Sixth blog post about Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Did Leta Lestrange temporarily host an Obscurus before passing it to Credence?
That was a listener theory from Episode 75 of the SpeakBeasty podcast and it seized my imagination immediately.
It would make a lot of things click.
The Absence of Love
We learn in this movie that, according to Dumbledore, “an Obscurus grows in the absence of love.”
We also learn from Yusuf Kama that Leta’s father never loved her.
Perhaps those two pieces of information are supposed to go together.
Leta Lestrange was probably a baby or small child at the time of the fight that killed Ariana.
How can Credence be a sibling to Albus? Kendra died and Percival started his life sentence long before Credence was born.
Suppose Credence hosts an Obscurus that makes him a sibling to Albus. Maybe this Obscurus used to be attached to Ariana, as some fans theorize. Or maybe, as Susan Şipal theorized (and I believe, at least for now), this Obscurus was attached to Grindelwald but was replaced when Grindelwald took the blood oath with Albus.
Either way, in this scenario, the Obscurus would have needed a new host between the summer that Ariana died and whenever it joined Credence.
Leta’s age fits that timeline.
“This One I Believe I Know”
When Leta challenges Grindelwald during his rally, he registers her with the creepy welcome, “This one I believe I know.” The film doesn’t tell us how or when he knew her. From the way they interact, as though unfamiliar with each other, as well as his phrasing, this acquaintance must have been some time ago.
Perhaps if Leta hosted or somehow harbored an Obscurus sometime after Ariana’s death, Grindelwald had something to do with this, or tracked it somehow.
He said, looking at her: “Leta Lestrange . . . despised entirely amongst wizards . . . unloved, mistreated . . . yet brave. So very brave. Time to come home.”
“Unloved, mistreated” sounds like a person who would have been a good candidate to host an Obscurus for Grindelwald. “Yet brave” — perhaps she resisted him and refused to be used this way. Perhaps there is more to the story of how she switched the babies on the ship, and she was trying to keep her brother or the Obscurus safe away from Grindelwald.
“Time to come home,” though. What does that mean?
“You Never Met a Monster You Couldn’t Love”
Leta thinks of herself as a monster. Or at least, she fears that she is one.
Does she feel monstrous because the hatred that Grindelwald saw inside her, the hatred that made her a good candidate to host an Obscurus, was real?
Or was there more to the story of child Leta switching babies and causing a baby’s death than she told everyone in this movie?
Was child Leta feeling burdened by an Obscurus, as well as a crying baby, and trying to bring herself a moment’s relief by putting it from herself, only to see this attempt go wrong?
Or did the switch have something to do with an attempt to keep a baby, or an Obscurial, from being found and exploited or killed? Is that what made her brave?
Perhaps Grindelwald put the Obscurus into her when she was small. Perhaps he simply reads her fear that she’s a monster. Either way, “Time to come home” sounds like an appeal to her self-doubt.
“A Real Brother or Sister Out There Who Can Take Its Place”
Dumbledore tells Newt, “I know this: An Obscurus grows in the absence of love as a dark twin, an only friend. If Credence has a real brother or sister out there who can take its place, he might yet be saved.”
How does Dumbledore “know” this? It is quite different from Newt’s information about children developing Obscuri when they are forced to suppress their magic. What has Dumbledore seen?
“Take its place” is strange wording from Dumbledore. I know nothing about stories of changelings, but a witch switching babies on an overseas voyage and then being haunted by her secrets from that act…? This is deeply uncanny storytelling.
Is Leta really dead?
Grindelwald uses his Protego diabolica fire to admit some people and attack others. Is it an automatic test of faith, like the silver hand that strangles Wormtail without direction from Voldemort, or does Grindelwald consciously control how it behaves with each person?
It looks to me like he controls it. We see four ambivalent people passing through the flames: Krall, Credence, Queenie, and Leta. Krall is trying to save himself; Grindelwald looks directly at him as he’s punished by the flames and disintegrates. We know from Queenie’s dialogue later that Credence is “still not sure he made the right choice,” so he is ambivalent as well, but the flames do not affect him. Queenie emits ghastly screams as she crosses the flames, as though entering hell, as though the flames are burning away her humanity or chance to turn back. Leta has ambivalence, as well, and we see her disintegrate in the flames, but does that necessarily mean she is dead? Could Grindelwald have Apparated her away instead?
The way that she and Grindelwald interact makes me think that we will see her in future installments, and not only in flashback.
Leta deliberately walks toward the flames as a challenger and tells the Scamander brothers that she loves them before destroying Grindelwald’s skull hookah.
(What does she know about that skull? Hmm.)
Is she casting a love protection spell over them, as Lily Potter did for Harry? Did she sacrifice her life so the Scamanders could escape alive?
I don’t think so. I think she is offering Grindelwald a different option, one that many characters in Harry Potter offered but rarely had to fulfill: “I’ll do anything.” Lily begged Voldemort that she’d “do anything” if he spared baby Harry. When Dumbledore went into flashback from the potion in the cave, he begged, “I’ll do anything,” if only Grindelwald would stop hurting Aberforth and Ariana. Narcissa said there was nothing she would not do to protect Draco. Ron begged Bellatrix to take him instead of torturing Hermione. Snape offered “anything” to Dumbledore in return for his protection of Lily.
It feels to me that there has been too much buildup to Leta’s story for her life to end as a simple distraction to enable the Scamanders to get away. This installment in the five-film series has only started to lay out the intricacies of her story. Grindelwald was, I believe, looking at her appraisingly when she challenged him, and she was defying him knowing that there would be a battle of wills and certain physical pain to come if he took up her challenge. Grindelwald doesn’t only want to kill; he wants to put people to other uses, as well, and the woman loved by both Newt and Theseus Scamander would be useful to him.
I think there is something unresolved in Leta’s past that she knows she must continue to work through, and she may believe that an evil person like Grindelwald would understand it better than the good-hearted Scamander brothers. Her “I love you” might have been not a love charm but a talisman-like reminder that in the near future, when they hear of her doing inexplicable things, she will be acting out of love for them, not out of delusion.
It is not commented upon, but through costuming, we see that she is, after all, a Slytherin. Perhaps she has enough sense of self-preservation, and enough cunning, to see alternatives to sacrificing her life at this early crisis point. Perhaps the plan she is clearly formulating, steeling herself to execute as she walks toward Grindelwald, is not to get herself killed but to work behind the lines, as a spy, mole, or double agent.
“Time to come home” doesn’t sound like Grindelwald intends to kill her on the spot if she shows resistance. I think he’s announcing his intention to settle in for a long battle with the aim of assimilating her to his cause, and his battleground is going to be Leta’s understanding of her own true nature.
At the end of the film, Dumbledore asks Newt, “Is it true? About Leta. I’m so sorry.” He doesn’t specify what might be true. If Leta has gone over to Grindelwald’s side, for whatever reasons she might have in mind, that will make the story much more complex than if she had simply died.
Since I am a Snape fan, it is not surprising that I see possible similarities between Leta being recognized by Grindelwald and Snape being called by his Dark Mark to return to Voldemort at the end of Goblet of Fire. Like Snape, I think Leta has depths and reserves of strength so she can make enormous, and unique, contributions before her time is up.
It took me several viewings, but focusing on Leta crossing over to Grindelwald clarifies to me that this movie’s story arc is about choosing sides. By the end of the film, with Jude Law’s majestic gesture of defiance and freedom in raising his arms to be unshackled, like a fantastic beast unfurling its wings, we know where each of the characters has lined up for the upcoming battles.
Previous blog posts about Crimes of Grindelwald: