Finding the Fantastic Beasts Text, 5.2 — Theseus the Hero and Newt Scamander

Welcome back! Time to restore the text of Fantastic Beasts to the shooting script “book.” First stop, Newt’s entrance on the ship as it docks in New York.

img_5801aAs explained in part 4 of this series (all ‘Unlocking Fantastic Beasts‘ links are at the bottom of each post), MinaLima created a prop letter written by Theseus Scamander to his brother about Gellert Grindelwald’s escape and the efforts to recapture him. The LEGO Dimensions stop-picture animation video of the movie has Theseus reading this letter aloud in voiceover to Newt who is seen reading it on his advent to New York City on an ocean liner. The movie and “original screenplay” elected to cut this out and give us our Gellert Grindelwald introduction and story bracket, the open parenthesis for the movie, just in the bad guy’s escape and in a newspaper montage.

That Gellert escape and montage works as a bracket, certainly, with the big Grindelgraves reveal at the finish in the subway being the close bracket. That choice of start instead of the Theseus letter in the shooting script also points to Interrogation Room Graves in the story center as Grindelwald by the formula requirements of a ring composition’s story turn (the center reflects the opening-close latch).

fb32At least as important, though, is what this beginning omitted by not featuring the letter, the all-important mentioning of the name Theseus at the start. Without that note, the later mention of Newt’s brother Theseus, “the war hero,” in the Magical Congress at Newt’s appearance from the suitcase Tina opens, consequently, is not a marker of the beginning of the story turn as it should have been. More important, we lose Rowling’s reference, consequent to her being a Classical Studies in Mythology student at the University of Exeter, to the mythological hero’s adventure that Newt is about to repeat, more or less.

theseus4Newt’s adventure in Fantastic Beasts, in other words, has a ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’ scaffolding, a story template Rowling signaled with the letter at the start and the mention of “the war hero” brother’s name again at the turn.

If your Greek mythology is a little rusty, here is a thumbnail sketch of Theseus’ most well known adventure.

The Minoans on Crete have commanded their vassal state in Athens to send them seven warriors and seven virgins every nine years as a sacrificial demonstration of their fealty. These flowers of Athenian youth are fed to a Minotaur, half man, half beast, who lives at the center of an inescapable maze. Theseus, the son of the Athenian king, volunteers to go to Crete as an offering to kill the Minotaur and free Athens from this curse.

theseus3He arrives and, to his great good fortune, Ariadne, daughter of the Minoan king, falls in love with him. She gives him the string he needs to escape the maze and a sword with which to kill the monster in the middle. Theseus kills the Minotaur and escapes with Ariadne, but leaves her on an island off of Crete in obedience to a divine command. His first marriage after his return to Athens is to an Amazon queen named Hippolyta.

Newt is Theseus in that his adventure is a mission he makes to a foreign country to which he travels by boat. It is a secret mission that he cannot openly discuss even with those who assist him. The mission involves mastering magical creatures and surviving a trip into a death trap that is essentially undeserved state execution. A woman highly placed helps him in this effort, but, mission accomplished, though she clearly loves him, he leaves her on the shore as he departs on a boat. His true but complicated love? A woman named ‘Leta.’

fb2What we lose without the Theseus connection is that he is on a mission greater than releasing Frank in Arizona, i.e., he is there, as the letter from his brother describes, as part of the efforts, probably directed by Dumbeldore, to find Gellert Grindelwald. That the story center has Newt and Ariadne, I mean Tina, miles beneath MACUSA staring into the Death Pool after a meeting with the Half-Man, Half Beast Grindelgraves, confirms the Minotaur correspondence. Newt’s improbable, liberating victory over the monster completes the parallel.

We also miss the sadness of the Theseus departure on boat. In the original, Theseus is so broken up about leaving Ariadne that he forgets to change the color of the ship’s sails from black to white, the agreed to signal so his father would know from afar off that he had survived. The King sees the black sails at a distance and commits suicide in grief. Theseus’ relationship with his Amazon ‘Lyta doesn’t end well, either.

img_5801bThe deletion of the Theseus letter from the “original screenplay” (and leaving it in a MinaLima prop exhibit) obscures (ahem) Newt’s classical hero’s story template. Restoring it to the start and recalling it in reflection on the story’s meaning adds a great deal to our understanding of Rowling’s original story. Part 1 of our restoration of the shooting script text, then, is reinserting the Theseus voiceover, reading the letter he wrote to his young brother, as Newt arrives in New York.

On to our next task: restoring the scene of Mildred returning Jacob Kowalski’s engagement ring because he did not get the bank loan.

Unlocking Fantastic Beasts: Finding the Text Round Up

Part 5A: So What? The Found Text and Its Meaning

Part 5B: The Shooting Script — A Corrected Text for Serious Readers

Part 5C: Conclusions and Predictions



  1. waynestauffer says

    Your theory that he’s an agent for Dumbledore is reasonable. Purchase of an Appaloosa Puffskein and returning Frank the Thunderbird are believeable covers if one is not expecting something else. Is it possible that brother Theseus was the original agent and came up unable to follow through for some reason, so Newt was tapped for it? Maybe Newt has a little something to prove, living in the shadow of his war hero brother? Maybe Dumbledore is putting Newt out there as someone to underestimate so that Grindelwald will be distracted and not see what Dumbledore is working otherwise…? Remember all that Dumbledore witheld from Harry throughout the HP series and finally revealed only in the last couple of books…In the same way JKR is witholding materials from viewers, Dumbledore is probably not telling Newt all there is to tell. Maybe Dumbledore used this strategy to defeat GG as a form for defeating Voldemort later… we have to stay tuned…

  2. John,

    Thank you for pointing out the parallels between Newt Scamander’s storyline to the mythological story of Theseus. That’s cool *and* it fits well.

    I am enjoying this series of posts.

    I also enjoy watching the “nibbles” on DVDs with deleted scenes and listening to the director commentaries as to trivia behind the decision making in creating the final product.

    One of my favorite movies is “All That Jazz,” a movie that has multiple layers of simultaneous plot lines to tell a story. In the DVD commentary by Roy Schneider, he gave an insight about movie making that has stuck with me over the years. His ex-wife was a movie editor. He said that each movie made has three different forms.

    1) the movie as it was written
    2) the movie as it was directed
    3) the movie as it was edited

    Thank you for doing all the research on this and compiling information from multiple sources about JKR’s script not following the normal rules of the three act format with the inciting incident at page 10 (or 12).

    Knowing that, it would make it a challenge for filmmakers who are accustomed to the standard 120 page script, (1 minute of a script for each minute of film), to create a standard film.

    There may be aspects of the story that JKR wanted included in this first installment of her new five part series, but there is always the hope those clues will be played out in a subsequent movie. I am thinking here as a writer who has shuffled chapters and/or plot revelations in order to preserve pacing, tension and not making what is referred to as an “info dump.”

    With that in mind, I doubt there will be the different drafts made available for the public. At least not until all five movies are completed.

    Losing the scene with Mildred’s goodbye to Jakob, while it might have created a nice reprise with the Goldie’s hello at the end, does not create a great void in the story. The plot point is covered in narrative mention by Jakob and depending on the running time of the movie it might have been a mandate to cut X minutes by the studio executives.

    Many DVD extras have mentions by directors that they had to cut scenes they loved and spent a lot of time and effort shooting due to pacing and running length. It is in revised, director’s cut versions of movies that these scenes are then restored.

    I feel most sorry for the actress who had played the role of Mildred. She was going to be in a movie set in the Harry Potter Universe and then, her work got lost on the cutting room floor.

    In the movie “The Big Chill,” an actor was expecting his role to be his big break. There was an establishing scene with the ensemble cast to demonstrate their close friendship. That scene was cut and the only scene of the character Alex is showing him being dressed for his funeral by the mortuary staff. The actor was Kevin Costner. Thankfully he impressed Lawrence Kasdan and was cast in subsequent movies.

    That’s kind of my long winded way of saying, that I am not too disappointed that not every scene written by Jo wasn’t included in the finished product. This is a story that is still being told and as long as the sequels continue to turn a profit – we can expect the franchise to not be canceled before it is completed.

    Now to finish reading your posts,

    Linda C. McCabe

  3. The Goddess of Potter Speculative Punditry is among us!

    What a delight, Linda, to be discussing the narrative ins and outs of Rowling fiction with you again. I look forward to years of your insights as we make our way to Grindelwald’s one on one (?) with Grindelwald.

  4. Brian Basore says

    Now that the world of Nabokov has been opened in connection to JKR, will the “Unlocking Fantastic Beasts: Finding the Text” thread be returned to? (5.6, 5.7, Part 5B, and Part 5C were on the “to do” list.)

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