Lord Voldemort is no Gellert Grindelwald.
Why? Because as a villain, a dark lord, Lord Voldemort was so extreme, so vile and hateful and cruel, that he was easier to see as fictional than the insidious Gellert Grindelwald who easily wins people over to the dark side with soft words, a gentle touch and a deceptively calm demeanor.
Anyone who has stopped by here knows my love for the Harry Potter stories, and how much I admire the way they shaped the reading habits of an entire generation. My own daughter grew up with the books – reading them numerous times in English and in Russian.
Naturally when Fantastic Beasts came out, we were eager to dig into that adventure as well. Though not as spellbinding as Harry’s story had been – with the newness of it all: Hogwarts, Hedwig’s Theme, wands, cloaks, magical spells and good against evil – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as well as The Crimes of Grindelwald, do have their own magic. Their own newness. Their own sense of foreboding.
As a charismatic and cunning villain, Johnny Depp’s Gellert Grindelwald confidently stood in the center of a crowded arena and told the people who had come to hear him speak of the evil that we, the ‘others’ – the muggles/no-majes – would inflict upon the world. He did not lie to them. He had no need to. Instead, in a blinding and vivid vision, Grindelwald showed them the coming horrors and destruction.
Horrors and destruction described in our own history books. Horrors and destruction we cannot ignore, forget or deny.
Yet Grindelwald’s plan to prevent it all – a plan willfully applauded by many in attendance – was darker, more horrific and destructive than what already seemed fated to come.
Sadly, he offered only one of two nightmare scenarios. And each was tainted by the lust for total dominion of one people over another ‘lesser’ kind.
The pitting of one people against another, the vilifying of whole groups, of blaming them for all the world’s ails…is as old as time. That’s why I find Johnny Depp’s spellblindingly understated portrayal of Gellert Grindelwald so terrifying. He’s refined. Beautiful. Charming. Yet beneath that compelling mystique are hints of a bubbling cauldron’s worth of power and emotion.
Warnings signs are all around us, in plain sight. They have always been. Yet while generation after generation adopts the slogan: “Never Again”, that same frightening and divisive call to arms is too often repeated. In film as in real life.
More than a decade ago, an entire generation was introduced to the magical, wondrous world of Harry Potter.
It was a world full of friendships, hard lessons and evil.
Harry’s innocence, though it fought valiantly to hang on, was lost very early. The tragic attack on his world, his family and others, left him scarred – physically and emotionally.
A decade ago, another scar, a real scar in the real world, was left on American soil and in the hearts of many around the world. 9/11 changed the perception of adults. It changed our sense of security. The collective sense of insecurity became pervasive, and could not be hidden from our children.
Years ago – a generation ago – adults worked to absorb and hide concern and fear so children wouldn’t have to know about danger in the world. Children could be children – innocent, naïve, oblivious. Happy and free from worry, free from the burdens of adulthood, of evil.
But, 9/11 brought that evil into focus. There was no hiding it. Our children felt every breath of it. And while they could not ignore it, many of them were too young to process it, to understand it.
With Harry Potter books and movies running along the same time as al Qaeda gained steam, the children were able to give fear a home. They saw Voldemort as evil while we saw bin Laden as evil. They watched this fictitious evil grow stronger, be fought, grow stronger yet again. And they watched Harry, and all the other ‘good’ people, as they struggled to counter the terrorist acts of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. It was much the same as the West struggled to beat back, contain and defeat bin Laden and al Qaeda. While this real-life process will take a lot more than a wave of a wand or a spoken Latin phrase, the connection is clear.
Now, a decade later, Bin laden is dead, killed on May 2nd. Voldemort has been obliterated (his last breath ALSO on May 2nd). And while the destruction, pain and devastation remain, so does hope. Our children have grown. They’re no longer wide-eyed and innocent. They are now street smart and educated. They’re young adults coming into their own, recognizing good and evil. Understanding where each rests in society, and feeling confident that they can overcome it. They can fight back. They witnessed the most horrific act of terrorism in US history. They witnessed the destruction of the fictitious world they love. And they witnessed, “19 Years Later” as it says in the book, how even through horror, even through death and destruction, life goes on.
There is no line between winning and losing. That area is blurred and wide. Winning is measured by love, friendship and integrity, while loss occurs when there is no hope.
Harry Potter will forever be a force in the minds of an entire generation. It thrilled. It frightened. It stirred. I will miss hearing about the newest book coming out and the newest film being released. I will miss the excitement in my daughter’s young eyes as she discussed the symbolism she saw in the stories. I will miss the years of toy wands, wizard-cape costumes and witch’s brooms. A lifetime – my child’s lifetime – was shared with Harry Potter. I watched her grow and mature along with the characters. The actors.
I am sad to see it end, but I am happy we had it at the time we did. Besides giving children a fantasy to explore, it gave them books to read and ideas to debate and exchange. In the dark shadow of 9/11, Harry Potter offered hope, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Thank you Harry, Hermione, Ron and all the others. Most especially, thank you J.K. Rowling.