Can Newt Cure the Maledictus?
SPOILERS AHEAD: PROCEED WITH CAUTION
The revelation that Claudia Kim’s character in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, previously known only as “the Maledictus,” will be none other than Nagini, Voldemort’s future pet snake and Horcrux, was met with swift backlash. In addition to other concerns about race and culture, the assumption is that this rare Asian female character is doomed to become a slave, trapped in serpent form, without her own agency, serving Voldemort, and harboring a piece of his soul, only to be eventually decapitated by Neville Longbottom in a moment of heroic glory. But what if there’s more to it than that?
It seems unwise for the studio to drop such a big bombshell in the final trailer rather than saving it for the film, inviting a great deal of skepticism before the plot plays out. The reveal would have gotten a big reaction from moviegoers spilling their popcorn in shock, and the response might not have been so negative in context. But the decision to spill this secret indicates that it is not a straightforward spoiler.
Based on the descriptions we have been given of a Maledictus, Nagini carries a blood-borne curse, transmitted matrilineally, that will force her to become a snake permanently and lose her humanity completely. Her name alone is effectively a death sentence.
And yet the trailer reminds us that our protagonist “never met a monster [he] couldn’t love.” Newt Scamander is devoted not just to learning about magical creatures but also to helping them. There has been much speculation about how exactly Newt’s livelihood will intersect with Dumbledore’s desire for him to oppose Grindelwald and with all of the other characters and subplots. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we are introduced to the existence of Obscurials, young wizards and witches whose magical abilities are so severely repressed that they develop a Dark magical force known as an Obscurus, which can cause devastating destruction. Newt was able to separate a Sudanese girl from her Obscurus before she died, leaving the Obscurus intact but supposedly harmless. Credence Barebone, another Obscurial, appeared to be killed at the end of the film, but the character is back for the sequel, now performing in a magical circus with Nagini.
It seems that Credence and Nagini will be closely connected in this film, and that closeness could stem from their shared state. Both suffer from a form of Dark Magic they cannot control that strips them of their humanity. We know that Newt has hopes of successfully separating an Obscurus from an Obscurial – might Nagini benefit from similar efforts? Set up as a parallel to Credence, it is possible that her transformative curse, although genetic rather than developed, could also be peeled away. Perhaps rather than succumbing to the curse, Nagini will be freed of the curse, which could exist on its own as a snake that has only ever known one name – a name that it could use when asked by a Parselmouth. Newt could potentially help Nagini shed her snakeskin, leaving an independent witch who is free to follow her own path wherever it may lead and a magical serpent with an attraction to Dark Magic and abilities beyond those of a normal snake.
It’s too soon to guess exactly where Nagini’s story will go, and it is completely valid for fans to have mixed and negative feelings about this portrayal, but as Lucius Malfoy sings in A Very Potter Sequel, “It’s not over yet.” We know that Newt will not be the one to defeat Grindelwald since that job will fall to Dumbledore, reluctant as he may be. Still, Newt has some important role to play, and there must be more surprises in store for us – and maybe more of a role for Nagini to sink her teeth into.