All this week, as part of the lead-up to the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them this fall, Harry Potter author and all-around genius J.K. Rowling is releasing brief pieces of writing that reveal some of the history behind magic on this side of the pond. Indeed, while the Potter books took place in the U.K., they never hid the fact that magic is worldwide—it’s just that Harry Potter’s story was about Harry Potter, a young English boy. But with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (which marks Rowling’s screenwriting debut), we’re finally going to get to see what the magical world in America looks like—albeit in the 1920s.
The story of the film takes place several decades before the events of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, focusing on the English magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who runs across some serious trouble in New York City when his magical creatures get loose.
One of the things that makes the Harry Potter universe so tangible is its rich history and Rowling’s attention to detail, which makes these short pieces of writing about North America’s magic history quite fascinating. In the first such entry over on Pottermore, Rowling briefly covers the 14th-17th centuries, revealing that Christopher Columbus and his European explorers were not the first to “discover” America:
Though European explorers called it ‘the New World’ when they first reached the continent, wizards had known about America long before Muggles (Note: while every nationality has its own term for ‘Muggle,’ the American community uses the slang term No-Maj, short for ‘No Magic’). Various modes of magical travel – brooms and Apparition among them – not to mention visions and premonitions, meant that even far-flung wizarding communities were in contact with each other from the Middle Ages onwards.
Rowling goes on to reveal that within the Native American magical community, some were known and even accepted within their tribes, gaining reputations as “medicine men” and outstanding hunters. Rowling also notes that since the magic wand originated in Europe, Native American magicians were adept at performing magic without wands—although Charms and Transfigurations are incredibly difficult without one.
The full entry is fascinating, and I’m eager to see what else Rowling has to “reveal” about North American history in tomorrow’s entry.