The Problem with Obscurials
Fantastic Beasts introduced us to a variety of new creatures, concepts, and characters. One of the new additions to the wizarding world is an Obscurial, or a young witch or wizard who has been forced to suppress their magic and develops a dark magical parasite as a result. This concept seemed to have captured the fascination of fans, with articles coming out afterward speculating that Ariana Dumbledore might have been an Obscurial, as well as posts written about what might have happened if Harry himself had been one. However, Obscurials are more than just a new piece of world building. They also carry an underlying message, one that happens to be as dark and troubling as an Obscurus itself.
We know that all Obscurials have suffered some kind of trauma, many times even abuse, as seen with Credence Barebone. J.K. Rowling herself has said that one of the conditions for the creation of an Obscurus is “trauma associated with the use of magic.” This is what causes Obscurials to suppress their magic. They don’t do so because they want to, but because outside forces are hurting them. One other fact we know about Obscurials is that almost all of them die before their tenth birthday, with Credence being a rare exception. Therefore, it is an undisputed fact that all Obscurials are traumatized children.
This is where the concept starts to take a disturbing turn. For an Obscurial, the trauma they face is what creates their Obscurus, or the dark creature inside of them. And the wizarding world clearly does consider the Obscurus a creature, one that’s exceptionally deadly and feared. This means that the Obscurials themselves are also feared as extensions of the Obscurus and are considered to be incredibly dangerous to both themselves and everyone around them.
So to sum up the concept, an Obscurial is a child who becomes a monster because of the trauma they’ve endured. This makes the whole thing rather disturbing because of the message it sends about trauma. But nobody is responsible for the abuse or trauma other people inflict on them; it’s never the fault of the victim. So why is it, then, that Obscurials are the ones who are punished for the trauma they face? After all, becoming an Obscurial must definitely feel like a punishment to the victims, especially since becoming an Obscurial almost guarantees that they’ll die young.
Perhaps the idea of the Obscurial was never meant to convey this message. Perhaps the Obscurus was supposed to represent the damage trauma does to its victims. However, regardless of what the original intentions were, the fact remains that Obscurials are a terrible metaphor for trauma. If the intention truly was to show the damage trauma leaves, then it could have been done without turning the victims into monsters that are widely feared by the wizarding world. It didn’t have to paint the Obscurus as a murderous beast that will ultimately kill its host.
What kind of message does that send to victims of trauma? That they won’t ever recover from the effects. That those same effects will make them a danger to everyone around them. That what they went through makes them the monster.
None of that is true, and no one deserves to internalize that message. As such, I can only hope that the concept of Obscurials is further explored in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movies and reveals new information that makes the message it sends less horrific. It is possible. After all, Credence Barebone might not be dead. And if so, his character might be able to turn the metaphor around and make it a happier one. We can only hope.