Who is Credence Barebone?
He’s not Credence Barebone. That name was given to him by the Puritanical adoptive mother he killed. He had a story before he had that name.
He’s not Corvus Lestrange, according to Leta.
Grindelwald says that the name “Aurelius Dumbledore” is his birthright, but we don’t know what that means, exactly.
What we know is that the need to know his own origins, his own identity, is more urgent for Credence than life itself. When faced with Yusuf Kama, his would-be killer, he utters the heartbreaking line: “I’m tired of living with no name and no history. Just tell me my story — then you can end it.”
As Grindelwald “restores” the name “Aurelius Dumbledore” to Credence, he takes a baby bird from Credence and it becomes a phoenix, a bit of stagecraft suggesting that Credence, like a phoenix, has just died and been reborn. In Potterverse, death is irreversible. The dead cannot come back to life, with one exception: the phoenix.
Credence appeared to be killed when the Aurors attacked him at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts movie, but to Newt’s surprise, he survived and made his way to Paris. According to J.K. Rowling, “You can’t kill an Obscurial when they’re in Obscurus form.”
What if, instead of being none of those identities, the Obscurial we know as Credence is all of them, en route to his final form as a phoenix?
A Corvus Lestrange crossed the water and may have drowned, although Yusuf Kama says to Credence, “The ship had gone down at sea… But you survived, didn’t you? Somehow, someone had pulled you from the water!”
Did one baby get switched with another? Were there two babies? Was there a shared fate? Whatever those details, what we know so far adds up to the timeline of one individual life:
- Before conception until infancy: a white European baby named Corvus Lestrange was sent across the water to escape an assassin
- From adoption until young adulthood: a white American boy named Credence Barebone, an Obscurial, killed his Puritanical adoptive mother, survived Auror execution and returned across the water to Paris
- At young adulthood: Grindelwald lured that person to Austria and told him his identity is Aurelius Dumbledore
Both times this person crossed the water, there was a death followed by a new identity. Kama said to Credence, “Someone had pulled you from the water!” Perhaps Kama’s conclusion was incorrect. But what if Credence’s connection to phoenixes means that each time he crosses the water, he dies, is pulled from the water by a phoenix, and is reborn into a different identity?
A repeated image in this movie is an effect that Newt sees in Tina’s eyes: “like fire in water, dark water.” Perhaps this has nothing to do with this Obscurial, but that wording would also describe the image of a phoenix rescuing a baby who was about to drown.
What if Credence will have a different story for each of the five films in this series, tied to the film’s location? What if this character’s identity is, for each location, a story that this place does not want?
The first film, taking place in New York, brings up the ugly U.S. history of Puritan witch hunts, segregation, corporal punishment, and worst of all, casual capital punishment.
The second film, taking place in Paris, gives us a story of French colonial exploitation of Senegal, the sexual violence and racism against women endemic to colonialism, and some of the real-life consequences. In response to the crimes of his mother’s assailant, Yusuf Kama’s entire life was sworn to being “the avenger of my family’s ruin.” Grindelwald described Leta Lestrange, offspring of coercion, as “despised entirely amongst wizards…unloved, mistreated.” Corvus Lestrange, treasured white son of the man who ruined the Kama family, has his life course determined by the repercussions of his father’s crimes.
Perhaps for the third film, Credence will cross the water once again, and the story he lives out for the duration of the film will be tied to a story of that place. Perhaps it will be another story of a person of no name or history, a “freak” who is vulnerable enough for Grindelwald to attempt to exploit by telling him, as he tells Leta, “Time to come home.” After all, as Skender the circusmaster tells Tina, “All my freaks think they can go home.” Even if, perhaps, there is no home other than their uncomfortable place of origin, the drive to find something to claim cannot be suppressed.
The one thing that mattered most to Harry Potter was his own story. His parents might have been dead, but their story belonged to him. Voldemort mistakenly thought that nothing motivated Harry more than the “saving-people-thing” impulse that Voldemort created in him through traumatic violence. What Snape, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Hermione, and Petunia Dursley knew, though, was that Harry’s greatest drive was to have his story restored to him. Nothing enraged Harry more than Vernon Dursley keeping his Hogwarts letters from him, Dobby preventing Harry from getting his mail, or Dumbledore keeping the whole truth from him. Voldemort drew Harry to him by threatening to hurt Harry’s loved ones, but Snape drew Harry to him by leaving Harry half of a letter and photo to find, awakening Harry’s hunger to find the rest of the story, knowing Harry would not rest until he did.
Several differences between the Harry Potter stories and Fantastic Beasts mark one as a series for children, one for adults. In Harry’s case, whenever he went searching for his story, he found something, a solid and even wealthy family background full of love. We don’t know yet if Credence will even find much of a story for himself. So far, it seems that whatever story he does find will be less stable, less nourishing, than what Harry found of his family background. Rarely, if ever, did the leads that Harry followed regarding his family stories result in dead ends or decoys. We have already seen dead ends and decoys in Fantastic Beasts for both Leta and Credence. Most grimly of all, we have seen Grindelwald exploiting, for his own ends, this sacred human hunger for the birthright of one’s own story.
Grindelwald tells his followers about Credence: “He’s desperate for family. He’s desperate for love. He’s the key to our victory. […] The path has been laid, and he is following it. The trail that will lead him to me, and the strange and glorious truth of who he is.”
It works, of course. Even after Credence knows how Grindelwald treated him in New York, after Nagini warns him that Grindelwald’s people kill people like them for sport, Credence crosses the fire to go to Grindelwald, telling Nagini, “He knows who I am.” It’s a potent lure for someone who values learning his own story over life itself.
Next blog post to come: Patriarchy, racism, and vengeance.