Features

Why Newt Scamander is a different kind of hero

When Newt Scamander and his case of magical creatures landed on American soil in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, he didn’t just usher in a brand-new film series for the Wizarding World, but he also introduced a new breed of hero.

Magizoologist Newt Scamander next to an array of Christmas presents
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Like an amalgamation of the ‘Golden Trio’ — Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley — Newt is a wizard brimming with brains, heart and courage. Above everything else, however, is his unwavering kindness; from the beasts he looks after to the Obscurial Credence, Newt’s affinity for all creatures and his care for their wellbeing is at the heart of his character.

J.K. Rowling described Newt as an outsider. ‘My heroes are always people who feel themselves to be set apart, stigmatised or othered’, she explained. ‘That’s at the heart of most of what I write, and it’s certainly at the heart of [Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them].’ It’s certainly the impression of Newt we have when he takes those first steps off the boat and enters New York. Not only is he an Englishman in America, but the ways of the wizarding worlds in the UK and in the USA are very different.

His outsider status, though, extends beyond being a newcomer in the Big Apple. Newt’s relationships with his fantastic beasts, it could be argued, takes precedence over his relationships with other human beings. It’s evident, for example, when he eagerly goes in search for the Erumpent, despite Tina and Queenie’s hospitality. His own safety is also secondary, too. While he’s beginning to understand that in New York the use of magic is dangerous, he understands that the escaped creatures he’s brought with him in his case are at greater risk — as he explained to Jacob Kowalski: ‘They're currently in alien terrain surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet... Humans.’

Newt Scamander is reunited with his magical suitcase after Jacob mistakenly swapped it with his own
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

That’s not to say that Newt lacks empathy for human beings. In fact, unlike the twisted mentality of Gellert Grindelwald and his followers, Newt’s beliefs about the power of Muggles mirrors a certain Albus Dumbledore. Muggles, or No-Majs depending on which side of the pond you preside, aren’t to be looked down upon and, rather progressively, Newt doesn’t subscribe to the notion that non-magical and magical worlds should necessarily be as separatist as they are in America. His friendship with Jacob and the way that he treats him as an equal is a rare thing for a wizard. Instead of seeing their differences and shying away from them, Newt welcomes Jacob into his world without a second thought.

But while Newt’s heroism in Fantastic Beasts stems from his relationships with his creatures, there’s also his delicate and understated approach to saving the day, too. Rather than attempting to thwart and destroy the Obscurus, Newt uses kindness to attempt to help Credence; he knows that the might of magic isn’t necessarily the best course of action. Rather than go in wand raised, Newt uses his humanity to connect with the Obscurial, softly talking Credence down with a genuine wish to protect him.

In fact, Newt is resistant to any sort of violence, instead opting to use his knowledge and a cauldron’s worth of logic to solve the problems that are at hand. He’s smart enough to figure out that instead of rounding up the entire non-magical population of New York, he can take a natural approach. He not only uses the venom from the Swooping Evil, but also frees Frank the Thunderbird to help the people of New York forget the violence and destruction caused by Graves and the Obscurus.

Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander in his Hufflepuff scarf, wiith MACUSA employee Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

In true Hufflepuff style, Newt’s approach to heroism is understated. Unlike the grandeur or bravado of a Gryffindor, he swoops in under the radar, an expert in his field, determined to not only do the right thing but also ensure that there’s minimal collateral damage. There’s not a smidge of arrogance or smugness when he saves the day, either. His awkwardness around humans might have something to do with this, but it also doesn’t seem like it’s in his nature. Even though he’s out here saving the world, it doesn’t feel like Newt is ever searching for glory, or even aware that it’s something that his actions could bring about. He doesn’t expect any recognition after he saves New York and uncovers the fact that Graves was secretly Grindelwald all along. Adorably, he even struggles to tell Tina that he’d like to see her again.

It’s this meekness, as well as his empathetic quality, that Dumbledore clearly sees and why, it seems, he asks him to become involved in stopping Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. As he says, ‘Do you know why I admire you, Newt? You do not seek power. You simply ask: is the thing right?’

Newt, however, is more than just his resolute moral compass. His underdog status makes his heroic nature unexpected. Unlike the traditional heroes, he presents a kind of masculinity that’s not afraid to show weakness or vulnerability. He even lacks the usual sort of charisma exhibited by the great witches and wizards – he’s inept at public speaking and, while competent, isn’t a wizard as celebrated as Dumbledore. He’s not afraid of emotions, either, and while he might struggle to express himself with other human beings, he’s acutely aware of how those around him, both human and animal, are feeling. If they’re struggling, he attempts to make them feel better.

Magizoologist Newt Scamander cautiously emerges from a trapdoor in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd. ™ Warner Bros.

Newt Scamander subverts everything we’ve come to expect from our heroes. Rather than relying on brute strength and emotional dissonance to save the day, his mixture of sensitivity, intelligence, kindness and his empathetic nature proves that these things aren’t a weakness when it comes to tackling suffering and the darkness the world can throw at you. His honesty and vulnerability will hopefully encourage more people to embrace these qualities, too. After all, there are all sorts of ways to be a hero.