JK Rowling, the writer who has spent the past two decades shaping popular culture around the world with her Harry Potter universe, has recently revealed a new series of stories, A History of Magic in North America. The series is being published on the “digital heart of the Wizarding World,” Pottermore, and presents a controversial alternate history of America that connects it to the Hogwarts-centric world she created in the original Harry Potter books.
In a story released today, Rowling adds the Salem witch trials to her fictional universe, calling them “a tragedy.” Sums up CNN:
Rowling’s second story, about the 17th century “and beyond,” was released Wednesday morning. In it, she discusses the Salem witch trials and the role of the “No-Majs” — the American equivalent of Muggles, or non-magical humans — led by the “Scourers,” “an unscrupulous band of wizarding mercenaries of many foreign nationalities.”
But the witch trials aren’t the only stories ripped from the past. CNN reports many Native Americans were offended by her decision to create a fictional history for their community—specifically her inclusion of “skin-walkers,” which are part of many Native American legends. As she wrote on the site:
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.
In a series of tweets directed at Rowling (and in a blog on the website Native Appropriations), Cherokee scholar Dr. Adrienne Keene wrote:
It’s not “your” world. It’s our (real) Native world. And skin walker stories have context, roots, and reality. You can’t just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalized people. That’s straight up colonialism/appropriation.
I asked Jezebel’s resident Harry Potter expert (and Wizarding World visitor) Madeleine Davies if Rowling played with British history in her original novels. In Rowling’s universe, Davies told me, Merlin was a Slytherin and real historical events (like the many European witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries) were occasionally revealed to have been influenced by real magic. But despite the precedent, it’s more than a little distressing to read fictionalized account of a community whose history is already so poorly remembered and respected.
Rowling has a tendency to address controversies head-on, so perhaps we’ll see a comment on her very active Twitter page shortly.
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