Fantastic Beast Flashbacks: The Five Things We Want to Know about What Happened BEFORE Newt’s NY Adventure

Even though Fantastic Beasts slipped to number 2 on the Thanksgiving holiday box office (it’s hard to beat a Disney Princess with a boat and the Rock in her corner), it is still a bona fide hit.  Audiences are already clamoring for the next installment, eager to find out what happens next to Newt, his creatures, and his friends; however, some of the most exciting unanswered questions of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them don’t concern what happens next, but what happened before that case of critters took a bite out of the Big Apple.

One of the wonderful aspects of this new cinematic sojourn into the Wizarding World is its mystery. Unlike the previous eight Harry Potter films, this one is not working from a novel that has already laid out its plot and characters for us. Astute Potterphiles have, until now, not seen a film without knowing, at least generally, what to expect. As more of the story unfolds in upcoming installments, here are five thoughts on unanswered questions from the film that we hope to have unraveled in the future. Beware, there be dragons (and nifflers, and major spoilers) ahead.

  1. What DID Newt  and Jacob do  in World War I?

It’s a foregone conclusion in a story set in 1926 that young men like Jacob and Newt would have been soldiers in the Great War. Jacob actually tells Mr. Bingley at the bank that he only returned to the States in 1924. In the film, his vague response of working in the Expeditionary Forces there might be taken as a smoke screen. In fact, I briefly wondered if he had some other reason for being out of pocket until 1924, prison perhaps? The published screenplay, however, dashed my suspicions of Jacob as a mysterious ex-con. In the screenplay, when Newt and Tina go after Graves, Queenie reads Jacob’s mind and sees what he went though in the war, both “moved and appalled” by his memories. So, he definitely served, but the war was over in 1918, the year that the Influenza Epidemic (the one that also, interestingly enough, would have killed Edward Cullen if his adopted father Carlisle Cullen had not intervened) took the lives of huge numbers of doughboys. As more of his story unfolds, perhaps we’ll find out what Jacob was doing in the six years since the war, six years that he thinks may have hurt his chances as a civilian trying to secure a loan.

We may also find out more about Newt’s wartime service. Though he is not a “war hero”  like his brother Theseus, he states that he worked primarily with dragons, a logical assignment, on the Eastern Front. The Ukranian Ironbellies to which he was assigned are included in his list of ten breeds of dragons in his text of Fantastic Beasts. They sound rather like tanks, so, if properly trained, they would no doubt be formidable war machines. But what was the Great War like for wizards? How were their campaigns linked to or different from those of the Muggle and No-Maj forces? Answers about those questions may foreshadow what is to come in the films, as they will cover World War II and its conclusion, in conjunction with the linked defeat of Grindelwald.

  1. Why isn’t a skilled Leglimens like Queenie working a better job?

Leglimency has, previously, appeared to be a learned craft, honed by skilled wizards like Snape and Voldemort. When Snape practices Leglimency, he uses his wand and the spell “Leglimens,”  generally to great effectiveness on a Harry who is rotten at Occlumency. Queenie Goldstein, however, is a natural Leglimens, her gifts a part of who she is, like Tonks and her natural gifts as a Metamorphamagus. Without using her wand, Queenie effortlessly pulls information from the heads of others, though she admits having trouble with Brits because of their accents. She knows who is cheating on his girlfriend at work, what Tina had for lunch, and all about Jacob, who loves the experience though he does also like telling her about himself.  She can even read Newt when he is upset, unpacking his memories of Leta Lestrange, and can read Tina’s mind at great distance. Clearly, this is a pretty impressive power, both empathic and telepathic, and more like the mutant powers of Professor X than the learned abilities of Professor Snape. It even seems as if she reads minds without trying. This is a really amazing ability, so why is she stuck making coffee and “unjinxing the john” at MACUSA?

It is doubtful that sexism is to blame, as MACUSA is led by a woman and Tina is a “career girl”; rather, it is more likely that Queenie hides her skills from those she does not want to know about them. This gives her an advantage, of course, and perhaps prevents her from being exploited by those who would use this prodigious gift. Her comfort with her role in life also displays an incredible confidence that is more than a result of her great beauty.

Unlike the other siblings in this film, Queenie is not threatened by or in competition with her sister. In comparison, Newt doubtless gets tired of being mistaken for his heroic brother, Langdon Shaw is clearly jealous of his brother and resents his father’s obvious favoritism, and the Barebones children are a whole library of abuse and dysfunction.  The Goldstein sisters, though, are a supportive and positive little family.  Perhaps more backstory on them will illustrate why Queenie has kept her gifts on the low-down and if this choice is connected to having a great relationship with Tina.

  1. What happened at Hogwarts? Was Newt expelled?

We’ve grown used to seeing our Wizarding World pals at school, so this film is a departure by bringing up school only as memories and a little rivalry. But Newt is, according to Queenie, “hurting” when he recalls his school experiences that involve Leta Lestrange and their once-close friendship. Will there be flashbacks or memories to reveal more about that relationship? Will we find out why Leta and Newt grew apart? Did she marry someone else, perhaps someone whose last name was Black (or some other prominent Slytherin)? Was she a Hufflepuff at school? Finding out what happened in the past may give us some clues as to what will happen in the future films.

The Preface to Harry’s textbook Fantastic Beasts describes Newt as a graduate of Hogwarts (and provides reassurance for everyone hopeful about the romantic possibilities when Newt points out that mustard on Tina, just as Hermione points out dirt on Ron’s nose). But, during interrogation, Graves says Newt was expelled due to an episode with a creature. At some point, we hope to know what really happened. Was there an “Aragog Incident” in Newt’s past as there is in Hagrids’s? Was Newt re-instated through the intervention of Dumbledore? The answers to these questions may also fill in more about Newt himself and the next question.

  1. Why did Newt REALLY come to NYC?

Newt initially lies to Tina about his reason for coming to New York, telling her he is there to buy an Appaloosa puffskein for a birthday present (it would be nice to know for whom if the whole story is not a cover).  He later tells Jacob that he is really in the States to release Frank the Firebird into the wild in Arizona. But, if that is his sole purpose in coming to America, he could have easily skipped New York where tricky questions might be asked about that case, and entered the country at San Francisco or some other port (The Panama Canal had been open for a decade. )

We know Newt is a liar, not just because he fibs to Tina, but because Harry tells he’s a liar.  Yes, that Harry, the one who won’t be born for decades. When he annotates his textbook of Fantastic Beasts, Harry scribbles over the heading “A Brief History of Muggle Awareness of Fantastic Beasts”; he circles the word “brief” and writes –“You Liar.”

Just because Newt lies does not mean he is untrustworthy. In fact, as we have already been speculating here, the chances are very good that he is a secret agent on Dumbledore’s orders.  Perhaps Dumbledore merely co-opted Newt’s services as the magizoologist was already on his way to the United States, or perhaps much of his travelling has been a cover-up. A Hufflepuff secret agent may a surprising twist, but it is also likely Newt, like his case, is more than meets the eyes. As we find out more about what really brought him to New York, we’ll know more about who and what Newt really is.

  1. How and when did Grindelwald replace Graves?

Of all the “What happened before” questions, this may be the most critical. We discover at the end of the film that Percival Graves of MACUSA is actually Grindelwald in disguise. But clearly, Graves has not always been really Grindelwald, who has recently been stomping about making a ruckus. Graves, meanwhile, has a powerful position of authority at MACUSA, so much so that no one questions his decision to have Tina and Newt summarily executed after only a short interrogation (though it is possible that the executioners are Imperiused or Confunded, too). He has obviously been there for years, and though we know little of his relationship with Tina, she clearly respects him as a superior.  Her stunned reaction to his ordering her death is, in part, because this seems out of character for him and takes her by surprise.

Newt, who obviously knows something is up with Graves, is less worried about himself than he is about his creatures, and he is able to spring into action quickly. Because he has no background with Graves, he is instead responding to knowledge or suspicions that Graves is somehow connected to Grindelwald. Graves’s reactions to the Obscurus in Newt’s case obviously tip off our intrepid hero who may, as we pondered a moment ago, actually be on a secret mission to confront Graves-enwald. Newt’s mention of Grindelwald’s mania and his quick Revelio charm indicate that he knows Graves is not what he seems. But everyone else seems completely taken in by the ruse, so Grindelwald must have been very effective in taking over Graves’s life. This begs the question, then. Where is the real Percival Graves? Has Grindelwald taken him over like Voldemort does Quirrell?

I theorize that the real Graves is one of the five wizards we see briefly at the beginning of the film, five wizards who are apparently blasted into smithereens by Grindelwald.  Five is the magic number with these movies, as seven was with the original Hogwarts adventures. If one of these is the real Graves, Grindelwald could have polyjuiced or otherwise transformed himself and gone home a hero, sole survivor of a terrifying attack. If Grindelwald used Polyjuice (and he might have more effective tools at his disposal), he would need to keep the real Graves alive, like  Mad Eye Moody is kept alive by Barty Crouch, Jr. Such a course would mean that, like Credence, who is apparently not actually dead, Graves may appear in subsequent films. Knowing that, or other future elements, is dependent on what happened before, what happened to Graves. Of course, with a name like that, it is just as likely that Graves is a goner.

As we already anticipate the next film, we will also look forward to answers about what has already happened, as well as answers to what will happen next.

 

Speak Your Mind

*