Newt Scamander, easily my favorite big-screen hero of 2016, is something we don’t see very often. He’s a ‘straight-up good guy’ whom people don’t happen to like very often, through no real fault of his own. On the surface he seems like a very simple, almost self-absorbed kind of guy, but Newt is a highly complex and endearing individual once you get to know him. Unlike Michael, whose negative traits are the natural result of his positive ones, Newt’s negative traits are rather paradoxical and ironic compared to his positive ones.
He’s painfully awkward around other people, but completely at home with his fantastic beasts. Although it’s not something he really talks about, we get the feeling that – much like Hagrid – he’s used to being misunderstood by people, which has taught him that there is more understanding to be found among magical creatures. That isn’t to say he doesn’t like people – he likes them very much, but he finds it difficult to really connect with them. In fact he bears many similarities to Hagrid – they were both expelled from Hogwarts (although Dumbledore’s view of them remains extremely high) for endangering human life. They’re both outsiders, more comfortable with magical fauna than they are with other people.
He is very selfless, but extremely self-conscious. He’s fully aware of the fact he isn’t like other people. At one point in the story he turns to his new acquaintance, Kowalski, and asks, “People like you, don’t they, Mr. Kowalski?” Kowalski says, “I’m sure people like you, too,” to which Newt matter-of-factly replies, “Not really. I annoy people.” He’s blunt about his faults, but we see his desire to fit in, to connect with people the way Kowalski does.
He’s extraordinarily clever and quick-thinking, but equally absent-minded. He whisks Kowalski out of danger just in time, then forgets to wipe his memory. He tends to view things very scientifically and analytically, from people and conversations to situations. He is very much ‘on the outside looking in,’ as if the world is a textbook.
He’s extremely shy, but also extremely honest; willing to call things as he sees them. Before the MCUSA council, when asked if he knows anything about the American wizarding community, he bluntly replies, “I do know a few things, actually. I know you have rather backwards laws about relations with non-magic people. That you’re not meant to befriend them, that you can’t marry them, which seems mildly absurd to me.” He also remarks, “New York is considerably more interesting than I expected.” He remains polite, using words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ even when he’s obviously annoyed or disgruntled.
We later discover that much of his mistrust and difficulty with other people comes from a painful relationship he once had with Leta LeStrange, a fellow Hogwarts classmate. Reading his mind, Queenie tells him, “She was a taker. You need a giver.”
‘Giver’ is an apt description of Newt. He’s made a long sea voyage in order to return his Thunderbird back to the American plains where it belongs. He’s willing to give everything he has in order to do the right thing, often risking his safety and his life without a second thought. He cares about doing the right thing – although really, he just cares, and he cares very much.
Over the course of the story, we see his care shift. We see his once narrower focus – he cares about his fantastic beasts, and that’s all he feels comfortable caring about – widen. We see him begin to care about other people he’s met. He cares enormously for Kowalski, he cares enormously for Tina Goldstein and even her sister, Queenie.
In the beginning of the movie, he tells Kowalski, “We’re going to recapture my creatures before they get hurt. They’re currently in alien terrain, surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet – humans.” At the end of the story, when Kowalski asks Newt why he let him stick around, Newt tells him simply, “Because you’re my friend.” And a friend is something which Newt hasn’t had in a long time – and, indeed, may have stopped desiring for a while. We even see Newt make conscious effort to further his relationship with Tina at the end – just about to board his ship back to England, he rushes back to ask if she wouldn’t mind him delivering a copy of his book in person.
It’s a seemingly small thing, but for the Newt we’ve seen, it’s a huge step forward and speaks enormously for his growth. We had an endearing, quirky hero at the beginning of the movie, but we were allowed to see him change and grow for the better, softening and opening up to new people and new possibilities.
Note: I want to add that the screenplay, now one of my favorite books in my personal library, gives even more depth and insight to Newt’s character. We see the way he expects others to be as fascinated by his magical creatures as he is, we see just how much he wants to other people to understand him.