This article contains MAJOR Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them spoilers…and they start right from the beginning…
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them successfully fooled its audience by revealing that Gellert Grindelwald – the primary bad guy of the new film series penned by J K Rowling – had been there all along posing as Colin Farrell’s Graves. It’s a fine reveal in the tradition of similar mistaken identity mysteries in the Harry Potter books, but the consequences of it won’t be known until the next instalment in 2018.
So now that we’ve had our first glimpse of Johnny Depp’s villain, and we know that a young Dumbledore will also come into play from the next movie onwards, it’s useful to take a look back at what we already know about their history from the Harry Potter books.
Durmstrang & the Deathly Hallows
Grindelwald was expelled from Durmstrang School (based in Scandinavia) which, as we learned from their visit in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, was much more accepting of the dark arts than somewhere like Hogwarts.
Even so, he was dismissed at sixteen after his ‘experiments’ became too twisted for the school to turn a blind eye. Before he left, he carved the mark of the Deathly Hallows on one of the school’s walls (Victor Krum mentions this to Harry in the final novel), already claiming it as his own calling card. According to Krum, modern-day students were still copying the symbol, despite many students and faculty having lost family members to Grindelwald.
During Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, Grindelwald (as Graves) hands Credence a Deathly Hallows necklace, telling him to touch the symbol when he needs him. Of course, the meaning of it (the Elder Wand, Invisibility Cloak and Resurrection Stone) predates Grindelwald and continues on after his defeat, and his use of it has been compared to Hitler’s use of the Swastika.
Similar to Voldemort’s interpretation of the horcruxes, Grindelwald believed that uniting the Hallows would make him invincible (or the ‘Master of Death’).
By the time Dumbledore and Grindelwald meet, the former had graduated from Hogwarts and moved to Godric’s Hollow following his mother’s mysterious death.
We get various accounts of Dumbledore’s family history throughout Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, but the definitive one can be pieced together from Aberforth, Dumbledore himself, JK Rowling’s subsequent comments and, now, new canon as introduced by Fantastic Beasts.
When Dumbledore’s sister – Ariana – was 5-years-old, three Muggle boys who had seen her doing magic attacked her. She was left severely traumatized, and their father was imprisoned in Azkaban for life after he enacted his own revenge. After this, Ariana is described in the following way:
“It destroyed her, what they did: She was never right again. She wouldn’t use magic, but she couldn’t get rid of it; it turned inward and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn’t control it, and at times she was strange and dangerous. But mostly she was sweet and scared and harmless.”
That sounds awfully like Credence, with one of Ariana’s “strange and dangerous” outbursts actually killing her mother shortly after Dumbledore leaves Hogwarts. So as not to have her taken away, the family moved to Godric’s Hollow and pretended their daughter did not exist.
No name is given to Ariana’s condition during the books, but its possible to explain this away by saying Obscurial had already become so rare your average wizard wouldn’t know what to call it.
Both staying in Godric’s Hollow, Dumbledore and Grindelwald struck up a close friendship based mainly on mutual intelligence. JK Rowling has since confirmed that Dumbledore’s feelings for his friend were romantic in nature, though unrequited, and it can be inferred from later behavior that Grindelwald took advantage of this.
Grindelwald was there in an attempt to recover the Invisibility Cloak from its previous owner, as he had already begun his search for the Hallows, but soon the pair were plotting an ambitious plan to become Masters of Death and take their ‘rightful’ place as rulers of wizards and muggles alike.
The end-goal was to overthrow the Statute of Secrecy that had required wizards to keep their world a secret from muggles, and create a new order in which the magical community would rule over the inferior race ‘for their own good’. Seeds of this can be seen in the conversation between Grindelwald (still posing as Graves) and Newt, when he accuses him of being one of his own “fanatics.”
Generally less power-hungry than Grindelwald, it seems Dumbledore’s motivations lay in finding the resurrection stone, which might bring back his father, mother and sister. The description of events in the final Harry Potter book certainly leads you to believe that Dumbledore was clouded by his infatuation, and would never have really gone through with their plan.
The friendship ended when Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth, discovered them, and a three-way duel resulted in one of them (though they didn’t know which) accidently killing Ariana.
Grindelwald’s rise to power
Meant to mirror Hitler’s rise to power in the real world, Grindelwald left Godric’s Hollow after Ariana’s death and began to build a following based on his views that wizards should be the rulers of muggles.
He found the Elder Wand and stole in from the wandsmith Gregorovitch (this can briefly be seen in the Deathly Hallows film, with Grindelwald played by Jamie Campbell Bower), and his subsequent activity in Europe must have been significant enough to warrant the attention of the American wizarding community.
Many fans are now speculating that his previous experience with Ariana, and witnessing her power, led directly to his fascination with Obscurial in Fantastic Beasts. He was there to find another in Credence or, as was assumed, his adopted sister Modesty, believing their power could be used for his own purposes.
Perhaps contradictorily, the reason given later for Hermione’s lack of knowledge about this period of history is that Grindelwald never attacked in the UK and so wasn’t a big feature of history books detailing the dark arts prior to Voldemort’s own first rise to power. He is mentioned on Dumbledore’s Chocolate Frog Card (now a nice retroactive easter egg in Philosopher’s Stone), but only for his defeat.
The time between this and 1945 – when the fifth and final Fantastic Beasts film will take place – is a largely untold story, and will undoubtedly be delved into in future movies.
After Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (potential spoilers for future films)
At some point during the five movies, Grindelwald will gain sufficient power to establish his own prison – Nurmengard – in which to keep those who oppose him.
Later, despite calls for Dumbledore to duel with Grindelwald when he reached the height of his power, Dumbledore hesitated because he didn’t want to know who had actually killed his sister and feared that Grindelwald knew the real answer. Ironically, after being defeated, he is put in his own prison, only to later be killed by Voldemort for refusing to give up information about the Elder Wand (which was, at that point, buried with Dumbledore).
The meeting between the two main villains of sister franchises is a fascinating one, with Grindelwald appearing to mock his successor for his lack of smarts and vision. Outside of the story itself, the differences between them (with one acting as an embodiment of fascism in the 1930s and 40s) could be said to have startling real-world parallels.
It also sets up a fascinating potential arc for the remaining four films, with Grindelwald potentially far more ambiguous a figure than Voldemort ever was. He’s human for a start, and also perceives his mission as being ‘for the greater good’ to such an extent that he even had a young Dumbledore convinced. There are also rumors, according to Dumbledore, that he shows remorse for his actions after being imprisoned.
This works in the context of the Fantastic Beasts series being more ‘adult’, and therefore able to present a more complex bad guy. There’s plenty of room to play with his characterisation now that he’s more than a guest-player in a biography read by a school-age protagonist, as he is in the Harry Potter books…