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How did the 1920s fall into fascism, and how did we start walking down a similar road? How does Rowling's story of angry Grindelwald and his quest for Wizard Supremacy mirror it? Parallels between then and now.
How the 1920s and the
Potterverse Reflect Today…
• Newt’s story takes place in 1926.
• This was the jazz age, a time of hedonism and fun
• The start of the modern era, as everything changed.
Parallels to Now
• “In the 1920s, many people's lives had been destroyed
by World War I and the global disruptions of 1919. Then,
the decade ended with the Great Depression.”
• “The 2000s began with the 9/11 attacks and ended with
financial crisis and mortgage meltdown. Now, in the
teens, we are living in the aftermath of both events.”
• “Revisiting the 1920s could be a way of thinking through
the upheavals of the last decade.”
• “There's the wild popularity of the Hunger Games
franchise, which are a callback to the hungry years of the
This year, big business is taking charge. It was the same in the 1920s under
the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations. Their Secretary of the
Treasury, banker and businessman Andrew J. Mellon, argued, for cutting the
rich’s taxes and decreasing regulations.
Sadly, his version of trickle-down economics didn’t work and workers and
farmers did not benefit from the upper class prosperity, widening the divide.
• Newt arrives at Ellis Island, emphasizing
that this will be a film about outsiders and
• Goldstein echoes Hogwarts’ Anthony Goldstein, the Jewish wizard
• Jews had mostly lived in the US for under a century and were refused jobs,
housing, and education across New York (Dumenil 254).
• Mirroring the wizard population, Jews thus stayed together for protection,
balancing their foreignness with an American identity (Dumenil 262). Tina
and Queenie may have Americanized nicknames and trendy haircuts, but
they remain a bit different, whatever their attempts to blend in.
• “Like Kingsley Shacklebolt, President Picquery is more an image of
tokenism than a central hero” (Frankel 182). As the latter desperately
protects her people from drawing No-Majs’ eyes and the inevitable
persecution, her race seems to offer extra motivation.
• In the twenties, minority groups were differing “over the proper balance
between ‘American’ and group identity” which led to “group and institutional
confrontations” (Dumenil 257). Organizations like the NAACP lobbied for
rights, but many preferred to blend in as much as they could rather than
challenge the establishment. Picquery echoes those who favor conformity,
while the rebel Gellert Grindelwald prefers fighting for recognition.
• The largest wave of Polish immigration occurred between 1870 and 1914,
suggesting Jacob’s first or second generation. This surge triggered anti-
immigrant backlash against Jews, Poles, and other Eastern Europeans
including a new racial quota in 1924 (Dumenil 252).
• Sadly, New York becomes awfully whitewashed in this new adventure,
which would’ve allowed more diverse heroes into the Potterverse.
• Like Newt, Jacob is unusually sensitive. He longs
to open a bakery, explaining, “I’m dying—in that
canning factory. Everyone there’s dying. It just
crushes the life outta you.”
• Jacob wants to make his grandmother’s special
recipes because “it makes people happy.”
• Jacob and Queenie both cook.
• 1920’s culture created the New Man. “In the emerging family of the
1920s, the father had to earn the respect of wife and children by
demonstrating an interest in family life” (Leinwand 192). For the first
time, men pushed strollers, attended parent-teacher conferences,
and took the YMCA’s class in relationships (Leinwand 192).
• Likewise, new grooming products urged men to tidy up – like
Jacob’s slick, parted hair and groomed moustache.
• Like Newt, he loves the creatures and longs to make friends.
• Newt is gentle and nonviolent. Within the suitcase, he lights up,
emphasizing how he too is an intellectual caregiver, not a warrior.
Changing Gender Roles Leave
People Uncertain Today Too
Trump Promised to Bring Back
• “We argue over whether we’re divided by race, class, gender or
religion,” columnist E.J. Dionne said. “What’s really scary about this
poll is that we are divided by all of the following: class, race, gender
and religion. We are deeply divided by these things.”
• A similar survey question from Pew Research found that Trump and
Clinton supporters are also divided over how life has changed
specifically for “people like them” ― Clinton supporters say by a 40-
point margin that it has gotten better over the past 50 years, but
Trump supporters say by a 70-point margin that it’s gotten worse.
The Dark Undercurrent….
• Fear of immigrants led to a rise in the KKK
in the US and fascism abroad.
• Harry Potter: house-elves “treated like vermin” and werewolves denied work
• All echo Grindelwald’s wizard supremacist campaign of World War II.
Dumbledore describes “Muggles forced into subservience” and a revolution
“all for the greater good” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 716).
• In this intolerant climate, those who seek alternate ways of life, like many
goblins and house-elves, go underground, hidden in dark corners like the
Blind Pig speakeasy. This represents a closeting not only of magical people,
but also of homosexuals, artists, and those who seek unusual paths.
• The number of hate groups in the United States
rose for a second year in a row in 2016 as the
radical right was energized by the candidacy of
Donald Trump, according to the Southern Poverty
Law Center’s (SPLC) annual census of hate
groups and other extremist organizations.
• The most dramatic growth was the near-tripling of
anti-Muslim hate groups – from 34 in 2015 to 101
• The latest FBI statistics show that hate crimes
against Muslims grew by 67 percent in 2015, the
year in which Trump launched his campaign.
• The SPLC found that the number of hate groups
operating in 2016 rose to 917 – up from 892 in
2015. The number is 101 shy of the all-time
record set in 2011, but high by historic standards.
Down with No-Majs
• Wizard prejudice: laws against marrying No-Majs
• Grindelwald’s campaign of racial superiority.
• Eugenics’ US popularity peaked in the 1920s, responding to the massive
influx of immigrants. “By the end of the 1920s, 24 states had passed laws
permitting eugenic sterilizations, and about 12,000 sterilizations had been
performed” (Davis 256).
• “Grindelwald preaches Wizarding Rule through racial superiority, a program
that clearly echoes Hitler’s agenda. The same time, the same country, the
same ideology, the same defeat in 1945: can we doubt they were partners?”
• MACUSA is as stifling as the New Salemers, brutally wiping the
memories of all who try bridging their two worlds.
• Metaphorically, this is a type of brainwashing, a thought police who
eliminate the progressives in their own world. A memory-based-
execution mirrors this imagery.
• They destroy Credence rather than redeeming him
• Scopes trial, jazz, hair-bobbing and short skirts
• Many reacted to 20s modernity with public campaigns and protests.
• The word “fundamentalist” appeared.
• Fundamentalists fought for creationism, temperance, modest dress, traditionalism,
and above all, the Bible. These are the anti-wizard Second Salemers.
• On the corner, they shout “We want a second Salem” and hold signs saying “No
Witchcraft in America.”
• “Heed my warning and laugh if you dare: Witches live among us!” Mary Lou Barebone
insists. “We have to fight together for the sake of our children—for the sake of
Obama was very Progressive
• National health care
• Repealed “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and saw
gay marriage legalized
• Solar panels on the White House, laws for
more fuel efficient cars, new EPA
• Stem cell research legalized
• Laws to protect equal pay for women and
stop hate crimes
• Trans bathrooms
• Barebone’s last name indicates her starkness
• Adopted children have Puritan “virtue names” Credence,
Modesty, and Chastity.
• The whole family has chilling, creepy stares, augmented by ominous music
and shadows. The world calls them old-fashioned and “freaks”
• Little Modesty embraces brainwashing, and sings chillingly about witch
• One child asks if another has “the witch’s mark,” eager to turn on his own
• Howard Cadle, built a 10,000-seat “Cadle Tabernacle” in downtown
Indianapolis and, in 1931, began broadcasting a radio program that could
be heard all over the Midwest and South via WLW, a Cincinnati AM
• “It was a breath of fresh air,” one woman who had grown up during the
Great Depression in Alleghany County, Va., told me. “It brought spirit and a
goal to life. We got up by it every morning. It’s still a special memory in the
recesses of my mind.”
• The success of conservative Christian radio preachers like Fuller, Cadle and Rader—
and their successors across the decades—helps to explain the vitality of religion in
the United States compared with other developed countries. A 2005 survey by Barna
Group, a Christian marketing firm, found that nearly half of adults in the U.S. listen to
at least one Christian radio broadcast each month. A 2015 Pew Research poll found
that 53 percent of U.S. respondents described religion as “very important” to their
lives, versus 11 percent in Japan, 14 percent in France, and 21 percent in Germany,
Spain and the United Kingdom. (Anderson)
Trump Copied the Style
• Christianity is “under siege,” as Trump said
• Campaigning, Trump used “the prophetic style—that speaks to
evangelical voters at a primal level. The prophetic style points to
decline—but also to a path toward salvation. It is defined by a
conviction that the faithful possess higher truths, sealed off from and
immune to critique from evidence-based sources of authority.”
• He campaign on the “higher truth”—that white Christians are being
betrayed and targeted. (Anderson)
• Trump’s ‘School Choice’ Plan: Religious
Fundamentalism At Taxpayer Expense
• William Jennings Bryan historically battled teaching
evolution since he feared it would “lead to the
exploitation of workers, the destruction of democracy
and the moral paralysis of the populace” (Davis 255).
• Bryan substitute Senator Henry Shaw fights modernity:
“So just as the odious saloons have been banished…so
now the pool halls, and these private parlors…”
• Credence is defenseless against abuse
• Now he’s primed to be a Voldemort
• Credence’s plot is a metaphor: “When he is rejected, repressed, and his essence is
denied, what happens with him is a reflection of what can happen in greater society”
(Heyman). His swirling cloud of blackness echoes the cruelty and anger that have
filled his life but also echoes the mistrust building between the two communities.
• A violent, angry force—the obscurus—blasts his campaign, murdering the intolerant.
It represents all that is marginalized and forbidden, created when a young wizard
suppresses his power. .
• Poor Credence Barebone has been beaten because he was born a wizard, until his
rage bursts out and he flies in maddened tortured circles.
• Auror Percival Graves only flatters him to use him. “Credence” means belief or trust,
emphasizing his tragedy when he’s betrayed by all the series’ adults. Aurors, Mary
Lou, and Graves all try to control him to further their own agendas—only ostracized
Newt and Tina try to save him.
• Graves charms Credence—whether his coaxing is that of a wizard
mentor or homosexual lover—thus he queers them both,
presenting them as society’s rebels and outcasts. Thus
Credence’s wizardry becomes a metaphor for the homosexuality
some fundamentalist parents make their children repress until it
turns into self-torture.
• Graves/Grindelwald is most likely gay, so his anger appears a
demand for equal rights as he rallies wizards to come out of the
closet, instead of pretending they don’t exist to let others feel
• Producer David Heyman adds: “The thing about Grindelwald is, I
understand what he’s saying. When Grindelwald talks about living
in the shadows and why should we live in the shadows, I
understand that…So he has the ability to persuade, to seduce, to
make you come on the side of what he is thinking. That is scary”
• As Grindelwald and Credence struggle against
the restrictive society that can’t see the queered
wizards but persecutes them nonetheless, war is
indeed approaching. Likely it will be the
marginalized misfits – the four heroes as well as
Dumbledore himself – who will turn the tide
when more virile heroes fail. Together they can
bring about a society of tolerance and
cooperation, even in a time of prejudice and war.
• Anderson, Theo. “Why Evangelicals Are Flocking To Donald Trump” In These Times, 22 Feb 2016.
• Davis, Edward B. “Science and Religious Fundamentalism in the 1920s.” American Scientist, vol. 93, no. 3, 2005,
pp. 253-260, Academic Search Premier. Accessed 30 Nov. 2016.
• Dumenil, Lynn. The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s. HarperCollins, 1995.
• Edwards-Levy, Ariel. “Half Of Americans Want To Take The Country Back To The 1950s.” Huffington Post, 8 Oct
• Frankel, Valerie Estelle. Harry Potter and Myth: The Legends behind Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts, and all the
Hero’s Journeys. LitCrit Press, 2016.
• Leinwand, Gerald. 1927: High Tide of the 1920s. Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001.
• Reuters. “US Hate Crimes Up” NBC, 14 Mar 2017.
Please visit VeFrankel.com or
Amazon for more works by
Valerie Estelle Frankel