The Big Bads: Grindelwald vs. Voldemort
In fantasy, the story is often only as good as its villain, so the success of Fantastic Beasts is closely related to whether Grindelwald will be a compelling antagonist. On some level, we all fear that Grindelwald will be a rehash of Voldemort. On the surface, there is a lot the two dark wizards have in common, not least the manner in which they are unmasked at the end of the first installment. But there are already some key differences between the two Big Bads that bear drawing attention to.
First of all, there is a difference in their goals. Grindelwald seems to have a logical goal: taking the wizards out of hiding so they no longer have to be oppressed by a majority that is weaker than them. Obviously, I’m not saying he’s right or that what he’s doing is okay, but it makes sense.
Voldemort, on the other hand, is more of an enigma in his goals. It just doesn’t make sense for him to attack Muggle-borns when they are part of wizarding society instead of going after Muggles, who are a clearly delineated “other.” Even though Voldemort brings wizarding society to its knees, it’s still a secret society in hiding. And it’s not like Voldemort was ever personally victimized by a Muggle-born, only by his Muggle father and pure-blood mother.
There are two possible explanations for Voldemort’s vendetta against Muggle-borns: First, it could just be a self-hating thing – he hates that he has Muggle ancestry, so he takes his hate out on others who do as well. Second, Muggle-borns were a convenient scapegoat for him to use. Voldemort’s primary motivators were immortality and power, but those are not causes to build a movement around.
So he used the resentment against Muggle-borns that was festering under the surface of wizarding society. Especially in a country that struggles with classism as Britain does, there are a lot of ugly feelings waiting to come out into the open. Consider Sirius’s description of his parents’ attitudes: “No, no, but believe me, they thought Voldemort had the right idea, they were all for the purification of the wizarding race, getting rid of Muggle-borns and having pure-bloods in charge. They weren’t alone either, there were quite a few people, before Voldemort showed his true colors, who thought he had the right idea about things.…” (OotP 112). Voldemort knew if he gained the support of bigoted pure-bloods, he could go about amassing power with impunity. (And if anyone is seeing some chilling parallels to the state of American politics today, you’re not alone.)
If we accept this, that creates a very striking difference between Grindelwald and Voldemort. Grindelwald is an ideological fanatic, motivated by his anti-Muggle feelings and willing to do what must be done for his cause. It’s right there in his motto: For the greater good. Grindelwald concerns himself not with selfish motives, but with what he considers a greater good.
Voldemort’s motives, on the other hand, are entirely selfish. He is perfectly happy to integrate a crusade against Muggle-borns into his platform to attract the support of the Death Eaters, but I never got the sense that he cared all that much. Consider the Dark Mark, his Goblet of Fire speech to the Death Eaters, and pretty much all of his evil plans – they all revolve around Voldemort himself. He devotes years to taking down Harry Potter and ensures that all his Death Eaters devote their energies to that as well when the Death Eaters truthfully have very little personal stakes in taking down Harry.
This difference also casts an interesting light on Grindelwald’s refusal to cooperate with Voldemort in Deathly Hallows. Dumbledore optimistically says, “They say [Grindelwald] showed remorse in later years […] Perhaps that lie to Voldemort was his attempt to make amends… to prevent Voldemort from taking the Hallow…” Harry attributes it to lingering affection: “… or maybe from breaking into your tomb?” (DH 719). One or both of them could be right, but I suggest a third possibility: Grindelwald did not wish to help Voldemort because he saw only selfish motivation in Voldemort and disdained that. Voldemort was not an ideologue like Grindelwald, so Grindelwald would not help him. This is pure speculation, but it’s possible.
There are also key differences in how the two villains go about their villainy. Both Grindelwald and Voldemort use people and manipulate them, but in rather different ways. Voldemort, who doesn’t understand love, uses people’s baser instincts to manipulate them. Consider the followers he amassed: “a mixture of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish gravitating toward a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty” (HBP 361-2). In fact, it is Voldemort’s complete misunderstanding of love that led to his fatal mistakes: underestimating Lily’s love for her baby, believing Snape would get over Lily, and thinking Narcissa Malfoy’s loyalty outweighed her devotion to her son.
The closest he comes to using love is when he punishes the Malfoys by assigning Draco to kill Dumbledore. And like a true sociopath, Voldemort knows intellectually that parents love their children, even if he doesn’t understand it. So he can use that to his own ends, but his lack of understanding causes him to underestimate the depth of this love and not foresee Narcissa’s betrayal.
Grindelwald is a whole other beast. We don’t know if he is capable of love, but he certainly uses it as a quiver in his arsenal. Consider the way he approaches Credence in Scene 79: “seeming caring, affectionate” with “an earnest, trustworthy expression.” He knows Credence is starved for affection – “Credence keeps his eyes closed, longing for the human contact to continue.” Graves, therefore, supplies the affection, and talk of “you will be honored among wizards” seems a secondary motivator to Credence, less so than the hug Graves gives him. Credence is “overwhelmed by the seeming affection.”
If one imagines how Voldemort would have used Credence, I think it would have played out very differently. Movie-isms about awkward hugs notwithstanding, Voldemort never shows affection to anyone except Nagini. The closest he comes is informing followers, “You have Lord Voldemort’s gratitude” (OotP 585).
If Voldemort was going to use Credence, there would be much more about Credence being honored among wizards, and perhaps torture or threats to Credence’s family. In fact, we see Voldemort attempt to persuade a lonely child to do something in the books, and the scene in Sorcerer’s Stone is incredibly different tonally:
Now… why don’t you give me that Stone in your pocket? […] Don’t be a fool,” snarled the face. “Better save your own life and join me … or you’ll meet the same end as your parents… They died begging me for mercy. […] Now give me the Stone, unless you want [Lily] to have died in vain.” (SS 294)
No affection, no empathy… nothing but threats and appealing to a sense of self-preservation. This is one of the key differences between the book and the film – which, however excellent, made a change to this scene that seems wildly out of character for Voldemort. In the film, we get a rather different take on this scene:
Voldemort: Don’t be a fool. Why suffer a horrific death, when you can join me and live?
Voldemort: [laughs] Bravery. Your parents had it too. Tell me, Harry… would you like to see your mother and father again? [Harry’s parents appear in the Mirror of Erised] Together, we can bring them back. All I ask is for something in return.
[Harry pulls the Stone out of his pocket.] Voldemort: That’s it, Harry. […] Together, we can do extraordinary things. Just give me the Stone.¹
The movie Voldemort is much closer to Grindelwald’s style, which makes sense since Fantastic Beasts is a film made by the same people. Movie-Voldy, much like Graves, offers the lonely child affection (though in this case, his parents’). And consistent with that, Harry is ever-so-slightly tempted, as seen by his pulling the Stone out of his pocket. In the book, he never does, because right after he shouts “NEVER!” Voldemort attempts to take it by force. That’s Voldemort’s modus operandi: Threaten, then use force. As opposed to Grindelwald, who can wield love as a weapon.
But that’s not the only striking thing about Scene 79. In the film, how the scene plays out is open to interpretation, but in the script, there are very clear sexual undertones. “Graves gently, almost seductively, moves his thumb across the cuts, healing them instantly. Credence stares.” Later that same scene, “Graves moves even closer to Credence, his face inches from the boy’s neck—the effect is both alluring and threatening.”
While creepy for a whole host of reasons, we see that Grindelwald does not hesitate to use his sex appeal to influence people. (Of course, that’s a lot easier to do as Colin Farrell than as Johnny Depp… *sigh*) And we know of another time Grindelwald captured the heart of a young man: his youth, with Dumbledore.
We cannot yet know the exact nature of Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s relationship, and fans have certainly tried to squeeze every possible drop of meaning from “Now, what makes Albus Dumbledore so fond of you?” (Scene 65). But it appears that Dumbledore’s romantic feelings, at least, went unreciprocated. When Melissa Anelli asked Jo about Grindelwald’s relationship to Dumbledore, Jo replied,
I think he was a user and a narcissist, and I think someone like that would use it, would use the infatuation. I don’t think that he would reciprocate in that way, although he would be as dazzled by Dumbledore as Dumbledore was by him, because he would see in Dumbledore, ‘My God, I never knew there was someone as brilliant as me, as talented as me, as powerful as me. Together, we are unstoppable!’ So I think he would take anything from Dumbledore to have him on his side.²
So between Dumbledore and Credence, we are getting a good feel for how Grindelwald manipulates people, and it’s in a very different way to Voldemort. We don’t really have examples of Voldemort using an infatuation the way Grindelwald did. Bellatrix was infatuated with Voldemort, yet Voldemort never engaged with that beyond valuing Bellatrix as a top lieutenant. (That’s disregarding Cursed Child, because I don’t incorporate fan fiction into discussions of canon.)
The closest Voldemort came to using an infatuation would be Hepzibah Smith. Even then, Tom Riddle never used it beyond maintaining a good enough business relationship with her. He did not use her affection to swindle her out of the locket and cup, whether by making her willing to give them up or by her naming him as a beneficiary in her will. Instead, Tom Riddle chose to upend his entire life, leaving his job after murdering Hepzibah for her treasures. Grindelwald would have used a defter touch.
That is not to say that Grindelwald isn’t as ruthless as Voldemort. After all, we see him sentence Newt and Tina to death, purely because he suspects that Newt suspects him. We see him discard Credence without a thought once the boy’s usefulness appears gone. But Grindelwald knows how to manipulate love and lust, where the best Voldemort could do was use flattery when required (Slughorn, the Grey Lady) and fear and hate as his go-to.
So it looks as if Jo has crafted another stupendous villain, different enough from Voldemort to keep us interested, to join an already impressive gallery of rogues in the wizarding world.
¹Thanks to Wikiquote for having this available so I didn’t have to transcribe.
²From “Vault 10” on Melissa Anelli’s Harry, a History website – the link to the original 2008 interview is broken, but luckily, it’s been quoted far and wide since.