Essentially a Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is sure to be one of this year's biggest box office hits. J. K. Rowling has admitted she has plans for at least four sequels, meaning that Fantastic Beasts will launch an entirely new wizarding franchise, filling the hole Harry Potter left in all of our hearts. Over the weekend, though, we learned that Rowling's plans will gradually move the story of Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander to the center of some of the darkest events of the twentieth century — and that we'll see a very familiar character!
Dumbledore Will Return - in a Darker Context...
Fantastic Beasts is set in 1926, at a time when the world burned bright with optimism — but with shadows were growing in the background. The end of the 1920s would see the Wall Street Crash, kicking off the Great Depression. Over in Europe, the 1930s saw the rise of the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany, ultimately leading to the Second World War.
Against this backdrop, though, we know that there were ominous signs of danger in the wizarding world too. The charismatic teen Gellert Grindelwald was expelled from Durmstrang Institute after his experiments on fellow students; visiting the United Kingdom, he became a close friend of the young Albus Dumbledore. The two worked together for a time, seeking the power of the Deathly Hallows, until a deadly three-way duel involving Dumbledore's brother Aberforth. Tragically, this led to the death of Ariana Dumbledore, Albus's sister.
We now know that the Fantastic Beasts series will take full advantage of this magical context. Speaking at a fan event, J. K. Rowling confirmed that the first Fantastic Beasts does talk about Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Director David Yates went into greater detail:
"We can't tell you too because we'd have to kill you all, but we do mention Dumbledore and he features in a wonderful scene between Colin [Farrell] and Eddie [Redmayne]."Grindelwald does feature in the background and is going to become a much more prominent feature moving forward."
How Will This Story Play Out?
Gellert Grindelwald was considered the most powerful dark wizard in history — at least until the rise of Voldemort. Before tragedy struck, Grindelwald was a close friend of Dumbledore's; in fact, in interviews, J. K. Rowling has explained that the young Albus Dumbledore was romantically attracted to him. This meant that, while Grindelwald gained power in Europe, for years Dumbledore held back and refused to intervene.
Rowling's narrative has explicitly linked Grindelwald to the rise of Nazism (in the real world, the Nazis were fascinated by mysticism, so this makes sense). Tellingly, Dumbledore's eventual defeat of Grindelwald coincides with the date the Nazis were finally defeated in the Second World War. What's more, Grindelwald was based at a fictional castle called Nurmengard; the name bears an obvious connection to Nuremberg, a key city in Germany where the Nazis passed discriminatory laws against the Jews.
The shadow of Grindelwald is clearly going to loom over the future of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and it's pretty clear that we're going to see just how events in the wizarding world shaped world history. Is it possible that Grindelwald is tied not just to the rise of Nazism, but also to the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression? Is it possible that Grindelwald is the one who plunged the Muggle World into one of the most devastating economic nightmares in history, and in so doing, protected his own regime from challenge until he was ready?
I freely admit that I'd not expected to hear much of Grindelwald in this first Fantastic Beasts film; I'd always imagined the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald to be in the later 1920s and early 1930s, so this is a little bit earlier on in the timeline than I'd thought it would be. The danger here, though, is that Newt Scamander's story will be overshadowed by Dumbledore's presence. My concern is that, unless this is handled very carefully, Dumbledore could gradually take over the series.
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Setting my concerns aside, though, this is tremendous news for Harry Potter fans. We never truly expected to see Grindelwald and the younger Dumbledore; we'd honestly thought that their story was done in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where the shocking backstory was revealed. Now we know that Rowling intends to give us a glimpse of this darker corner of the Wizarding World, and I for one couldn't be more excited!
Do you think featuring the history of Dumbledore and Grindelwald is a smart move?
Poll Image: Warner Bros.