The Power of Words: Characters Driven to Action by Words in “Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts”

To say J.K. Rowling has a way with words would be an understatement. The author has written her way into our hearts and minds, creating beautiful stories and well-rounded characters. The power of Rowling’s words sprang those characters into vivid being, and the words they employ against each other within her stories drive the character arcs forward.

Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.

– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

There are two specific words and their usage that I want to explore within the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series. The first word is “coward.” Those two syllables clearly have an effect on both Remus Lupin and Jacob Kowalski. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry calls Lupin a coward, it brings out a different side of the usually calm, collected, and gentle character we’re used to seeing. Lupin even draws his wand on Harry and attacks him, sending him “flying backward” (DH 214). It’s implied that the admonishment does send Lupin back to Tonks and his child, and he definitely does not die a coward but a hero. The word is used to instill shame in Lupin in order to get him to do the right thing, which is undoubtedly why Queenie employs that same word against Jacob in an effort to get him to do what she wants.

In Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Queenie calls Jacob a coward for not wanting to marry her. To be fair, he has good reasons not to. On-screen, we see this word is almost like a slap in the face to Jacob – who looks stunned – and in turn, he nearly calls Queenie crazy. He doesn’t say it out loud, but thinking it is enough. Both of these “C” words have negative connotations that are clear in how each character reacts. In fact, Queenie takes the word “crazy” and – dare I say it – starts to live up to it.

Minutes after that exchange, we see Queenie start to have a mental breakdown in the streets of Paris, which is where Grindelwald’s right-hand woman, Rosier, finds her, and the process of Queenie’s sympathizing with “the greater good” begins. When Jacob finally does call Queenie crazy out loud, it drives her right into Grindelwald’s waiting arms.

These fictional examples echo the reality that words can and do have a strong effect on people. Sometimes, like in the case of Lupin, we work hard to prove the name-calling false and be the opposite of what we are labeled. At other times, as we see with Queenie, negative words can reinforce a feeling we might have about ourselves deep down and cause us to fall prey to those assumptions about our character. It’s another reminder not to let anyone else define you. Exist on your own terms, and don’t let yourself be limited to what words others use to describe you.

I was inspired to write this after a discussion on MuggleNet’s SpeakBeasty podcast. If you’re interested in hearing more on this topic, check out Episode 81.