Hello. Welcome back to Fantastic Secrets Behind Fantastic Beasts. I’m Susan Şipal.
Today we’re continuing our in-depth look at the magical circus coming in Fantastic Beasts 2. A circus is always an intriguing subject, and one of the main reasons is because of the fascinating people who work there. How much more so, then, in a magical one?
I covered many theories like this in my book, Fantastic Secrets Behind Fantastic Beasts, and hope you’ll check it out.
Before we get started, there’s cast news to report. Actor Derek Riddell will appear in Fantastic Beasts 2 as a character named Torquil Travers. As Travers is the last name of one of Voldemort’s Death Eaters, might we expect Torquil to be a younger version or a relative? And, if so, might he be one of Grindelwald’s new followers? We should definitely expect to see some of Grindy’s cohorts announced. And thanks to Mr. Scamander on Twitter, link below, for also giving me a heads-up about this announcement.
But new cast members are the subject for another day. Today, I thought it would be fun to try to catch a glimpse under the big tent that was teased at the end of FB1.
As presented in my prior video on the Circus Arcanus, I fully expect this troupe to be comprised of magical people performing for Muggles. In a series that, far more than Harry Potter, is set to critique the separation of two very different populations – the No-Maj and the Magical – what better way to explore the fringe where these two worlds collide than in a circus freak show of the day?
Any time you have a group of people who are marginalized and subordinated from another population, there are always some communities where the two groups interact. Usually on the fringe. A magical troupe performing for and possibly hoodwinking the No-Maj would defy MACUSA law and exist on the outskirts of either society. What a perfect place for Rowling to explore critical themes of tolerance and coexistence. Thus, I believe this magical circus will perform a starring role in not only Fantastic Beasts 2, but the whole series to come.
However, the only guide we have to this furtive look under the big top is the graphic arts team of MinaLima…a thoroughly unreliable narrator at best. Because, as they have stated in an interview, they would not reveal any clues even if they knew them. So we’ll have to rely solely on the publicity poster they designed for FB1 for any clues there may be.
Of course, we also have to consider how much information Rowling would have given to MinaLima in designing this poster. The artists have said in interviews that not only did Rowling provide key headlines for the newspapers featured in FB1, but they met with her a couple of times to ensure they had accurate information for creating the rest of their graphic work. Also, everything they created had to pass her approval. As to whether that included any hidden clues, they did not know and would not say even if they did. I’ve linked to the interview in the description below. So, much of what is in this poster could be just their own research about circus performers at the time. But a clue or two could be hidden…if you know where to look.
In the days before movies reached every town and TV every household, traveling shows were a primary source of entertainment for many people, especially those living outside big cities. And this was not limited to the United States. Many countries had traveling shows or circuses, and many of these shows traveled outside of their nation’s borders.
Nor were traveling shows limited to the circus. They could consist of acrobats and jugglers, magicians and wizards, freak shows and sideshows, zoos and rodeos…and any combination of any of these. Shows often combined or expanded and traveled together to draw larger crowds.
What I see in Circus Arcanus is a multinational troupe that combines elements of several of these shows. Thus it perfectly plays on the international movement of the films.
You'll see in the MinaLima poster that they incorporate various popular circus and freak show performers. We’re going to look at them one by one.
Because I have a ton of images to show you, none of them my own, I’ve created a Pinterest page to give credit where credit is due. Not only to the sources where I obtained these vintage images, but also to the original performers who inspired them. I’ve linked to biographies where I could find them because I don’t want us to forget that these were real people, with often tragic stories to tell.
As with any circus, there are acrobats and animals.
And a fearless lion tamer…
With the images to come, I want you to notice how closely some of the MinaLima drawings resemble their vintage counterparts. Here's an image of one of the most famous fat women, Lucy Moore, of mixed race heritage.
MinaLima also included the famous half lady Mademoiselle Gabrielle, who was born without legs.
Bearded Lady Annie Jones, who campaigned to have the word “freaks” abolished from the business.
One of the most famous two-headed girls, Millie and Christine McKoy, were born slaves in North Carolina. Once freed, Millie and Christine learned to speak five languages, dance, and sing, and even performed for Queen Victoria.
Then there are the so-called “giraffe neck” ladies from Burma, who are the Kayan of Myanmar.
And for the final lady in the circus, we also have a sword swallower.
For the men, we start off with tattooed strong man Rasmus Nielsen of Denmark.
A giant beard man, such as J. Bullesbach…
Lionel the Lion Man, whose real name was Stephan Bibrowski, and who had rare condition that covered his body in hair.
One of the most famous strong men was Eugen Sandow, a German man who is credited as the father of modern body building.
And then there is General Tom Thumb. Charles Stratton was perhaps one of the most famous circus performers P.T. Barnum ever promoted.
I’ll talk more about this mystery man in a bit, but it’s possible he represents albino performers who were quite popular, such as Tom Jack, the Ice King.
And then we come to the man who, to me, seems to be the ringmaster. But he’s not styled like any of the other ringmasters I’ve found, which we’ll also talk about in a bit.
Next we move on to the Freak Show side of the circus, starting with Infant Demonic. Grady Stiles, who went by the name of Lobster Boy, had a condition where his fingers and toes were fused together. As an adult, Stiles became an abusive alcoholic and was convicted of murdering his daughter’s fiancé. He was then later killed himself by a murderer hired by his family.
Although called Borys the Brute, this hypnotist looks similar to a man named Albani, a Swiss mentalist who was especially popular in Paris and Berlin, until World War II closed the clubs.
We also see a two-headed baby…
And Nigelle le Narcissique, known as “Homo Amphibia,” who “freakishly devours own tail whilst singing popular Gaelic folk songs.” This one, I think, may be one of Jo’s own creations.
And finally, Snake Girl, always one of the most popular attractions of any freak show. Here is Nala Damajanti, one of the more famous snake charmers from France. In my last video, we looked for clues in support of a theory developed with Suvi Holm that the Snake Girl represented here may be Merope Gaunt Riddle. What I’d like to do now is go back to certain of these characters in the MinaLima poster to seek out other possible clues.
Where I think we will find these clues, are in the deviations. As so many of MinaLima’s representations look remarkably similar to their real-life counterparts, often down to the exact same pose, then it’s possible that in the few places that are strikingly different, Rowling may, and I repeat may, be twisting them to match a character in her story.
The first curiosity I want you to notice is with the lion tamer. First off, look closely at that lion. It’s got two heads. Count them, only four legs. Now, I know we had a two-headed girl and a two-headed baby, but usually, in most Muggle circuses, you don’t get a two-headed lion. I think this is our first clue that Circus Arcanus must be magical. Then, notice how the lion tamer is speaking, the jagged green lines, no whip like other tamers. Is that an indication of a spell?
Next up is the mystery man. I labeled him as a possible albino act earlier, but it doesn’t really fit. What at first appears to be hair seems to have spokes in it, like feathers or a fan…as some acrobats used. But, it doesn’t look like he’s holding a fan. I think it may be a headdress. In fact, his forehead looks like it may be covered in a mask. To be honest, I’m completely mystified with this character and would love your input in figuring him out.
I could also find no similar match to our exotic ringmaster. It’s possible he represents a magician, as these traveling shows were also quite popular and tended to play on the exotic allure. Notice Carter the Great is The World’s Weird Wonderful Wizard!
He also has a hint of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, The Mikado, about him. I only mention this very slim possibility because The Mikado was also a story that used a foreign fantasy locale to hide current political satire. Finally, I wonder if this character could represent Skender, the owner of the wizarding circus, whom Ólafur Darri Ólafsson will play. I won’t say much about this character in this video as I intend to cover him more in the next.
Borys the Brute Hypnotist, with that name and that green stare, definitely hints to me that he’s using the Imperius Curse on unsuspecting No-Majs. Which, if so, would emphasize the outlaw nature of a magical show that performs for Muggles. And what to make of Homo Amphibia…especially that devouring its own tail bit? Is this Rowling’s twist on the ouroboros…which is a snake, worm, dragon, or even sometimes a phoenix eating its tail. Shown in either a circle or infinity loop, the ouroboros symbolizes many things, including rebirth, the eternal cycle of time, and even, get this, to alchemists, the Philosopher’s Stone. I find the possible hint of the ouroboros especially intriguing because of the shape that large snake is taking around Snake Girl. Infinity. But, as all this relates to another video I’m working on, I’ll hold off going too deep for now.
But the ouroboros brings us back to Snake Girl, who is our last and still most compelling mystery character. When Claudia Kim’s casting was first revealed as a “featured attraction” in the magical circus, most everyone, including myself, jumped to the conclusion that she would be Snake Girl, and justifiably so. But perhaps that theory was just a bit too…convenient.
If we assume for a moment, and that's a big assumption, that Suvi and I are correct in my last video about Merope Gaunt being the Snake Girl, she would still be dead before the main action of Fantastic Beasts 2 takes place. So, either a new Snake Girl would need to be found, as the act generally is a very popular one, or a different act brought in to replace hers.
Perhaps Kim is simply the new Snake Girl. Or, perhaps her character’s name was left unrevealed not because it would tell us that she was the Snake Girl, but because it would hint that she was not.
Before discussing another possible act for Kim, I’d like to connect you with a tidbit David Yates tossed out months ago, even before the official release of FB1. The Leaky Cauldron reported from an interview that Yates said FB 2 would “feature” a new creature, one from China. Of course, that got all fandom scurrying to locate this new beast, and the most likely candidate is a phoenix. Fans have long wanted to see how Dumbledore obtained Fawkes, and others have theorized quite well that Fawkes must have come from Newt.
But…why have a magical circus if you cannot introduce a new magical beast? So, I believe the new beast could very well be a phoenix, but it will come by way of Claudia Kim’s character in the magical circus.
In searching over many of these vintage images of circus performers, one I saw quite frequently was the Bird Girl. There were various acts like this across the US and Europe. You already know where I’m going, don’t you? Don't you think a phoenix would make quite an impressive circus act? He could appear and disappear as if by magic. He could sing a beautiful haunting tune that would leave the audience feeling healed…and then rush to tell all their friends to come and lay down their own money to see it.
However, if Kim did have a phoenix act, it would not be with Fawkes. Rowling stated in a 2005 interview that Fawkes never belonged to another human before Dumbledore. So I’m proposing that this would be a different phoenix, one more fitting with Chinese tradition, the fenghuang. The fenghuang’s mythology is quite complicated, but the points I’d like to highlight are that it nests among the highest mountaintops, that it symbolizes peace and harmony, and yin and yang, that it’s only loyal to those who are “without darkness and corruption,” and that its feathers are of the five primary colors which are said to represent many things, including Confucius’ five virtues.
As five is such a key theme for Fantastic Beasts, which I’ve got another series of videos on, I was especially fascinated to see all the symbolism of five related to this bird. If I’m right about this theory, I believe Kim’s role will be a pivotal one in the series. I do think that Dumbledore’s Fawkes will be introduced by way of this character and her phoenix, but exactly how will have to also be the subject of a future video.
One last little note about circus acts…I also came across lots of fortune tellers and psychics while hunting out these images. Wouldn’t you love to see Rowling give another spin to divinations?
What do you think? Is it possible that a phoenix would allow itself to be used in a bird act if it were very loyal to the witch? Please share your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to subscribe so you won’t miss my next and, I think, last video of this series, which will explore what life might be like for Credence inside one of these traveling shows (if it occurs, of course), and the character of Skender. Remember to check out my Pinterest page, link below, for credits and more details on the images shown. Also, don’t forget to check out my Fantastic Secrets Behind Fantastic Beasts at Amazon or your local bookseller.