, Rowling reveals that the Wizarding World has its own Nostradamus, a mage named ‘Tycho Dodonus. Tina, Yusuf Kama, Travers, and Dumbledore are carrying, consulting or discussing it as a well known authoritative set of prophecies throughout the second film (see scenes 45, 64, and 104). The characters are especially concerned with Tycho’s Prediction 20, that seems to refer to Credence Barebone:

Prediction 20

Son Cruelly Banished
Despair of the Daughter
Return, Great Avenger
With Wings from the Water


Prophecies being predictably misinterpreted, odds are as likely that it refers to Newt, Jacob, or Yusuf for reasons yet unknown to us as they are for Credence. Which is the point of a Rowling embedded text — we struggle while reading the story to figure out the text the characters are struggling with and we are meant to note their mistakes and not repeat them ourselves.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

In between the first and second Fantastic Beasts films, Newt’s book of the same name is published by Obscurus books and he becomes something of a celebrity. Tina claims to have read Fantastic Beasts when in Paris she next meets up with the author and she appears to have studied it closely; she knows that a salamanders eyes, as we have discussed in ‘Crimes of Grindelwald: The Salamander,’ have the quality of “fire in dark water” though no such description is in the texts we have. Which mystery sends us back to the text in question and to think about what she has been reading that we don’t have…

‘Spellbound: Celebrity Secrets and Spell Tips of the Stars’ (p 65)

Queenie reports to Newt in London that Tina had read in an American magazine, Spellbound, that Newt was engaged to marry Leta Lestrange. Tina began to date another wizard thereupon without so much as a word to Mr Scamander that she was over him.

Which, frankly, is bizarre, right? We know the two had been corresponding, and, if it seems Newt had been a little too honest with his opinion of Aurors, they were in congenial, strained contact. Why didn’t she write, if only to congratulate him (which would of course have alerted him to the misunderstanding)?

I think the answer is an echo of what Rowling wanted us to take away from Mrs Weasley’s coldness to Hermione after reading in Witch Weekly that the young witch was toying with Harry’s heart, i.e., trust what you know of a person rather than what you read in tabloid schlock. Call it ‘Fake News’ messaging, a necessary Boy-Girl misunderstanding before reunion in Fantastiks plot formula, or whatever — Spellbound is another embedded text for us to wrestle with alongside characters.

Stories characters have told themselves or been told which imprison them:

Now the less explicit and more interesting narratives that Rowling embeds inside the books and screenplays she writes, the ones written by characters to deceive others or explain themselves to themselves. These stories are not written down, published, and read but must be picked up from the characters themselves or circumstances in Rowling’s story-telling.

  • Yusuf Kama’s Unbreakable Vow with his dying father

We do not learn this story until we are in the Lestrange family tomb when Kama bears all but it is the tale-within-the-tale that guides everything Yusuf does in life (and the vow may have been the reason Corvus Lestrange was sent to America). He relates the first half (third?) of the Lestrange family history, a truth telling in the graveyard that is something akin to the Gothic tale Harry hears from the Gray Lady in Deathly Hallows.

  • Leta Lestrange and the death of her brother Corvus

Leta, too, is a haunted character who is tormented with remorse for her role in the death of her half-brother Corvus. That story is in the background like her other half-brother Yusuf’s and we learn her ‘Tale from the Titanic’ just after we get his record of their shared, despicable father. But we can be confident that neither of them know or have shared what really happened; all we get is the story as they have it from their own tortured childhoods.

  • Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald’s Blood Pact

Speaking of mistakes made when young that linger into maturity… Albus tells Travers and Company that he and Grindelwald were “closer than brothers” but does not explain why he cannot fight Gellert. We’re left to assume it is a lingering love or super-fraternal bond. Dumbledore’s story-behind-the-story, though, is his having made a Blood Pact with the Durmstrang Devil which prevents their battling mano a mano. What this story means is left very much open-ended inthe second film’s finale, with Newt having recovered the token of the Dumby-Gelly bond, a tale for us to ponder…

Stories characters tell to manipulate others:

Most interesting and most important, I think, of the embedded narratives Rowling puts in her novels and film-scripts are those that the characters write to deceive other characters, perhaps even the whole Wizarding World, which we may or may not understand as stories being told rather than reality. This is the Dark Lord inside his diary deceiving Harry in Chamber, inside Harry’s head and dreamscape in Phoenix, and out of sight after his Goblet reincarnation at Little Hangleton to make those announcing his return seem to be ‘conspiracy theorists’ in the published media. In Crimes of Grindelwald, the villain again is a busy story teller:

  • Grindelwald to world that he is a man of peace and love, a liberator of wizards and friend of No-Majs

Gellert tells Rozier after they takeover a Parisian home by slaughtering mom, dad, and child (yes, we were supposed to think of the Potter family in Godric’s Hollow…) that they must not speak publicly about their plans to subject Muggles to wizard rule. No, everything must be cloaked in terms of helping the Cant-Spells and preventing the No-Maj’s from hurting themselves and the world they share with their magical betters. In the rest of the film, especially his scenes with Queenie and at the Lestrange mausoleum-auditorium, Grindelwald makes this sale. Newt and Tina realize too late that he has written them and the Aurors into a trap — and that they are making the sale to the witches and wizards present that Gellert is not victimizer but victim.

  • Grindelwald to Credence that he wants the best for him — and knows his origin and destiny [Edits the Irma Dugard version of his story so he will only hear the partial Leta/Yusuf versions]

Again, in the Parisian HQ of the Order of the Orcs Grindelwald explains to his henchmen that he needs to write a story that will compel Credence to come to him rather than flee from before his face, as he had at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts film. By controlling how much Irma is able to tell the young man, he is able to create the false narrative of his being a lost Dumbledore rather than a side-tracked Lestrange. Credence is a credulous consumer of stories and buys the whole upside-down land tale. Are we as foolish? Let’s hope not.

  • Dumbledore to Newt (Fantastic Beasts 1) that Frank the Thunderbird needs to return home to America

Newt makes it clear to his old mentor that he has figured out how he was manipulated to go to New York via the discovery of Frank the Thunderbird in chains. He isn’t happy about being made to act by deceipt rather than straight forward persuasion and resists Albus’ more up-front pitch that he go to Paris to fight Grindelwald. Only news that Tina is there already on the hunt makes him find magical means to escape the UK despite the Ministry travel ban. Newt returns to Hogwarts at story’s end to show Dumbledore that he now knows an important part of his undisclosed story and Albus at last has a confidante with whom to write a competing narrative to Gellert’s.

  • Travers and Grimmson that they are Ministry servants, not Grindelwald’s

Dumbledore tells Theseus not to obey Travers if he tells him to raid a secret meeting of Grindelwald’s. I think we have to assume that the accomplished Legilimens read this in Travers’ mind during their Hogwarts tete-a-tete, a meeting at which Gellert’s double agent, knowing that Albus could not fight Grindelwald, was sent only to manacle the DADA teacher. Grimmson we are told in an alley way conference with Gellert is also in Grindelwald’s service. Each, though, is obliged to tell a story in daily life that is not true to deceive others.

Rowling is writing, as always, a story about story-telling and story-reading. Crimes of Grindelwald with its ten embedded books and articles, sub-narratives, and character written deceitful tales is flush with interior texts that the careful reader, in the game with the author to become more discerning, penetrating, , best really, story-aware, must note as stories within the story the reader is meant to solve. Missing this intratextuality, I suggest, is to miss the greater part of Rowling’s artistry and meaning, not to say her greatness and singularity.

I covet your comments and corrections, as always.



  1. Bayanyari says

    What’s all this really about? Somebody Reply me let’s talk what are the crimes of Grindelwald? So far all I see is an intelligent man who is just responding to what he sees in the future

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