The Obscurus in Potterverse and BBC Sherlock

This 5-minute talk was presented at a panel about the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at 221B Con, April 9, 2017.

Newt Scamander says about what’s in his case:  “Please don’t hurt those creatures—there is nothing in there that is dangerous.”

What do we know about how Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald?  We know it wasn’t by force.  We know he hoped, for the rest of his life, that Grindelwald felt remorse for his Unforgivable crimes.

Newt’s words about the Obscurus, separated from the Sudanese girl who was its Obscurial, hint at what Dumbledore might have done.  Without a host, the Obscurus is harmless, defenseless.  It does not deserve to be destroyed.  We have seen this before.  Not only in Ariana, but also the flayed baby in King’s Cross.  As Hermione tells Harry about an adult Death Eater with a baby’s head:  “You can’t hurt a baby!”

Dumbledore knew he had a chance of reaching Grindelwald’s vulnerability, the part of him that, like Credence, is frightened by himself and his murders.  I’m guessing that the kindness that Newt shows to the Obscurus is related to how Dumbledore reached Grindelwald.  It’s how Snape and Dumbledore saved Draco, Snape with his healing song after Sectumsempra and Dumbledore with his merciful offer of refuge for Draco and his family, when Draco believed he was beyond help.  Dumbledore’s offer tells Draco:  It is not too late.  You are worth saving.  Harry sees Draco lower his wand and “the tiniest drop of pity mingled with his dislike.”  That drop is enough for Harry to recognize that Draco is a fellow creature who does not deserve to be destroyed, just as the small amount of Harry’s blood was enough to render Voldemort susceptible to empathy.

Newt couldn’t save one Obscurial.  That strengthens his resolve to save Credence.  This is like Dumbledore unable to reach Tom Riddle but wiser for that failure, accepting the agonized Snape rather than attacking him.  Dumbledore trains Harry to confront Voldemort because Harry may be the only person Voldemort has connected with enough to possibly show him his fear.

The words to that vulnerable terror go:  “I’m scaring myself with what I’ve done.  Help me.  Stop me.  Contain me.”  That’s what Credence asks of Graves, who violates that trust and abuses him.  But Dumbledore did respond in good faith to Snape, Snape to both Draco and Harry after Harry casts Sectumsempra.  When Voldemort hunts down Harry Potter, forbidding anyone else to kill Harry, and sits forlornly in the clearing in the forest, saying, “I thought he would come.  I expected him to come,” he’s asking for the same thing.  When Harry offers him the opportunity to feel remorse, he gives Voldemort the choice to be seen, stopped, contained.  Voldemort decides it’s too late and chooses to gamble on Avada Kedavra rather than experience the pain of remorse, but Harry set up that choice for him.

So let’s talk about Sherlock, and the sister who was frightened by her own destructive power.

Eurus said:  “Every time I close my eyes, I’m on the plane.  I’m lost, lost in the sky, and no one can hear me.”

By age five, she had killed and no one could stop her.  No one could even find the evidence.  Prisons cannot hold her; she roams on buses, to 221B, to therapist offices.  Like Credence, she could control her Obscurus, to some degree; she just doesn’t want to.

She had to recall Sherlock from exile.  It was useless to reach out to her parents; her mother wouldn’t wake up and her father wasn’t even on the same plane.  Moriarty is dead; Mycroft has no mercy; Sherlock is her last hope.  She reprograms her prison and reproduces her original crime so she can return to being five and beg Sherlock to find her, save her soul, stop her, contain her.  Once she gets her wish, her Obscurus subsides.  She stops talking, she stops killing people, she stops breaking out.

Sherlock’s kindness to her is like Newt’s to the Obscurus.  One can understand Mycroft’s proposal to let the girl land the plane in the water.  She is, after all, an unstoppable criminal.  There’s mercy for Mycroft here, too; no one but Sherlock Holmes can contain this era-defining genius.  It’s a good touch that when she overpowers Mycroft, she doesn’t kill him; she just locks him in her cell, as Dumbledore did to Grindelwald.  “I could kill you, but I’d rather you learn how you made others feel” — that’s a mainstay of Potterverse, that empathy can both save your soul and be your punishment.

Serial murders are Unforgivables.  Dumbledore doesn’t have to forgive Grindelwald, and Sherlock doesn’t have to forgive Eurus.  But if they recognize that even an Obscurus is a fantastic beast worth protecting, they can help save people’s souls by helping them feel, however painful that may be.  That’s what Eurus asked for.  That’s why Sherlock, who is not even gifted compared to Eurus — an “idiot” — succeeded in containing her:  because she asked him.

“I’m in the plane, and I’m going to crash.  And you’re going to save me.”

“I can bring you home.”

“It’s too late now.”

“Open your eyes.  I’m here.  You’re not lost anymore.”  They change how the story ends.  Eurus has essentially built a Time-Turner and brought Sherlock back with her.  This time, he has grown enough to find her, and she tells him how to save his friend.  I think both Newt and Sherlock listen when Obscurials ask, and respond with kindness and containment.  Dumbledore couldn’t save his own sister, but I wonder if that’s what he did for Grindelwald.