History of Magic in North America

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Needs more information - particularly re: fan reception of the essays!

History of Magic in North America is a four-part essay series released by JK Rowling on Pottermore over the course of 2016. Published in advance of the 2016 release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the essays presented a chronological history of wizarding life in North America, building out the world that would be depicted in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. The first essay (published in early March 2016) was met with swift criticism from many fans, who cited issues of cultural appropriation and colonialism. In particular, Native American fans, academics, and journalists critiqued Rowling's adaptation and incorporation of elements of indigenous folklore, religious and spiritual traditions, and lived experience.

History of Magic in North America Trailer

A video trailer for History of Magic in North America was uploaded by Warner Bros. Pictures on March 8, 2016. A similar trailer for Rowling's Pottermore writings about Ilvermorny, the North American wizarding school, would be released in July of that year; both trailers included information about the November 2016 premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, serving as advertisements for the upcoming film.[1]

Reception

Dr. Adrienne Keene - a Native scholar and the author of the website Native Appropriations, which had hosted her 2015 open letter to Rowling about the possible incorporation of indigenous traditions into the Harry Potter franchise - responded to the trailer's depiction of Native Americans, which included "images of a Native man in a breech cloth who transforms into an Eagle."[2] On her website, Keene shared screencaps from the trailer, writing:

"I don’t really know what to say beyond my original letter, but I’ll reiterate it again. Native spirituality and religions are not fantasy on the same level as wizards. These beliefs are alive, practiced, and protected. The fact that the trailer even mentions the Navajo concept of skinwalkers sends red flags all over the place, and that it’s mentioned next to the Salem witch trials? Disaster. Even the visual imagery of the only humans shown in the trailer being a Native man and burning girls places the two too close for comfort.

We fight so hard every single day as Native peoples to be seen as contemporary, real, full, and complete human beings and to push away from the stereotypes that restrict us in stock categories of mystical-connected-to-nature-shamans or violent-savage-warriors. Colonization erases our humanity, tells us that we are less than, that our beliefs and religions are “uncivilized”, that our existence is incongruent with modernity. This is not ancient history, this is not “the past.” The ongoing oppression of Native peoples is reinscribed everyday through texts and images like this trailer. How in the world could a young person watch this and not make a logical leap that Native peoples belong in the same fictional world as Harry Potter?

We are also fighting everyday for the protection of our sacred sites from being destroyed by mining, fracking, and other forms of “development.” These sites are sacred. Meaning they have deep roots in our spiritual beliefs, hold sacred power, and connect us to our ancestors. If Indigenous spirituality becomes conflated with fantasy “magic”–how can we expect lawmakers and the public to be allies in the protection of these spaces?"[3]

Essay 1: "Fourteenth - Seventeenth Century"

The first installment of the series was released in March 2016 and covered wizarding life in North America from the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries. From the very start, Rowling incorporated her imagining of "the Native American magical community" into this narration of wizarding history, writing:

"Though European explorers called it ‘the New World’ when they first reached the continent, wizards had known about America long before Muggles...The Native American magical community and those of Europe and Africa had known about each other long before the immigration of European No-Majs in the seventeenth century."[4]

Rowling went on to write that some Native American witches and wizards were "stigmatised for their beliefs, often on the basis that they were possessed by malevolent spirits."[5] One manifestation of this stigmatization was encapsulated in Rowling's reimagining of the "skin walker," which she goes on to further detail:

"The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ – an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will – has its basis in fact. A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi, that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe. Such derogatory rumours often originated with No-Maj medicine men, who were sometimes faking magical powers themselves, and fearful of exposure."[6]

Reception

Once the first installment of the History of Magic in North America was released, Dr. Adrienne Keene published a widely shared post on Native Appropriations, where she annotated passages from the "Fourteenth - Seventeenth Century" essay with criticisms such as:

So first off, we’re centering Europeans, calling brutal colonizers benign “explorers” (yes, it’s written for children, but I don’t think anyone would argue the HP canon is absent of intense violence. I’m just fascinated to see how Rowling will address the brutality and complexity of colonization in the next stage). Also, “America” didn’t exist during this timeframe.[7]
The Native American community.” Oh man that loaded “the.” One of the largest fights in the world of representations is to recognize Native peoples and communities and cultures are diverse, complex, and vastly different from one another. There is no such thing as one “Native American” anything. Even in a fictional wizarding world.[8]

On Twitter, the conversation coalesced around the hashtag #MagicInNorthAmerica. Buzzfeed captured a selection of tweets in the immediate aftermath.[9] Rowling was largely silent in the face of this criticism, which many fans perceived as a noteworthy departure from her typical approach to fan engagement.[10][11]

Essay 2: "Seventeenth Century and Beyond"

The second installment over the History of Magic in North America series primarily delineated the impact of certain seventeenth-century events (such as Rowling's imagining of the Salem Witch Trials) on subsequent generations of witches and wizards in North America.[12]

Reception

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Essay 3: "Rappaport's Law"

The third installment over the History of Magic in North America series recounted the establishment of Rappaport's Law, which Rowling describes as "[enforcing] strict segregation between the No-Maj and wizarding communities."[13]

Reception

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Essay 4: "1920s Wizarding America"

The fourth installment over the History of Magic in North America series focused on the era depicted in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: the United States wizarding world of the 1920s.[14]

Reception

Examples Wanted: Editors are encouraged to add more examples or a wider variety of examples.

Further Criticism

(Much criticism of this series also folded in the July 2016 Ilvermorny writing.)

References

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - "Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry" Posted on July 5, 2016. Retrieved on March 21, 2018.
  2. "“Magic in North America”: The Harry Potter franchise veers too close to home," Adrienne Keene, Native Appropriations. Published on March 7, 2016. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  3. "“Magic in North America”: The Harry Potter franchise veers too close to home," Adrienne Keene, Native Appropriations. Published on March 7, 2016. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  4. [https://www.pottermore.com/collection-episodic/history-of-magic-in-north-america-en/ "Fourteenth Century - Seventeenth Century," JK Rowling, History of Magic in North America. Pottermore.com. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  5. [https://www.pottermore.com/collection-episodic/history-of-magic-in-north-america-en/ "Fourteenth Century - Seventeenth Century," JK Rowling, History of Magic in North America. Pottermore.com. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  6. [https://www.pottermore.com/collection-episodic/history-of-magic-in-north-america-en/ "Fourteenth Century - Seventeenth Century," JK Rowling, History of Magic in North America. Pottermore.com. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  7. "Magic in North America Part 1: Ugh." Adrienne Keene, Native Appropriations. Published on March 8, 2016. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  8. "Magic in North America Part 1: Ugh." Adrienne Keene, Native Appropriations. Published on March 8, 2016. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  9. "J.K. Rowling Is Getting Major Backlash For Her Depiction Of Native Americans," Susan Cheng, Buzzfeed. Posted on March 8, 2016. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  10. "Magic in North America Part 1: Ugh." Adrienne Keene, Native Appropriations. Published on March 8, 2016. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  11. "Pottermore problems: Scholars and writers call foul on J.K. Rowling’s North American magic", Paula Young Lee, Salon.com. Posted on July 1, 2016. Retrieved on March 18, 2018.
  12. [https://www.pottermore.com/collection-episodic/history-of-magic-in-north-america-en/ "Seventeenth Century and Beyond," JK Rowling, History of Magic in North America. Pottermore.com. Retrieved on March 21, 2018.
  13. "Rappaport's Law," JK Rowling, History of Magic in North America. Pottermore.com. Retrieved on March 21, 2018.
  14. [https://www.pottermore.com/collection-episodic/history-of-magic-in-north-america-en/ "1920s Wizarding America," JK Rowling, History of Magic in North America. Pottermore.com. Retrieved on March 21, 2018.