Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Characters/Gellert Grindelwald< Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter | Characters
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Gellert Grindelwald was the most terrible Dark Wizard to exist before Lord Voldemort came to prominence.
Role in the BooksEdit
Grindelwald is mentioned briefly on the back of Albus Dumbledore's Chocolate Frog card as the Dark Wizard Dumbledore defeated in 1945.
Rita Skeeter's tell-all book about Albus Dumbledore reveals that when young Albus was about 17 years of age, Gellert Grindelwald, also about 17, came to Godric's Hollow to live with his great-aunt Bathilda Bagshot. He had been expelled from Durmstrang for near-fatal attacks on other students. Dumbledore and Grindelwald become close friends, and were apparently plotting to enforce wizard rule over Muggles, always for the Muggles' own good, of course. Harry Potter, seeing Voldemort's memory of the wand maker Gregorovitch and finding Grindelwald's picture in Skeeter's book, realizes that he is the thief who stole The Elder Wand from Gregorovitch. It is learned that Grindelwald was still alive, though imprisoned in the highest tower in Nurmengard, the prison Grindelwald himself built to hold those who opposed him. Voldemort successfully hunted him down there, although Grindelwald lied to Voldemort, claiming never to have had the Elder Wand. Voldemort casts the Killing Curse in rage.
Both Dumbledore and Grindelwald were seeking the Deathly Hallows, which would have made them masters of death. Grindelwald had actually adopted the Deathly Hallows symbol for his organization. When their plan was derailed by Aberforth Dumbledore, a fight broke out, resulting in Aberforth and Albus' sister, Ariana, being killed. Grindelwald immediately fled Godric's Hollow, possibly fearing that this tragedy would also be laid at his feet. After stealing the Elder Wand from Gregorovitch, he used its power to begin his conquest of Europe. He was eventually defeated by Dumbledore, who stated it would have been "too shameful" for him to delay taking action any longer.
Grindelwald was described as being a brilliant and ambitious individual. He was highly intelligent and his magical skills were comparable to those of Albus Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort. He was considered to be the most powerful Dark wizard of all time until the rise of Voldemort a generation later.
One notable aspect is that he showed no fear, and was willing to lie to Lord Voldemort despite being weak and wandless, and despite the fact that Voldemort is the only Dark wizard ever considered to be more powerful than himself. Unlike Voldemort, Grindelwald does not seem to have been afraid of death, even welcoming it when Voldemort threatens him.
It's likely that he was skilled in occlumency, as he chose to lie to Voldemort despite the latter being an accomplished legilimens. We don't know how successful he was at blocking Voldemort's legilimency, as Voldemort did somehow determine that the Elder Wand had been claimed by Dumbledore. The story does not show whether Voldemort retrieved that information from Grindelwald, from some other source, or simply guessed at it.
Grindelwald was vain, arrogant, narcissistic, cruel and believed himself to be superior to all other wizards. He developed an insatiable lust for power and was easily drawn to Dark magic to obtain his perverted goals. After learning about the three Deathly Hallows, he developed an obsessive desire to possess them, especially the Elder Wand, believing they would help him conquer the Wizarding realm, as well as master death.
Relationships with Other CharactersEdit
Grindelwald developed a close, intense, but short-lived, friendship with Albus Dumbledore when the two were teenagers. The relationship ended abruptly, leaving many unanswered questions as to why it suddenly collapsed.
Grindelwald had been expelled from Durmstrang, apparently for practicing Dark magic. It is possible that he had followers at Durmstrang, much as Tom Riddle had at Hogwarts, but apart from his relationship with Dumbledore, it is uncertain if he had any real friends at all.
Though he stayed with his great-aunt, Bathilda Bagshot, after being expelled from Durmstrang, Bagshot's memories as published in Rita Skeeter's book lead us to believe that Bathilda was not in his confidence. She apparently had no idea what he was planning with Dumbledore.
Unlike the other characters Voldemort interrogated for the whereabouts of the Elder Wand, Grindelwald showed no fear of the Dark Lord. Grindelwald further taunted Voldemort by telling him that he welcomed death and that Voldemort would never gain the power of the Elder Wand.
In order to have achieved the fame that is accorded him, it is necessary for Dumbledore to have done something that had major repercussions in the Wizarding world. Otherwise, why would his being Hogwarts' headmaster have garnered that much acclaim? Even with Hogwarts being the only major school in England, and a leading school in Europe as a whole, it is unlikely that the headmaster would have a direct share in the school's glory. Headmasters, like teachers, generally have limited direct influence, no matter how much their students accomplish. Dumbledore, however, had apparently been offered the post of Minister for Magic, which he declined, and he has had many other honours bestowed upon him, not least of which (in his opinion) is his selection as one of the wizards appearing on Chocolate Frog cards. A headmaster is not typically singled out as "possibly the best wizard in our lifetime." Granted, Dumbledore was academically brilliant, as revealed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but it seems that his defeating Grindelwald is what crystallized his ascendancy in the Wizarding public's collective minds. Thus Grindelwald provides a necessary foil to Dumbledore in his younger days. When their epic battle took place in 1945, Dumbledore would have been 64-years-old and in the prime of his powers. Grindelwald was, possibly, a little younger; he had been expelled from Durmstrang and took refuge at his aunt's home the summer after Dumbledore's graduation.
We should note that while the Elder Wand is by reputation undefeatable in a duel, it has apparently changed hands many times by force, including murder. In The Tale of the Three Brothers, we see that the very first holder of the wand was murdered in his sleep. And there are many other circumstances where the wand could be defeated; we see one such for ourselves, where the disarmament charm, cast by Draco Malfoy, prevents Dumbledore's use of the wand. We don't know the circumstances of the actual duel between Dumbledore and Grindelwald; despite teasers that we hear in an interview with Rita Skeeter, the chapter of her book dealing with that duel does not form a part of Harry's story. But we can guess that Grindelwald's earlier friendship with Dumbledore, though it would have been almost a half century before, could well have hindered his ability to duel.
On a side note, there is a resort town in Switzerland, just north of the Eiger, named Grindelwald, as well as a village with that name in Tasmania, Australia. It is unknown whether either town was the inspiration for this character's name.
The young Dumbledore was blinded to Grindelwald's insatiable power-hungry drive to become a dictator. Dumbledore believed that the ultimate goal was to make the world safe for people like his sister Ariana to exist; he believed that Muggles living under benevolent wizard rule would have made it possible for wizard offspring and Muggle children to co-exist. A simple test of one's personality is which specific Hallow they believe is the most valuable, and why. Grindelwald clearly believed the Elder Wand, unbeatable in a duel, was superior, with the Resurrection Stone running second. Albus felt the Resurrection Stone was more important. To Grindelwald, the Resurrection Stone was a means to raise an army of Inferi; to Albus, it would have restored his lost family. Neither had much interest in the Invisibility Cloak, though Dumbledore considered it as a possible means to hide his sister's condition. Why did Dumbledore fail to see that Grindelwald was choosing the evil path to power? Dumbledore's deep attraction for Grindelwald may have caused him, initially, to overlook his friend's flaws. Also, his own pride in his superior intellect and extraordinary magical abilities may also have deluded him into believing that he and Grindelwald knew what was best for the Wizarding world. With the foolishness of youth, he perhaps thought he could turn Grindelwald to his own, somewhat more gentle ends.
It was this episode with Grindelwald, and his sister Ariana's resulting death, that led Dumbledore to believe that he could never trust himself with power, too tempted to misuse it if he were ever in a high-level position such as Minister for Magic. Surprisingly, this is a key plot point in the story. Would Dumbledore have had the nerve to oppose the Minister for Magic, as he did to Cornelius Fudge at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, had he not been a strong enough wizard to take that post himself? And if he was that strong, what conceivable reason would there be for his declining the Minister post? This is unanswered, though, years later, Harry needed someone this powerful to train him, and to defend him from the Ministry, and it would have been impossible for Harry to have been trained by a Minister for Magic.