Almost 10 years after the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling’s seminal series, the author is still building out her expansive world of witches, wizards, and Muggles — or, as nonmagical people are apparently known in the United States, “No-Majs.” (The less said about that clunky term, the better.)
On March 8, Rowling released yet another update on Pottermore — her official Harry Potter website — that opens up her wizarding world to North America. In fact, Rowling will publish a new installment of her History of Magic in North America each day for the rest of this week, at 9 am Eastern.
The new writings will not be character stories, but straightforward descriptions of how North Americans wizards lived in different eras, in the style of a history textbook.
The idea is to prepare Harry Potter fans for the November 18 release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the film adaptation of a wizarding textbook Rowling included as a detail in the Harry Potter books and then wrote as a real book for charity in 2001. The film, starring Eddie Redmayne as magical creature expert Newt Scamander, is set in 1920s New York.
The first of Rowling’s four History of Magic in North America missives tackles the “Fourteenth Century – Seventeenth Century” and covers “the Native American wizarding community,” its members’ gift for healing, and how the legend of “skinwalkers” came from Native American wizards who could turn themselves into animals (or “Animagi”). Rowling writes:
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.
The history presents a fascinating intersection of existing Harry Potter magic — like the Animagi — and real historical context. But one immediate issue is that, well, it’s a three-century history of Native Americans told in just over 400 words. It’s as broad a picture as possible, and it’s unclear whether Rowling did much research on the populations whose histories she’s rewriting with this new update. Her “skinwalker” history, for instance, fails to mention that skinwalkers largely come from Navajo legend; it does not acknowledge the variety of beliefs held by Native Americans, who are hardly part of one single tribe.
This isn’t the first time the author has waded into eyebrow-raising waters in her continued effort to expand the Harry Potter universe. Just last month, she revealed the locations of several wizard schools — which exist in addition to the United Kingdom’s Hogwarts and other schools mentioned in the original Harry Potter novels — in North America, Japan, Brazil, and Africa. Some fans were angry that Rowling seemed to view Africa like a single country, which, as Vox’s Zack Beauchamp wrote, plays into “a long, infamous tradition in Western writing about ‘Africa’ to treat it as an undifferentiated mass.” Rowling and Pottermore later clarified that the school is in Uganda.
Whatever Rowling’s intentions are, we’ll see how the next three reveals go — and whether Rowling can recapture some of the magic she found in the British wizarding world with her take on the North American one.