Unfogging Newt’s Future with Literary Alchemy Part 2
I don’t know about you, but I’ve probably watched the new Fantastic Beasts trailer at least 50 times since it aired on MTV a few weeks ago. Although the trailer was amazing, 2 minutes and 12 seconds wasn’t nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity, so I’ve decided to try to uncover more clues about what the plot of Fantastic Beasts has in store for us!
J.K. Rowling used literary alchemy to structure the original Potter series and included tons of alchemical imagery in every book. I’ve written in depth about literary alchemy before, but I’ll give a quick summary here: Literary alchemy uses alchemical language, themes, and symbols to present a story about human transformation. The character’s journey reflects the processes alchemists underwent in their labs trying to produce a philosopher’s stone.
There are three stages in literary alchemy, and there are three Fantastic Beasts movies planned. We’ll need to look at what we already know about the first movie and see if it matches up with the first stage of literary alchemy – the nigredo. In the nigredo, or the black phase, the character is broken down to the basic essence of who they are. We’ll need to look at images that symbolize breaking down, darkness, and stripping away the excess to get to the core. Fortunately, animals are frequently utilized in alchemical imagery, so Fantastic Beasts may be swimming in literary alchemy!
First, let’s look at what I believe is the first sign of the nigredo.
This was J.K. Rowling’s Twitter header a few months ago. The raven or black crow is often seen as the beginning of the alchemical process. Obviously, this image could be referring to a lot of different things, but considering Rowling’s propensity to use Twitter to dole out clues, I don’t think an alchemical reference is out of the question.
Next, let’s look at the beasts that might appear in the film.
The Ashwinder and the Lethifold reflect the process of the nigredo pretty well; both animals have qualities that follow the theme of reduction. Ashwinder eggs ignite and can easily burn down a building within minutes, and the Lethifold swallows its victims whole and digests them in their beds. Hopefully, Newt and his friends will avoid being victimized by the Lethifold, but I think we might know which creature is responsible for the ruined apartment in the very first trailer.
We don’t know a lot about the Swooping Evil, which was introduced in the new trailer, but it’s got dark colors like the Lethifold and some of the other creatures we’ll discuss. I’m excited to learn more about this bizarre animal!
I’m not quite sure how the Bowtruckle and the Crup will fit into the nigredo. Newt has a Bowtruckle living in his pocket; if it gets loose, I imagine that could accelerate Newt’s breaking down process. Crups are like Jack Russell terriers, but they’re extremely loyal to wizards and ferocious toward Muggles. I can only imagine the chaos one could create if it got loose. In literary alchemy, dogs can represent philosophical mercury. Mercury bonds with other metals somewhat easily, and dogs have bonded with humans for thousands of years. Many alchemists believed a philosopher’s stone could be made out of sulfur, salt, and mercury, and the simultaneously solid/liquid mercury was thought to deliver the basic blueprint of a substance’s ideal form to the interaction of salt and sulfur. If the Crup has a mercurial role in Fantastic Beasts, maybe it will deliver Newt some kind of important knowledge.
I think it’s possible we’ll see a Puffskein somewhere in the franchise. I’m not positive, but some sleuthing on one of Rowling’s old Twitter headers shows a notebook in the bottom right corner detailing Newt’s entrance into a pet shop to purchase a pure-bred American Puffskein for his capricious, brain-dead girlfriend; then a note to the side reads “not really – he….both completely.” Puffskeins don’t do a whole lot except cuddle, eat spiders, and use their long tongues to slurp bogeys out of their owners’ noses while they’re sleeping. We can’t be sure this scene is still involved in the story, but if it is, it’ll be exciting to visit a magical pet shop!
Alchemists dreamed of transforming lead into gold, so who would be a more perfect companion for Newt than a little critter who can sniff out gold with its long snout? I think Newt’s Niffler is going to have a pretty big part to play throughout the films. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get Hedwig’d.
Near the end of every Potter book, Rowling slipped in a few images pertaining to the alchemical themes of the next novel. Near the end of Chamber of Secrets, she described moonlight pouring into the room, and Prisoner of Azkaban was heavily associated with the moon. A small detail like this may seem unimportant, but alchemical imagery is supposed to color the backdrop of the novel, like a curtain behind the scenery at a live theater. Something innocuous like moonlight is what alchemical imagery is all about.
I think this is where the Augurey might come into play. Water is a commonly used image throughout the second stage, the albedo. Half-Blood Prince, the albedo of the original Potter series, is full of imagery concerning water and other liquids. Harry excelled in Potions throughout the novel, journeyed into the Pensieve, drank Felix Felicis, watched Malfoy fall onto the waterlogged floor during their bathroom duel, journeyed with Dumbledore to the cave by the sea, and attended Dumbledore’s funeral by the lake. The Augurey’s cry foretells rain, so maybe we’ll see Newt and his pals get drenched somewhere in the third act of the film.
The nigredo is about breaking down, but the albedo is about gaining knowledge and purifying oneself to prepare for the final stage. At the end of Order of the Phoenix, the series’s nigredo, Dumbledore revealed to Harry that he was the Chosen One. While I don’t think we’ll be seeing him in the first film, I think it’s possible we’ll be seeing him in the second one. Dumbledore provided most of the new information Harry learned during Half-Blood Prince; maybe he’ll do the same thing with Newt! All this being said, I still think Newt, like Harry, may learn some really important information about himself or the magical world at the end of the nigredo. We haven’t seen a lot of merpeople in the films, but maybe they’ll be the ones to reveal this important knowledge to Newt.
Although we haven’t heard anything about dragons in the films, I still think it’s possible they’ll appear in the final movie. Hagrid loved dragons, and Newt’s educational career seems to have ended in a similar way to our favorite half-giant’s. The ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a dragon eating its own tail, and it was used by alchemists to symbolize the final product of the alchemical process, the philosopher’s stone. We know the movie takes place in 1926, and we know that Mammoth Cave National Park was founded by private citizens in 1926. Maybe witches and wizards decided to hide some dragons deep underground, and perhaps Newt Scamander was involved in the process.
What do you think about the beasts of the Fantastic Beasts films? Are they there to tell us more about Newt and his journey, or will they just create chaos throughout the wizarding world?