Newt Scamander is an unexpectedly interesting hero. He is even more interesting when compared with Harry Potter.
It may seem like an unwarranted comparison. Harry Potter was a child in children’s movies. Newt Scamander is an adult in an adult movie. They may share a universe, but they’re fundamentally different beasts. They’re aimed at completely different audiences, right?
Prepare to feel old.
People who were the same age as Harry Potter when the first film came out, you would now be twenty-six. If they were eleven when the first book came out, they’re thirty. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is for the same audience as Harry Potter was. Not the same type of audience, the literal same audience. That makes their differences worth investigating. Newt is a hero being sold to the same people who bought into Harry.
Let’s dig in.
Newt is the hero of his film as Harry is of his. You can tell because they’re the ones standing in the front in all their movie posters. They’re also both a bit nerdy and shabby and poor at the start of their hero careers. Also they’re wizards. That’s about where the similarities stop.
Potter is the hero we have come to expect in our media. He’s an apex schoolboy power fantasy, the unappreciated underdog who’s actually super good at sports. He is always right and anyone that doesn’t listen to him suffers for their lack of faith. The girls he’s interested in fall for him. His friends are the best friends. His stuff is the best stuff. He punches well above his weight and always wins. His superpowers include being consistently rewarded for making very bad decisions and shouting things until they become true. Harry Potter is simultaneously the nerd that scores the winning touchdown, the pauper who discovers he’s royalty, and the nobody that is secretly the fated savior of the world.
Newt? Newt is the poor, awkward nerd that grew up to be a taller, poor, awkward nerd.
Newt is barely a hero in a recognizable Hollywood way. He’s a bit shy, kind of awkward, and not very good with people. He’s compassionate and cares more about the well-being of his animals than his own safety. He’s intelligent, but not an exceptional genius. He isn’t aggressive or domineering or violent. He doesn’t shout or get angry. He is polite and acquiescent to his female hosts and is just generally a nice person. He doesn’t interrupt, and rarely even makes eye contact. He’s given up on fitting in. He’s an oddball who’s comfortable with himself.
Their interactions with their female counterparts are telling, as well. Most people who have read the books are well aware that Hermione is actually the hero of the series. She does the hard jobs, solves all the problems, makes all the good decisions, and uncovers the mysteries. Harry, of course, recognizes little of this and spends much of his life putting himself and others in terrible danger when things would have been much better solved by listening to Hermione.
Tina, from Fantastic Beasts, follows that pattern of being the clever, competent character who actually has an idea of what’s going on, and works to better the situation. Unlike Harry, Newt actually listens to Tina and is cooperative and is largely respectful of her as a person and a professional. When their goals are in opposition, he is apologetic for causing trouble. When alligned, he’s happy to be helpful.
Potter as a hero tells boys that they need to fight, and listen to their gut instead of reason, and are the ones that will save the world. Everyone needs to do what they say or get out of the way. Newt tells men that maybe it’s okay to listen sometimes and that you don’t need to be strong and angry and in charge all the time. Newt Scamander isn’t the hero that leads the charge, he’s the one picking up the people it trampled.
I’m curious about the change of tack. It may be an uncomplicated exploration of a different kind of hero: from Gryffindor to Hufflepuff. Maybe it’s a difference between a child and an adult hero. I believe some of it, though, is a recognition that the assertive, headstrong hero archetype isn’t doing anyone any good, and maybe we need more mild-mannered role models.
Newt is the kind of hero I would like to be.
So I tried.
I made a vest and a coat and learned to knit because making his own scarf seemed like the sort of thing Newt would have done. Making a costume doesn’t exactly make me a hollywood hero, but any cosplayer will tell you that wearing a costume infuses you with a bit of the character you’re dressed as (Talk to anyone in a Deadpool costume for an extreme example). Dressing as Newt doesn’t make me a better person, but it reminds me to try. The best part is I can wear it work and nobody notices I’m in costume.
Thanks to some remarkable patience and skill on the part of Josh Hoey, I have some fancy pictures of the results of my efforts.