You easily find a lot of posts discussing JK Rowling’s latest expansion into the Harry Potter universe – Ilvermorny, the North American Wizarding School. Most centering on the cultural appropriation that the school is built on. (And from better sources than me)
But here’s the cliffnotes version – it’s a British Colonialist’s dream – Young Irish girl leaves England (on the Mayflower!) and eventually founds the first magic school. The ONLY magic school. The houses picked by two children, day dreaming about what a school might be like – each named for a favorite magical creature…. most of which came from different Native American tribe’s lore.
It’s disrespectful to the Native American cultures it mines and treats as homogenous – but I wanted to address another entirely different issue. It’s just bad world building, even without the appropriation.
We already know that Wizards were established in Europe and in Asia going WAAAAY back. We know there are three central wizarding schools in Europe. And if you really wanted to double down on Jo’s idea that Native American lore is partially Magic and not just spiritual, that means it already existed here.
Which means that the first Europeans to come in contact with Native Americans would be from Spain. With the conquistadors. So wouldn’t it be likely that some Spanish wizards would have come over, used magic to help defeat Aztec and Mayan wizards? That their cultures would have blended and become their own magical tradition (the way that Mexican and Caribbean cultures evolved as distinct and unique from Spain)? That small schools would have sprung up across the country as it grew, changed and cultures spread? That instead of being sorted into a house, Brit style, you’d be sorted into the school of your heritage, or the school that your magic best meshed with?
Where’s the magic from Africa, brought into the Americas and the Caribbean with those stolen and sold as slaves? The magic from China that came with those who helped build the Bay Area and the railways?
The Native American wizards, pushed off their land and away from natural elements filled with magic (like the forest outside of Hogwarts) – what if hippies weren’t hippies in communes, but wizards trying to protect magical territory from No-Maj’s?
JK Rowling’s concept of a singular school is not only ridiculous for an area so large as North America (you’ll notice I mostly addressed American issues), but it ignores the history of the United States.
Do you really think that there’d only be one school following the Civil War- could you convince No-Maj parents to send their children to the same school as children from the other side? That Beauxbatons wouldn’t have sister schools in New Orleans or in Quebec? And that they’d both be very different from each other and Beauxbatons. That Texas wouldn’t have their own magic school?
The entire concept of Ilvermorny is insulting. Both to the cultural appropriation and the lack of thought about the country it’s set in.
I admit, I’ve been spoiled. In the time I’ve been on Tumblr, I’ve seen idea after idea about what schools were in America. What schools were like in Latin America. They were thoughtful and reflected the cultures they were meant to represent.
America itself is a country of immigrants. To suggest that all would abandon their own cultures and adopt a purely British POV is an insult.
So I’m sharing my thought process because as a writer, I think it’s important that you consider history and sociology when world building in an existing world.
Consider the Hunger Games and Panem. It’s definitely a future US – and it’s clear when you listen to the Districts, what part of the US they’re dealing with. What makes it a successful change is that a lot of the cultural turmoil is built on the turmoil that we know here in the US.
Ilvermorny fails as world building, because most Americans read the history and wonder how big the school is. Because even if it’s a very small percentage of North Americans who are wizards…. that’s still a really really large school.
So, if you’re writing about a country or culture that is not your own – learn from JK Rowling’s mistakes. Research the history and culture. THEN find someone who lives there to give you feedback. Then and only then, you can write your book.