|Well... what can go wrong?|
So Pottermore released things again. We have a wonderful release of writings by JK Rowling on North American Wizardry. After the break we have a quick summary of what was in the posts, as well as some reaction. If you want to get straight to the reaction, please just scroll down.
Day one we got the earlier history, with Native Americans having made limited contact with European witches and wizards, as well as the foundation of a few bits of magic. Interestingly Jo does take a stab at Native American myth in passing with her description of Skin Walkers as essentially animagi with a bad reputation. To those who don’t know the myth, the gist is actually closer to something like in the warlock’s hairy heart, where an individual commits a tabooed act (like sacrificing family members) to gain the ability to take on animal form. Now, we know in the wizarding world animagi are rare, but the act isn’t akin to the dark arts. (I have a few odd remarks for Rowling later).
Furthermore we get another group that seems to be skilled in wandless magic, as she discusses the Native American’s skill for potions, and what would essentially be Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures (or whatever animal magic might be… and again, more on this later).
So on day two, we have Salem, which I’ve posted a theory on before and I have to say I was well, fairly off. First I attributed much of the noxious activity to nogtails, and assumed that the witch hunters would more likely than not be muggles… well “no-maj”es (what is the plural of no-maj?). But it was the result of “scourers” who were witches and wizards that had elected to sell-out their counterparts and profit off of the ensuing activities (one can imagine that a scourer would rat out someone well-off, and confiscate their things, or attempt to do so). So what is the result? Well it was something of a two-fer. First, witches and wizards banded together and sentenced the scourers, which ended with a “curse” by them… in the form of their children, who they raised to be effectively the Dursleys of America. Essentially, these children have a strong belief in magic, and are raised to want to stomp it out.
The second is the creation of the MACUSA. And I’ll comment on this later…. (if you have a bad feeling, well there’s a reason for that). With the creation of the MACUSA, we had the eventual outing of Dorcas Twintrees on day three and a massive violation of the Statute of Secrecy, which lead to a policy of segregation by witches and wizards, resulting in the more concealed nature of the wizarding population. So essentially not only does the wizarding community have to deal with an overly-alert muggle-er-no-maj population, but a rather pretty, but dim, girl made it more frustrating.
Following this, we have the implementation of Rapport's Law, from the year 1790 and onward to 1920, where it was roughly described on day four that the wizarding community was not going along with prohibition and that such interactions were limited, with a prohibition on marrying outside of magic. Oh and more wand cores, wand makers, and a wand registration... more than you can shake a wand at.
So, time to begin addressing the elephants in the room. Rowling does NOT know American history well. I do not think after reading this anyone would say that she knows it well. I can’t state this enough. There’s a lot Rowling does well, but it's now painfully American history isn’t her strong suit. Magical Congress of the United States of America shouldn’t have been called that. The 1690s were far, far removed from the Revolutionary War, and even there the States were not “The United States of America” till approximately 1788. So the United States were not really a “thing” till that point... and we're roughly a hundred years early on it. I can honestly accept that the ministry was not directly governing the new witches and wizards in the then-colonies, but I can honestly believe more of a "Confederacy of the American Territories" than anything stating the "United States." Maybe this was a predecessor, and she's just using the current name, but it could have been described in a line, and I'm honestly a bit saddened at it.
Next let’s discuss Salem. Not many people actually died, during the event and Rowling is making it into a much bigger matter than it actually was. Rather, more emphasis should be given into detailing the "trafficking" of their magical brethren. It may lead to uncomfortable situations, but the trials seem to be a much smaller note than the rest of this, and with the reign of the Scourers seems like it may be an interesting setting for a story, perhaps (and this is just me) more interesting than Newt in 1920. Perhaps even connecting the Scourers to the Revolutionary war as they seek "legitimate" employ and pardon pushing towards a proper creation of the MACUSA.
And this brings me to the Skin-changers. To be honest, when the announcement video popped up it was the first thing I looked up. When I did, the way I figured Rowling would incorporate it into the series would be "Animagi with a bad reputation." I kind of hoped that there would be some significant change, but nope. It was pretty much that. She's gotten a lot of flack for it. I don't know exactly the damage, and I can't begin to imagine it. But I would think that Rowling would do this to a great bit of history, and to some extent she has. Perhaps she could have made them a sort of being like Vampires, but I'm uncertain that this would really be that progressive, and characterizing the myth as "witches and wizards being persecuted" makes sense in the Wizarding World. What's perhaps more offensive, at least to me, is the sort of hand-waving that goes on in regards to what "animal magic" is, or perhaps the extent to which the native magical community welcomed their European brethren. Really, I feel the Native American witches and wizards were short-changed here. I can deeply understand why Rowling didn't go further, given the initial reaction, but I honestly think she should have perhaps just gone into further detail and sell the information as a book.
And finally, the biggest elephant, and one I don't think many people wanted to touch. Scourers trafficked other witches and wizards. Now. Let that sink in. The can it opens is immense, and perhaps the only apt way to criticize Rowling is this. "No. Just no. Don't touch, back away. You aren't ready for this one. Thank you for not going into further detail here." If I read it right, it seems to be a slavery issue. But why? Why on earth would this be mentioned and put out there?
So is this good? Well it's decent background. It gives an excuse as to how witches and wizards were set up in the United States. However, I do think its overall just meh. Rowling's world has the benefit of being so close to our own, and yet so far, but that is exactly why the history matters, and why the accuracy matters, and why it matters that she does so well. The Wizarding World is growing beyond Harry, and indeed, these are growing pains, but give Rowling time. Perhaps Rowling needs to leave her box a bit, come to the United States and learn a bit more of the history and the people.
But no matter what, I will say this. Rowling does hit one aspect of us Americans spot on. We do have a habit of overreacting at times. So take it all with some salt.