When JK Rowling announced that she would be releasing a new story called The History of Magic in North America, fans were understandably elated.
While she has released the occasional snippet or story on her website Pottermore, her literary endeavours of late have been more in the R Galbraith (the pseudonym under which she writes detective fiction) direction.
So for her to return to the wizarding world, with perhaps some in-depth writing is exciting — we can well image how much gleeful-hand-rubbing that might have generated. History of Magic in North America was to be released in four parts, exclusively on Pottermore, laying the background for the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them film which releases this November.
Is the new story worth the hype?
Two of the four promised pieces are already out on Pottermore, titled “Fourteenth Century to Seventeenth Century” and “Seventeenth Century and Beyond”, but they’re not exactly “stories”. They read more like an academic thesis on the magical world in North America — if academic theses included terms like “Non-Maj” (apparently, the American slang for “Muggles”).
The first piece tells readers that the magical world they thought they knew is just the tip of the iceberg and that there’s a whole history to it that we just aren’t aware of.
So Rowling describes the early years of North America, before European Non-Majs (should that be Majii?) began going over in droves. She says that magical folk, however, knew each other across continents. She then refers to specific Native American folklore (such as that of “skin walkers”, or those who could change from human to animal form) to explain the presence of these magical folk on the continent.
The second piece looks into the hardships even magic folk faced when they came to the New Continent (Rowling says they were driven there by feuds, persecution). She describes a menace called the “scourers” who basically created a slave trade of sorts in witches and wizards and some hapless Muggles too. The Salem Witch trials, she writes, were triggered by some of these scourers. The incident may have contributed to the formation of the Magical Congress of the Unites States of America.
There isn’t much “storytelling” here, and the pieces themselves are fairly short. This is more a basic narration of a history for the world her characters will come to inhabit.
What is it all leading up to?
History of Magic in North America is a prequel of sorts to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which in a way, is a prequel to the Harry Potter series. Phew.
We first came across Fantastic Beasts in Harry’s curriculum at Hogwarts, and the textbook’s author, Newt Scamander. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them tells the story of how Scamander — a magizoologist — comes across, well, several fantastic beasts.
History of Magic in North America will bring the narrative to 1920s America, which is around the time when Scamander (played by Eddie Redmayne in the film, which Rowling has scripted) comes to New York, and kickstarts his adventures.
Not everyone is happy
Rowling’s first piece has made at least one section of readers unhappy — Native Americans. They have accused the writer of appropriating their cultural myths (such as that of “skin walkers”, a phenomenon that’s a Navajo legend) to spin her yarns.
Objections have also been raised to Rowling’s use of the term “Native American community”, which is felt not to take into account the multiplicity and diversity of the people and their cultures. Some self-confessed “Potterheads” took to social media to say that they felt their culture had been used as a “convenient prop” by the writer, while others said it was “disrespectfully done”. Rowling has not responded to these comments so far.
because @jk_rowling has based her "native wizards" off the same racist stereotypes & miseducation that JM Barrie used in Peter Pan.
— Johnnie Jae (@johnniejae) March 8, 2016
Some cranky, tired thoughts about Rowling's "Magical America", and what could have been. https://t.co/aWtIeO83sp
— N. K. Jemisin (@nkjemisin) March 9, 2016
Watch the trailer for History of Magic in North America here: