Guest Post: The Allegory of Fantastic Beasts, 3 (Scourers and PotterMore)

FB 4The Allegory of “Fantastic Beasts 3: Scourers’, Pottermore, and Plot Predictions

by Chris Calderon

For the last two days, we’ve had the rather grim task of surveying the facts, both literary and historical, of the Christian sect Ms. Rowling appears to have in her satirical rifle crosshairs for her next Wizarding outing, namely, the Puritans.  It’s been a rather dark picture.  Luckily, however, it’s coming to a close (but not of other story elements which await their own future posts).  We’ve spent two entries looking at the background Ms. Rowling has to work with in her film, now it’s time to look at the story itself, or what little we have to go by.

Thankfully, she has provided us with almost all the background detail we need, or at least as much as she has decided is all we’ll need to make an educated guess.  With the release of Magic in North America as part of the Pottermore promotions for the film, along with a helpful character list courtesy of the Potter Wikia, we now have a more solid ground on which to base our predictions of what to expect in the upcoming blockbuster.

Scouring the New World

Ms. Rowling’s summary of her fictional equivalent of the Puritans, whom she refers to as Scourers, can be found at Pottermore, under the heading Seventeenth Century and Beyond here.  However, for our purposes a good (and pretty funny) overview is provided by the Radio Times of London here.  I’ll be using the Times summary for a guess at what we might expect to see come November, as it goes into a greater amount of detail in spelling out what Rowling’s synopsis just hints at.  With that in mind, here’s a question:

What’s a Scourer?

Described by Rowling as “probably the most dangerous problem encountered by wizards newly arrived in North America”, the Scourers emerged to fill the magical law enforcement vacuum when the American wizarding community was quite small.

“They were “an unscrupulous band of wizarding mercenaries of many foreign nationalities, who formed a much-feared and brutal taskforce committed to hunting down not only known criminals, but anyone who might be worth some gold.”

“Not a million miles from Umbridge and her Inquisitorial Squad.

“…As you can imagine, very, very, very nasty things. A law unto themselves, it wasn’t long before they became an increasingly corrupt bunch.

“Far away from the jurisdiction of their native magical governments, many indulged a love of authority and cruelty unjustified by their mission. Such Scourers enjoyed bloodshed and torture, and even went so far as trafficking their fellow wizards”, Rowling explains.

“The numbers of Scourers multiplied across America in the late seventeenth century and there is evidence that they were not above passing off innocent No-Majs as wizards, to collect rewards from gullible non-magic members of the community..

Witch Trials 1Now comes the question that bears directly on where these characters (who are implied to be more imposing than Voldemort and the Death-Eaters combined, if that’s even possible) fit into the target of JKR’s satire:

Did they have anything to do with the Salem witch trials?

Oh, you can bet they did.

“Wizarding historians agree that among the so-called Puritan judges were at least two known Scourers, who were paying off feuds that had developed while in America”, Rowling writes.

“Because of their legacy, more No-Maj witches and wizards were born in North America than anywhere else

“Up until the early decades of the twentieth century, there were fewer witches and wizards in the general American population than on the other four continents. Pure-blood families, who were well-informed through wizarding newspapers about the activities of both Puritans and Scourers, rarely left for America”, Rowling writes.

“That’s why they aren’t half as obsessed with the whole pure-blood thing in America. Voldemort wouldn’t have had much luck recruiting Death Eaters there…

The Magical Congress of the United States of America was established in response to Salem and the Scourers .”

Those last few details, I think, are the most important.  In detailing the atrocities committed in the course of her invented mirror history, the fictional Scourers are deliberate reflection of the Puritans.  Like their fictional counterparts, the Pilgrim settlers of Salem were responsible for the same crimes as their fictional counterparts.  Not only did the Puritans instigate the Witch Trials, but also the establishment of slavery for both Africans and Native Americans (web).  I would argue that, on the level of thematic Allegory, the Scourers are meant to represent the very nihilistic spirit of Puritanism, as outlined in the first two entries of this series.  In the same vein, I contend that the immediate outgrowth of MACUSA as a result the Scourers is Ms. Rowling’s signal that she believes the very Founding of America stems in a great part from the crimes of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Fantastic-Beasts-Book-CoverThere may also be another clue to her story by saying that certain magical Scourers essentially joined the American Muggle (No-Maj) aristocracy.  Aside from the implied idea that crooked wizards are responsible for the 1% Eastern Seaboard culture, Ms. R. seems to suggest that the ill effects of Puritanism outlasted the demise of the original Pilgrim sect.  The aftershocks seem to have left an indelible mark on the Nation, giving a dualistic, light/dark contrast to the Country’s civic discourse.  Perhaps it is the resolution of this American duality that will be the focus of the first Fantastic Beasts.  If Ms. Rowling were to give us her thoughts about healing rifts in the National Psyche (and wouldn’t her most ardent critics just love to see her try), how would she go about it?  Are there any plot elements that would suggest a possible route of resolution in terms of both plot and conflict?  As a matter of fact, there at least might be, and it’s very fitting that it comes from within the ranks of the Second Salemers.

“I ain’t no Fortunate Son” – Credence

If there’s any possible key to the resolution of the main conflict in Fantastic Beasts, I think it will come from the adopted and “troubled” son of Mary Lou, the leader of the Second Salemers.  Described as a grown young man, who nonetheless is more than he seems, little else is known about the character of Credence other than the briefest of character descriptions (web).  I’m going to go out on a limb and call it: Creed is really a wizard in hiding, and his revealing of his powers is going to be the big conflict resolution.

In terms of characterization, expect to see a man whose behavior has some similarities to that of Harry in Book 5.  The difference here being that even at his lowest point Harry at least exercised some kind of restraint.  I’d expect Creed to be thoroughly unpredictable.  More to the point, I’m going to argue that in her portrayal of Creed, Ms. Rowling will be drawing on another classic American Archetype, the Angry Young Man/Hipster Outlaw Rebel.  In other words, expect a 1920s version of James Dean or Steve McQueen.  If any of this is valid, then Creed will be a person who has a lot of “authority” issues, and doesn’t like the law, even if they’re both on the same side.  If this is the course the story takes, then another tradition Ms. R. will draw from is that of the early Countercultural movement which had its origin in films like The Wild One, and whose first glimmerings started in the early 20s.

More important that any of that, however, is Creed’s symbolic, historical significance, and what it could mean for the climax of the FB 1.

The American Gryffindor

Every die-hard Potter fan is familiar with the story behind the founding of Hogwarts.  How Godric Gryffindor, Salazar Slytherin, Helga Hufflepuff, and Rowena Ravenclaw all banded together to foster an environment where witches and wizards could learn their potential.  We also know about the great Slytherin/Gryffindor rift, and the story of its resolution.

However, let’s take this basic set-up and give it a little alternate version twist.  Imagine this for a moment.  What if this happen instead?  Think of Godric Gryffindor.  Now imagine that he goes up to the other three Hogwarts founders.  He tells them all about his idea for a wizarding school.  He further elaborates on how this school would be the embodiment of all the greatest and highest ideals of all wizards and witches everywhere!  It would be a monument to liberal learning, and a by-word for humane letters (or runes as the case may be).  A bit over-enthusiastic, perhaps, but hey, a man can dream, can’t he?  However, instead of embracing this grand idea, the other three members do a 180 volt-face and immediately declare that they will become Death-Eathers, and then go off to make good on their words, leaving Gryffindor all alone to fend for himself.

That’s not how the story of the Hogwarts founder went, of course.  That story had a much more benign turnout.  However, it is a good analogy for the real life figure of John Winthrop, Jr., a British immigrant to America, and a key player in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a settlement that would later encompass all of the major New England states.  I said just now that John Winthrop was like Gryffindor, however there is a difference.  Winthrop was a part of the original Puritan colonist group to settle in the New Land.  As such, he was raised in the same social milieu as Hawthorne or Cotton Mather.

The difference is that like Hawthorne and other Puritans Winthrop seems to have departed from his sectarian upbringing by taking an interest in Classical Philosophy and the Humanities, including a thorough knowledge of Renaissance Hermeticism and Christian Platonism. This gave him an outlook and set of principles that were at odds with the New England ethos he helped to establish.

While it’s true that Winthrop became one of the main leaders of the New England colonies, and that his life can more or less be counted an All-American Success Story, he nonetheless seems to have remained a bit of a social outcast.  His long term goal was to enact the same Christian Humanism that the Inklings wrote about, yet the prejudices of New England society never really allowed him to make good on all the potential.  For much of his life, despite helping to patent the American branch of pharmacology for the cure of illnesses, Winthrop main task seems to have been the ability to hold down and keep the worst of the Puritan excesses at bay.  In fact, not long after Winthrop’s passing in 1649, a group of young girls began to make horrible accusations about their so-called friends and neighbors in the town of Salem.

In many ways, John Winthrop’s life is the story of our fledgling Country’s initially untapped potential.  With his grounding in Christian philosophy and symbolic alchemy, the first Governor always envisioned the New Country as a City on a Hill.  Not a utopia, so much as a bastion of both freedom and learning.  However, in his book The Scarlett Letter, Nathanial Hawthorne used the passing of Winthrop as a symbol of Puritan society losing whatever promise it may have had in making a change for the better.  Winthrop’s death in the novel (as in real life, Hawthorne indicates) was also the death knell for the society that first gave America its identity.  In many ways, Winthrop could have been considered just as much an outcast to his society as the unlucky Hester Prine.  Here, Rowling may be penning what might be called “The Governor’s Revenge” or something like that.

What to expect from Creed

I would argue that just as the real life Winthrop was sort of like a Diamond in the Rough, so will her portrayal of Creed be that of a light of hope emerging of the darkness of a 20th Century Puritan Revival.  I think at some point we can look forward to Credence either revealing or unleashing his magical powers, and to look for that action to have a determining course on how the events of the movie will go.  From a thematic viewpoint, I’d say Credence is a reflection of the Hermetic Legacy of Puritan founder John Winthrop.  This is based on certain parallels between Winthrop and Credence.  Both are products of a puritanical background, yet both are alienated from the society to which they belong, and both hold symbolically significant secrets/knowledge that their contemporaries are unaware of.  Who knows, with her penchant for creating fictional genealogies, maybe Creed will be revealed to be the real Winthrop’s fictional long lost grandson.

At the very least, I hope that in outlining this portion of the cast of characters I have given some food for thought, and an indication of at least one direction that Ms. Rowling might take her latest Wizarding story.  We’re not finished however, not by a long shot.

Coming up next, we move onto much more pleasant shores as we discuss the de facto hero of JKR’s opus, Newt Scamander!

(Note: Many of the ideas expressed in this post had their genesis in a close reading of Walter Woodward’s Prospero’s America: John Winthrup, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676 and Neil Kamil’s epic and wonderful Fortress of the Soul: Violence, Metaphysics, and Material Life in the Huguenots’ New World, 1517-1751. Check them out!)


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