Despite the Johnny Depp of it all, I’m still excited to see Grindelwald as a character in the Fantastic Beasts sequels and to see if they expand on the relationship between him and a young Dumbledore. Part of Grindelwald’s depth comes from their relationship; the two were extremely close and basically planned to take over the world together until a fight between Grindelwald, Dumbledore, and Dumbledore’s brother ended tragically in Dumbledore’s sister’s death. This caused a rift between the two, and Grindelwald struck out on his own, while Dumbledore attempted to delay his confrontation with Grindelwald after Grindelwald started to seize power in Europe.
I previously believed that Albus and Gellert were confirmed to have been in a relationship, and so when I heard that Albus’s sexuality would be explored in future Fantastic Beasts films, I assumed that would include their relationship. But while researching this post, I discovered that J.K. Rowling never believed that Grindelwald reciprocated Dumbledore’s feelings, and in my opinion, this really takes away from the complexity of the character. Furthermore, if their relationship became a major focus in the movies, it would be huge. Queer main characters whose relationship is at the forefront of the story and not playing second fiddle to the main straight couple would be major representation.
I loved the idea that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were in love with each other and were torn apart through tragedy and eventually differing ideologies. In this idea, Dumbledore, due to his lingering feelings of love, avoided facing Grindelwald even though he knew he was the only one who could stop him, and Grindelwald essentially repented after being confronted by Dumbledore, remaining locked away in his own prison for years and even choosing death at Voldemort’s hands rather than betraying the man he loves. That’s a brilliant and complex story that queer narratives rarely get and I was excited to see it all play out. But alas, J.K. Rowling revealed in an interview that Grindelwald was aware of Dumbledore’s feelings but was just manipulating him. She said:
“I think he was a user and a narcissist and I think someone like that would use it, would use the infatuation. I don’t think that he would reciprocate in that way, although he would be as dazzled by Dumbledore as Dumbledore was by him, because he would see in Dumbledore, ‘My God, I never knew there was someone as brilliant as me, as talented as me, as powerful as me. Together, we are unstoppable!’ So I think he would take anything from Dumbledore to have him on his side.”
So according to her, Grindelwald is not gay or interested in Dumbledore romantically, but just played into his feelings because he wanted to use Dumbledore in his world domination plans. Ugh! Really? No! I want a villain who isn’t just mustache-twirling evil. The interesting thing about Grindelwald is that he thinks he is right. He doesn’t hate Muggles and Muggleborns as much as Voldemort did. Voldemort wanted to kill and enslave Muggles. Grindelwald seems to just want to make them second class citizens for their own good. I’m not arguing that that makes him good; just saying. It’s really unclear if Grindelwald ever had issues against Muggleborn or half-blood wizards, as generally he seems more pro-wizard and less concerned with blood status than Voldemort from what little we know of him in the books. He is certainly hugely prejudiced, but he seems to truly believe that having wizards in power and subjugating Muggles is for everyone’s “greater good”. He’s a terrifying idealist who is willing to kill people to make what he thinks is best happen. That’s what makes him so scary. In Grindelwald’s mind, he is the hero of this story and that is very explicitly tied to his relationship with Dumbledore.
In the books, most of the wizarding world believed that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had some epic duel that Grindelwald eventually lost. However, in the last book we learn that that might not be the real story when Rita Skeeter publishes a book after Dumbledore’s death called The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore. While normally one could dismiss Skeeter since she tends to sensationalize things, things become more difficult when it’s discovered that one of Skeeter’s sources, Bathilda Bagshot, told Skeeter under Veritaserum about Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Bagshot was a famous wizarding historian, a close friend of the Dumbledore family, and Grindelwald’s great-aunt, so she knew these two really well. And it’s through Skeeter’s correspondence with Bagshot that she begins to wonder if Dumbledore ever actually fought Grindelwald.
‘Oh, now, I’m glad you mentioned Grindelwald,’ says Skeeter, with a tantalising smile. ‘I’m afraid those who go dewy-eyed over Dumbledore’s spectacular victory must brace themselves for a bombshell – or perhaps a Dungbomb. Very dirty business indeed. All I’ll say is, don’t be sure that there really was the spectacular duel of legend. After they’ve read my book, people may be forced to conclude that Grindelwald simply conjured a white handkerchief from the end of his wand and came quietly!’
This part of the story made me really believe that Grindelwald and Dumbledore never had some epic battle. Rather, I think when Dumbledore went to fight him, Dumbledore basically told Grindelwald that if he wanted to continue on his current path that he would have to kill him. Grindelwald didn’t want to fight Dumbledore and loved him too much to kill him, and so he surrendered and basically went quietly as Rita Skeeter implies. It would explain why Dumbledore understands and trusts the power of love so much in the Harry Potter books, and why Grindelwald sasses Voldemort when Voldemort comes to him for the Elder Wand, telling him that he basically doesn’t understand anything. When Dumbledore confronts him, this is the moment when Grindelwald realizes that he isn’t the hero of the story and that he’s made a huge mistake. It’s such a profound story of love and redemption that would be sorely lacking if Grindelwald actually doesn’t return Dumbledore’s affections.
Now you might be thinking that even if they are just really close friends, this same narrative can play out, and maybe it can, but honestly then it becomes a little cliché. Granted, having romantic love change a person is cliché already, but that kind of storyline has never been presented in a major Hollywood movie about two queer characters. So even if it’s cliché for a straight relationship, it’s not a cliché that queer people have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Meanwhile, if they are just friends, this narrative immediately becomes something we have seen before, especially in genre fiction. We have Anakin and Obi-Wan, Magneto and Professor X, Superman and Lex Luthor—I could go on and on. We already have a ton of stories like these, and with how much Dumbledore’s love for Grindelwald informs his character, why not let that same love inform Grindelwald’s character? It certainly makes their relationship more compelling to me, as a queer woman, and I’m sure others must feel the same way.
Ultimately, having this gay romance be a part of the main focus of the Fantastic Beasts sequels would not only be great representation, but it would also add some amazing character development. There is no downside. So I’m begging J.K. Rowling here, if I have to suffer through Johnny Depp, can I at least get some gay romance to make it more palatable?