Grindelwald’s Greatest Strength Is His Authenticity
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald gave us quite possibly the best villain of the Harry Potter universe. Gellert Grindelwald is the mastermind behind the entire plot of the film and ten steps ahead of every other character at any given time. By the end of the film, Grindelwald is the clear winner, having achieved everything he wanted. He gathered hundreds of new followers from just one city, managed to convince them all that “it is not we who are violent,” and recruited Queenie and Credence to his side almost effortlessly. Grindelwald can accomplish all of this because his message is so alluring to so many, and therefore very dangerous.
Let’s compare Grindelwald to Lord Voldemort, the other supervillain of the Harry Potter universe. Grindelwald easily surpasses Voldemort in every way imaginable. Grindelwald has an actual message, a collective vision for the future of the wizarding world, while Voldemort is mainly concerned with his personal vision of immortality. The whole “extermination of Muggles” thing was really for the benefit of his Death Eaters. When Grindelwald gives a speech, he makes his audience the heroes in their own stories and humbly requests their allegiance so that together, they can change the world. When Voldemort gives a speech, it isn’t a speech at all, but rather a dramatic retelling of his own downfall and eventual triumph to an audience of Death Eaters who know very well that if their attention wavers, they will pay with their lives.
Grindelwald enlists ordinary wizards by the thousands to help make his vision, which he insists is their vision, come true. Voldemort has a tiny cult following concerned mainly with gaining power for themselves and inflicting violence as they please. The rest of Voldemort’s army is made up of people he threatened, tortured, or straight-up Imperiused to make them join him. Grindelwald doesn’t need to do any of that. The admiration his supporters have for him, their frustration with the current state of the wizarding world, his empathy for their problems, and his promise to make everything right, none of that is manufactured. Gellert Grindelwald is dangerous, racist, manipulative, and violent, but he is no charlatan. Everything about his campaign is genuine.
Grindelwald means exactly what he says, though exactly what he says can mean different things to different people. To some, his words promise the extinction of Muggles, while to others, his words promise a better, fairer world. To Queenie, he promises the freedom to love openly. To Credence, he promises an identity and a purpose. To most of his followers, he promises that they will never again have to isolate themselves from Muggles out of fear of the law. Grindelwald isn’t lying when he says he wants a better world. To him, a better world is one in which his magical brethren are free to decide for themselves what they want the world to look like.
If Queenie were to read his mind, she would not find any inconsistencies between what Grindelwald says and what he thinks. Grindelwald truly does not hate Muggles. He means it when he says he does not fight out of hatred. He does, however, fight specifically for wizarding freedom. Grindelwald is indifferent to Muggle lives. It isn’t Grindelwald’s concern if Queenie loves a Muggle man, but Vinda Rosier wants to exterminate all Muggles. When wizards rule the world, when pointless laws no longer constrain them, they can do whatever they want with the Muggles. They can do whatever they want, period.
This freedom is Grindelwald’s consistent message, the theme at the core of his campaign. To keep such a bold promise, Grindelwald relies heavily on authenticity. His followers are neither coerced nor bewitched, but come to him of their own free will. He doesn’t conjure visions of the future straight from his own wand either but uses a divination instrument in full view of his audience to eliminate the possibility that he’s making things up. Grindelwald did not enchant Queenie or drop something in her tea. He did not plant that young witch in the crowd at his rally or ask her to point her wand at that Auror. He knew his constant reassurance to his followers that they had every right to feel frustration and outrage would result in at least one person drawing their wand on an Auror. He also knew that for more than a few Aurors, the Killing Curse is nothing more than a reflex. And if no other part of Grindelwald’s campaign is a fabrication, then he definitely isn’t lying about Credence’s true identity as Aurelius Dumbledore.
Grindelwald’s greatest strength is his authenticity, which will make it all the more difficult to defeat him. Though the final showdown will be between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, I’m beginning to understand why all the other Fantastic Beasts characters need to be involved too. It won’t be enough to merely defeat Grindelwald. Our heroes will have to defeat everything Grindelwald stands for as well. It’s no wonder it will take three more movies telling a story spanning almost two decades for Grindelwald’s growing empire to completely topple.