“Educated at Durmstrang, a school famous even then for its unfortunate tolerance of the Dark Arts, Grindelwald showed himself quite as precociously brilliant as Dumbledore. Rather than channel his abilities into the attainment of awards and prizes, however, Gellert Grindelwald devoted himself to other pursuits…”—The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore
Before Lord Voldemort, the most dangerous Dark Wizard in the history of magic was Gellert Grindelwald. Advocating for the domination of Muggles by the wizarding population, he committed many acts of terror to achieve his ambitions. While he only makes a brief appearance in the Harry Potter series, he has become the chief antagonist for the Fantastic Beasts spinoff series written by J.K. Rowling herself. Before we get all the films in this new series, what do we really know about Grindelwald? What sorts of things can we expect to be built upon with the new movies? Find out more below!
Gellert Grindelwald Facts
24. I’ve Always Been Here!
It turns out that Grindelwald was name-dropped in the very first Harry Potter book. While it’s just a brief mention, he is named when Harry Potter has a Chocolate Frog and reads the card that comes attached to it. The card, describing Albus Dumbledore, hints at Dumbledore’s legendary duel with Grindelwald, which wasn’t dealt with more completely until six books later. Now that’s what we call foreshadowing.
23. Shared Credit
Three actors have played Grindelwald so far on screen. In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Michael Byrne portrayed Grindelwald as a very old man, while Jamie Campbell Bower portrayed him as a young man. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp is playing Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts movies.
22. Senior Citizen
According to the books’ canon, Grindelwald was born in 1883 and died in 1998, making him around 115 years old.
21. Recycled Imagery
Grindelwald adopted a special symbol to be his personal coat of arms, as it were. The symbol is represented by a circle within a triangle, which also contains a line down the middle of the triangle. Fans of Harry Potter will know that this is the sign of the Deathly Hallows, three magical objects that supposedly make the possessor of all three the “Master of Death.”
20. Get Out!
Grindelwald was a seriously dark wizard. How dark, you might be asking? It turns out that Grindelwald was actually expelled from Durmstrang Institute, the wizarding school in the North. It also turns out that his magical experimentation was so twisted that Durmstrang couldn’t handle it and got rid of him. Keep in mind that this is a school that actively encourages a study of the Dark Arts, and was later run by one of Lord Voldemort’s supporters. Yet Grindelwald was too extreme, even for them.
19. Circumstances of Introduction
Grindelwald first met Dumbledore when the two of them were teenagers. Dumbledore had come home to Godric’s Hollow while Grindelwald was staying in England for a time with his great-aunt Bathilda Bagshot.
18. Opposites Attract
In an astonishing twist, Jamie Campbell Bower, who played the young Grindelwald in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film adaptations, was engaged to actress Bonnie Wright, who played Ginny Weasley! Sadly, this couple wasn’t meant to be; they broke up in 2012.
17. Nothing Important
While he was attending the premiere for his new film Alice Through the Looking Glass, it was noted that Johnny Depp was sporting a strange hairdo. Depp brushed it off as being done for a “little part” he’d recently completed for a film that he didn’t name. It turned out that film was the first of the Fantastic Beasts series.
16. What Strange Eyes You Have!
One bit of inconsistency in the portrayal of Grindelwald is his eye color. The screenplay for the first Fantastic Beasts film describes him as being blue-eyed, but in the final film, Grindelwald is depicted as having heterochromia iridium (one eye light-colored, the other dark). What’s confusing is that Grindelwald doesn’t seem to have this condition in his depictions in the Harry Potter series. One explanation offered is that Grindelwald’s eyes changed when he possessed the Elder Wand, but given that Dumbledore didn’t suffer that, it seems to be a blooper more than anything else.
15. Harry Potter Connections
Before he played the elderly Grindelwald, Michael Byrne had appeared in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade alongside British actor Julian Glover. For those of you not sure who that is, Glover provided the voice of Hagrid’s former pet spider, Aragog, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
14. Seeking Iggy’s Grave
Grindelwald had ulterior motives for going to Godric’s Hollow, as this was where Ignotus Peverell had been buried. Ignotus was one of the three brothers who were credited with being the first owners of the Deathly Hallows. In the case of Ignotus, he was the owner of the Invisibility Cloak.
13. Merry-Faced Thief
Grindelwald ultimately got his hands on the Elder Wand, one of the Deathly Hallows, when he stole it from the wandmaker known as Gregorovitch. This greatly expanded his powers and abilities, leading him to become a feared dark wizard.
12. What Goes Around Comes Around
One of Grindelwald’s actions during his reign of terror was to build the wizard prison Nurmengard for his enemies. After he was defeated, he became its prisoner. Oh, the irony.
11. Name Drop
Thanks to the upcoming movie Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Grindelwald becomes the second character in the Harry Potter franchise to be explicitly named in a title of a book or movie in the franchise (the first one being Harry Potter himself, with honorable mentions to Sirius Black’s Prisoner of Azkaban and Snape’s Half-Blood Prince).
10. Small Edit
Allegedly, there was a line in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince where Dumbledore reflects on a lady for whom he’d had amorous feelings. J.K. Rowling could look at the script before filming and left a note on her copy saying that Dumbledore was actually gay (she later clarified that his feelings had been for Grindelwald). To be frank, it might have been a bit more obvious if she’d actually mentioned Dumbledore’s sexual orientation in the books, just saying.
9. Art vs. Life
The casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald came out around the same time as reports that he had been physically and emotionally abusive towards his ex-wife, Amber Heard. This provoked a negative backlash from many fans. Director David Yates and JK Rowling both addressed the issue, maintaining that despite the reports, Depp would continue to play Grindelwald, citing his having been cast before the allegations came out and describing Depp as “a real artist” whose talent had justified his casting.
8. Magic Is Might
Grindelwald’s duel with Dumbledore took place in 1945, and, according to Rowling, that is no coincidence. Grindelwald’s ideas were intentionally designed to be similar to Adolf Hitler’s visions. Safe to say we can expect some very interesting films on the horizon in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
7. Someone’s Done Their Homework!
There are several meanings to take from Grindelwald’s surname. It sounds similar to the word “grindill,” which is an Old Norse term for “storm.” Another similar-sounding word is the Middle English word “grindel,” which can be translated to “angry.” Finally, there’s the Old English word “grindan,” which could mean “to grind,” but could also describe someone who grinds up, or rather destroys, others.
6. Irredeemable Villain?
Although the Harry Potter films portray Grindelwald willingly telling Lord Voldemort where to find the Elder Wand, this wasn’t the case in the books. In what is arguably one of the more underrated moments in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the aging, emaciated Grindelwald mocks Voldemort’s quest for the Elder Wand, refusing to help him and daring Voldemort to kill him. This ties in with a scene where Dumbledore reflects that Grindelwald expressed remorse for his crimes during his final years.
5. I Like Your Thinking!
It’s not hinted at much in the books, but Grindelwald managed to turn a 17-year-old Dumbledore onto the idea of wizards ruling Muggles for the greater good. After Dumbledore graduated from Hogwarts, he had to go back to his home and look after his sister, Ariana. Going from Hogwarts to be a stay-at-home caretaker did nothing to encourage Dumbledore’s mind—until he met Grindelwald. Their equally gifted minds rejoiced at meeting each other, and Dumbledore was only too receptive to ideas that he later found appalling and evil.
4. Things Fall Apart
Grindelwald’s schemes with Albus Dumbledore led to a confrontation between himself and Dumbledore’s brother, Aberforth. Aberforth accused Albus of neglecting his family, and Grindelwald reacted with violence when his plans were blocked. A duel took place, with Grindelwald using the Cruciatus Curse on Aberforth, even as Albus intervened. During the scuffle, someone’s spell went awry and killed Albus’ sister Ariana. Grindelwald fled England immediately, leaving Albus paralyzed with guilt over which person’s spell might have killed his sister.
3. Unlikely Passions
When J.K. Rowling hosted a book reading in Carnegie Hall in 2007, she revealed that Dumbledore hadn’t just been convinced by Grindelwald’s ideology when they were teenagers, he’d fallen completely in love with Grindelwald. Rowling even compared Dumbledore’s feelings for Grindelwald with Bellatrix Lestrange’s feelings for Lord Voldemort.
2. Missed Opportunity
Sadly, for those of us who would love to see this kind of relationship, Rowling has maintained that Dumbledore’s passion for Grindelwald was one-way. Grindelwald never reciprocated Dumbledore’s feelings, dooming their possibly complex and interesting relationship to fanfiction stories.
1. Time to Fight
Grindelwald’s rise to power was aided by the refusal of Albus Dumbledore to face him directly. This was due to their shared past, but also Dumbledore’s fear that Grindelwald knew which of them had killed Ariana, and he was terrified of what the answer to that question might be. Ultimately, though, Dumbledore did go and face Grindelwald, resulting in a duel that became the stuff of legends, and ended with him triumphant, taking the Elder Wand for himself, and Grindelwald being imprisoned.