‘Fantastic Beasts’ and the Inconsistent Canon of the Wizarding World

In Featured, Movie Reviews, Reviews, Tyler Carlos by Impact Admin

– By Tyler Carlos –

Spoilers Below for both Fantastic Beasts movies and the Harry Potter series

The Wizarding World just got a little bit bigger.

After 2 years of waiting, the second installment of JK Rowling’s newest expansion of the Wizarding World has finally hit the big screen. Released on November 16, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald continues the story of magizoologist Newt Scamander and his compatriots as they continue their battle against the most powerful dark wizard of all time, apart from Lord Voldemort himself, Gellert Grindelwald.

Packed with magic and mayhem of all sorts, FB2 should be the perfect movie for any Harry Potter fan. And while it definitely pulls at the heartstrings of Potter fans, it can’t be denied that the film, while entertaining and nerdtastic, has started an intense conversation amongst enthusiasts about these films going off the canon that JK Rowling has spent the past 20+ years creating. And what’s most disturbing is that JK Rowling herself may be behind this, as she is the screenwriter of the Fantastic Beasts movies.

What is Canon?

First of all, just to define the term, “canon” is the the word used to describe any story or writing that is officially part of a creative storyline. Basically, it is used to distinguish between what is fan fiction and what has been officially incorporated into a universe. To become canon, a piece of writing usually has to come from the creator of that universe, or at least has to have the creator’s approval.

So, what is considered the “canon” of the Wizarding World? Well, obviously the basis for this canon lies in the original seven Harry Potter books, written by JK Rowling. This is where the heart of the Wizarding World canon lies. Ever since the books were completed, JK Rowling has continued building upon her world through various outlets. As we live in the age of social media, it’s not surprising that Rowling has taken to answering fan questions on Twitter. While she usually doesn’t go into deep canon, Rowling has, throughout the years, answered questions about the Wizarding World that are now considered canon. This is usually just small things. For example, someone once asked her what Moaning Myrtle’s real name was, and she answered- Myrtle Elizabeth Warren, and she was a Ravenclaw (Rowling later made note that this had nothing to do with Senator Elizabeth Warren).

However, it was clear that her world was so magical that Twitter simply wouldn’t suffice to tell the whole story. So, in 2012, she created Pottermore as a hub for everything related to Harry Potter and the Wizarding World. There, she has released biographical essays on famous (and infamous) characters, such as Minerva McGonagall and Dolores Umbridge. She’s penned news updates on what is currently happening in the Wizarding World, such as a news story written by Rita Skeeter about seeing Harry Potter at the Quidditch World Cup. And of course, world-building stories about lesser known part of the Wizarding World, including a list of other magical schools around the world, and the heartbreaking history of the founding of Ilvermorny, the American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

But it doesn’t end there. In 2016, a new play hit the West End in London titled Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which was picked up the story of Harry Potter after the Epilogue in Deathly Hallows, and was marketed as the 8th story in the Harry Potter saga. Interestingly enough, this was a story that was not originally concocted in the mind of JK Rowling. Instead, it was originally written by playwright Jack Thorne, who then presented it to Rowling. She then helped complete the play as a writer, and has thus officially indoctrinated Cursed Child into Harry Potter canon.

And then, of course, there are the Fantastic Beasts films. The first in the 5-part series, simply titled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was released in 2016, and introduced the world to Newt Scamander, an awkward magizoologist on a mysterious mission in 1926 New York City. Until the first film, audiences knew nothing about Newt other than the fact that he wrote one of Harry’s textbooks, which is mentioned briefly in Sorcerer’s Stone. But little did we know, there was much more to Newt’s story. As we now know, Newt and his compatriots were instrumental in the battle against Gellert Grindelwald – a battle which Potter fans believed only involved Albus Dumbledore.

Which brings us to The Crimes of Grindelwald. If the first film was meant to set up WHAT this story is about, then this film is meant to let us know WHO this story is about. Rowling went above and beyond in her effort to make sure we know who the key players in this battle are and, ultimately, why they are part of the battle. Unfortunately, however, she may have pushed the boundaries a bit too far as some parts of her canon are beginning to crumble.

Are the Movies and Books Different Canons?

Before I get into the finer details about FB2, it feels appropriate to mention that this is not the first time that some of Rowling’s canon has been called into question- particularly when it comes to the Harry Potter movies vs. the Harry Potter books. Obviously, some license is necessary when adapting these 500, 600, 700+ page books into a 2.5 hour movie, but it’s the finer details that are usually called into question.

Perhaps the most canon-altering moments that cause these potential problems are found in The Deathly Hallows, Pts. 1 and 2. In Part 1, while on his hunt for the Elder Wand, Voldemort eventually makes his way to Nurmengard prison, where he pays a visit to an elderly Grindelwald. There, he demands to know what happened of the Elder Wand. But this is where the movie veers from the book – Grindelwald basically tells Voldemort straight up that Dumbledore is the one that has the Elder Wand. In the book, Grindelwald doesn’t give up the secret of the Elder Wand in an attempt to protect Dumbledore from Voldemort’s wrath.

The same happens in Part 2 when it comes to the Elder Wand. At the very end of the movie, when Harry is explaining to Ron and Hermione why the Elder Wand didn’t work for Voldemort, he decided to break the wand in half and through it off the bridge. This is a huge deviation from the book, in which Harry tells Dumbledore’s portrait that he is going to put the wand back into Dumbledore’s grave, after which he uses the wand to repair the holly and phoenix tail feather wand that he prefers.

These are two relatively small but important details that could have been done properly in the movies. But these deviations beg the question of whether the movies and the books are technically of different canon. Now, that might seem outlandish, but look at the facts. If JK Rowling were EVER going to give us another future-set story about the Elder Wand, she would have to decide which canon is correct. Or, more to the current situation, Rowling now has to decide, in the end of the Fantastic Beasts films, whether Grindelwald is going to show remorse for his actions, as he did in the books, or if he is going to harbor feelings of vengeance against Dumbledore for decades until that fateful night when Voldemort visits his cell, like in the movies.

Now, in reality, are we ever going to get any kind of new, future-set story about the Elder Wand – probably not. But these details are the things that matter most to Potter enthusiasts. These are the details Rowling has to take into account as she continues to expand her world, or else risk losing all that she has built.

Top 3 Deviations from Canon

Getting back on topic, since the release of FB2 on Friday, there have been a fair few topics under discussion by Potter enthusiasts regarding possible mistakes, oversights, or changes that Rowling has done to Wizarding World canon. Here are the top 3, in order from smallest change to biggest.

1) The Mysterious McGonagall

Near the halfway point of FB2, we find ourselves back inside the hallowed halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. During this long-awaited visit home, we see a very brief interaction between Professor Dumbledore and a certain Professor McGonagall.

Strangely, or perhaps not, this brief cameo has not received the welcome one might have thought. For one thing, Minerva McGonagall is one of the most beloved character in the Wizarding World. However, this is not without good reason. You see, FB2 takes place in 1927. According to Pottermore, Minerva McGonagall, the daughter of a Muggle minister and a Hogwarts educated witch, was not born until 1935.

For dedicated fans, this is seen as an enormous blunder by the all-knowing Rowling. How could she have possibly made this kind of a mistake? Or, if this is not a mistake, then how could she not know that some fans would be shaken up by this revelation? It just doesn’t seem logical. This small detail calls into question everything that Rowling has ever told us on Pottermore. If this is wrong, what else could be wrong?

There may be some simple explanation that will be flushed out as the story continues. For one, this could simply be a relative of Minerva McGonagall. Or else, may Minerva has a time-turner…though this is highly unlikely. This may be a minor deviation from canon, but that doesn’t change the fact Potter fans are observant and protective of Wizarding World canon, even against Rowling herself.

2) Dumbledore’s Reason for Not Fighting Grindelwald

The next great deviation, or perhaps simplification, of canon has to do with Dumbledore’s reasons why he does not fight Grindelwald. After all, Grindelwald is causing mayhem throughout the entire Wizarding World, even those that despise Dumbledore have to admit that Dumbledore may be the only one strong enough to take down Grindelwald. However, Dumbledore always refuses requests to fight Grindelwald – at least until 1945, when, according to The Deathly Hallows, he can no longer ignore the pleas of the Wizarding community. It is then that Dumbledore finally agrees to fight Grindelwald.

As we know, Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald in that fateful duel, which in some way, according to the timeline, led to the end of World War II. This fact was touched upon in FB2, but we most likely will not know the truth until the final film in this series.

In The Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore tells Harry why he waited so long to face Grindelwald- he was afraid to learn the truth about the death of Ariana Dumbledore. During a duel between Albus, Aberforth Dumbledore, and Grindelwald in Godric’s Hollow, Ariana was the unfortunate victim, and Albus always feared that he was the one that cast the curse that killed her. This truth is what kept him from facing Grindelwald for all those years. That, and the fact that Albus and Grindelwald were best friends in their youth.

In this film, however, we learn there is another piece to this puzzle. When Albus and Grindelwald were young, the made a blood pact that prevented them from ever fighting each other. This pact is solidified in the form of a jeweled pendant, which contains drops of blood from both Albus and Grindelwald.

This is similar, if not exactly like, an unbreakable vow, apart from the fact that this blood pact has a physical form and can somehow be broken. But this is a severe over-simplification of the reason Dumbledore won’t fight Grindelwald. They physically cannot fight each other until this blood pact is broken. If you ask me, this is a major blow to the issue at hand. This blood pact puts Albus’ feelings in the background, instead drawing focus onto a physical problem to solve with the blood pact.

Again, Rowling will eventually have to explain this. There are still three movies left in this series, and Albus is still a (relatively) young man. He himself may not even know the true reason why he won’t face Grindelwald. As the characters are developed more throughout these films, hopefully we can get back to the heart of this issue.

3) The Credence Twist

The biggest possible change to the canon of the Wizarding World comes in the last two minutes of the film. Throughout the entire film, the biggest secret to be revealed was the truth about Credence Barebone’s birth family. In what was an undeniably shocking and game-changing twist, it was revealed in the last minute of the movie that Credence’s birth name is Aurelius Dumbledore.

Credence is the long-lost brother of Albus Dumbledore.

After picking my jaw up off the floor, which took much longer than I am willing to admit, I began thinking about how this could even be possible in the context of what we already know about the history of the Dumbledore family. After doing some research, I’ve come to the conclusion that this, above anything else, is going to require excessive explanation by Rowling.

For one thing, Albus was born in 1881, making him 46 years old in this film. By the time he was 11 in 1892, his father, Percival, had been locked up in Azkaban for attacking 3 young Muggles. And by 1899, his mother had died after an accident regarding Ariana’s lack of control over her magic. So, to make this logical, Credence would have had to have been born in or before 1899, which would make his at least 28 years old in this film, which he definitely is not. Plus, if Leta Lestrange was around 8 or 9 years old when she swapped her brother for Credence (you’ll have to see the movie if you don’t get this reference), then that would put Credence probably around 18-22 years old in this movie.

But most importantly, if Credence is actually a long lost Dumbledore sibling, how would Albus not know about him? Or anyone else, for that matter? The Dumbledore’s were a very well-known family, especially once Albus made his debut at Hogwarts. So, how would no one know about Aurelius? In The Deathly Hallows, Rita Skeeter mentions nothing about a long lost brother, nor does Dumbledore discuss him with Harry during their final meeting. This seems to be shocking enough for someone, anyone, to mention it before now. Perhaps this is just hindsight, but that doesn’t make it less true.

No matter what way you look at it, this seems very far fetched. As we all know, Rowling likes to play the long game, and she will undoubtedly dive into this in FB3- if she doesn’t, the whole fandom may revolt.

What do I think? I think this is Grindelwald playing with Credence. I think there is some other secret about Credence and Dumbledore that we don’t know just yet. But in the end, I can’t deny that this was a shocking and exciting twist that has me, and others, eager for more FB movies. Like I said, my jaw was on the ground. If this is all Rowling wanted out of this twist, then she certainly succeeded.

Nagini

One other topic that needs mentioning is the revelation that Nagini, best known as Voldemort’s beloved snake and final horcrux in the Harry Potter series, was in fact a witch before she became either of those things. Nagini was a maledictus – a witch born with a blood curse that dooms her to one day permanently become an animal (in this case, a snake).

Is the inclusion of Nagini a break from canon? No. This is more like a new chapter of canon previously unknown. One that I, generally, am in favor of.

But the question still remains – why did Rowling include her in this story? I don’t believe she was included just to bewilder enthusiasts; that’s not Rowling’s way of doing things. But in the grand scheme of things, she had very little, if any, impact in this film. We already know that she is doomed to become the snake we all know and hate, but why is she here? Perhaps her friendship with Credence will change his future? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

In The End

Even with the above problems, I enjoyed the movie. It was fun and adventurous. It brought back all the memories I have of the original films. When “Hedwig’s Theme” started playing in the beginning, I felt a shiver up my spine and my heart started racing. It’s like we were going home.

But in the end, who are these films for? Are they for the dedicated fans that have obsessively followed her work for over 20 years? Or are they for those she wishes to introduce to the Wizarding World? Either way, Rowling has missed the mark here. No matter who these films are for, going off canon will backfire in the end.

Rowling plays the long game, and I truly believe these films aren’t just a money grab for her. She’s well known for expanding her world, and I think she had an idea that she wanted to bring to the screen. She’s even discussed that this is a story that is meant to be seen, not read.

At this point, chapter 2 of her 5-chapter story has ended, and the fans have questions that need to be answered. But just remember, JK Rowling loves her fans. They are why she has built this beautiful world. Her stories have inspired the masses and will continue to do so for years to come.

As she works on the third chapter of this story, which is due out in 2020, I hope she will listen to what the fans are saying. I don’t mean change the story to fit the narrative the fans want, but make sure the story fits into the world she’s built and the fans love.

JK Rowling always says “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome us home.” I just hope she doesn’t lock the door.


About the Author 

Tyler Carlos is a proud nerd originally from Baton Rouge, LA. He completed his undergraduate in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University, and graduated from JPCatholic’s MBA in Film Producing in 2016. In his off time, he enjoys Crossfit, escape rooms, and watching Gotham and This Is Us. His ultimate goal in life is to learn how to fly.

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