Harry Potter fans know the name and history of Gellert Grindelwald. His impact on the Wizarding World shaped the generations to come and rose one man – Albus Dumbledore – to prominence. His legacy left its scars across the Wizarding World. Until the rise of Lord Voldemort several decades later, Gellert Grindelwald was considered to be the darkest Wizard in history.
But who is Gellert Grindelwald?
Gellert Grindelwald’s involvement in the greater Harry Potter story only comes to the forefront in the final book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But Grindelwald’s shaping of Wizarding history was hinted at in the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Harry and Ron discuss Albus Dumbledore’s biography on a Chocolate Frog Card where his defeat of the Dark Wizard Grindelwald in 1945 is mentioned. A simple reference, one that could be written of as a piece of world building. But it is a reference that would come back in later years to play a integral role in the saga. And now, Grindelwald is positioned to play a vital role in the Fantastic Beasts series of films.
Start of Darkness
Gellert Grindelwald was born in the late nineteenth century and was educated at Europe’s Durmstrang Institute. Durmstrang’s teaching programs were unlike Hogwarts in that they taught the Dark Arts. Grindelwald became enamoured by their lure, and was eventually expelled from Durmstrang for conducting twisted experiments.
Grindelwald was also obsessed with the legend of the Deathly Hallows. The Deathly Hallows are three magical items, said to have been given to the Peverell Brothers by Death himself. The three items are the Cloak of Invisibility, the Resurrection Stone, and the Elder Wand. Legend held that the Wizard who became master of all three of the Deathly Hallows could master death itself.
Grindelwald search for information on the Deathly Hallows led him to Godric’s Hollow, a small town in England. One of the Peverell brothers, Ignotus, was buried in the town’s graveyard. Godric’s Hollow was also the home of his great-aunt, Bathilda Bagshot. While in Godric’s Hollow, Grindelwald met another Wizard who lived in the town. His name was Albus Dumbledore.
A Friendship Sundered
Grindelwald and Dumbledore soon became firm friends, sharing an interest in the Deathly Hallows and other intellectual traits. For Dumbledore, this friendship became love. Grindelwald did not return his affection, but was certainly aware of it. The two soon began dreaming of a new world order, one where Wizards would rule over the Muggle world. Grindelwald wanted power above all else, while Dumbledore had a slightly different reason. His younger sister, Ariana, had been tormented by Muggle youths to the point of triggering a breakdown. Their father had been sentenced to the Wizarding prison of Azkaban for enacting revenge on the youths. Dumbledore wanted to be able to protect his loved ones from prejudice and xenophobia, and saw a benevolent Wizard-ruled society as the answer.
The pair planned for a revolution, coining slogans like “For the Greater Good.” But one thing held Dumbledore back – his family. He had been caring for the family since the death of their mother and the imprisonment of their father, and knew that he would have to bring both his brother, Aberforth, and Ariana with him. But Aberforth was worried for his brother’s ambition, and confronted the two of them. During the heated argument, Grindelwald performed the Cruciatus Curse on Aberforth, forcing Dumbledore to step in and defend his brother. A three-way duel was triggered, and a stray curse struck and killed Ariana. The Dumbledore brothers were devastated by her loss. Grindelwald fled Godric’s Hollow.
Reign of Terror
Grindelwald raised an army and began a campaign of terror across Europe. His obsession with the Deathly Hallows did not end, and eventually learned that the Elder Wand was in the possession of the wand maker Gregorovitch. Grindelwald broke into his workshop, stunned the wizard and stole the wand, becoming its master. At the height of his power, Grindelwald constructed Nurmengard, a fortress prison to hold his enemies.
While the war seemed distant to the Wizarding community in America, events in 1926 revolving around the arrival of Magizoologist Newt Scamander in the country seemed to be connected to Grindelwald’s activities. It worried MACUSA President Seraphine Picquery enough that she feared the war might spread to the USA.
A Bitter End
In 1945, events came to a head. It had long been believed that Dumbledore was the only wizard powerful enough to defeat Grindelwald, but he had hesitated to confront his former friend. Dumbledore believed that Grindelwald knew who had been responsible for the spell that had killed Ariana, and he did not want to find out the truth. But Grindelwald had to be stopped.
Eyewitnesses testified that the duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald was the greatest magical battle fought between two individuals. Grindelwald was defeated, and control of the Elder Wand passed to Dumbledore. Tried and convicted for his crimes, Grindelwald was incarcerated in Nurmengard.
Grindelwald remained imprisoned for over fifty years, until the reborn Lord Voldemort visited him, seeking the Elder Wand. After learning of its location, Voldemort killed him.
When Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was announced as a film, no one could have predicted that a film focusing on Newt Scamander’s adventures in America would tie into the story of Grindelwald’s rise to power. But the inclusion of his name in the film’s trailer shows a clear intention to mold the story of the Fantastic Beasts franchise around a turbulent time in Wizarding history. As the Fantastic Beasts film franchise expands into five films, there is a very real chance that Grindelwald will play a pivotal role through the movies. Exploring that era of Wizarding history, and the effect it has on the Wizarding World, will hopefully be as adventurous and illuminating as the original Harry Potter saga is.