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March 15, 2016 Comments Views: 631 Art & Literature, Media, Movies & Television

J.K. Rowling’s Latest Work is a Controversial Splendor


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be released later this year on November 18, and in preparation for the big event, J.K. Rowling has released little stories over the past few days about magic in the Americas.

New information about the American wizarding world is undeniably exciting for Potter fans, but not everyone is jumping on board with these magical facts. In fact, many people are in uproar over some of the content, and some have went so far as to call Rowling racist. To garner more insight into why this is, I’ve summarized each of these new stories and their corresponding controversies.

Fourteenth Century-Seventeenth Century

The first installment of these stories is considered one of the most controversial pieces that Rowling has ever written.

It gave us a brief overview of magical life from the fourteenth century to the seventeenth century, zeroing in on Native Americans and their powers, specifically that of skin-walkers (a person who is able to transform into the animal of their choosing). But because skin-walkers are exclusive only to Navajo Indian folklore, many Native Americans accused Rowling of generalizing Indian culture.

Okay, I guess I can understand that.

But the backlash doesn’t end there. Some Native Americans are in uproar because they believe that Rowling is painting Native American culture in a bad light, and they are publicly defending their culture as spiritual, not evil.

While I do understand the concerns of Native Americans, I respectfully disagree with their sentiments. Rowling is in no way saying that Native Americans aren’t spiritual and beautiful. Instead, she is praising their race and culture in this story while trying to respectfully incorporate it into her fantasy world. If anything, this piece could act as a resurgence for Native American culture, as people who have read her work are now going to be Googling Native Americans to learn more. I grew up in the American southwest, where I learned and saw first hand what this amazing civilization and race did before modern times. I’m already fascinated with Native American culture, and Rowling’s piece made me want to research it even more.

I understand where the social justice warriors are coming from with their criticism, but the way I see it you can do one of two things here: call Rowling a racist who has no right to write about a culture that she hasn’t lived around or grew up in, or use her story as a platform to educate the masses about the deeply diverse and fascinating Native American culture.

It’s not fair to say that Rowling, who, like many of us, probably got most of her information about Native Americans online, is a racist.  She used the basic information available to her about skin-walkers and decided to incorporate that into her story, which is perfectly fine. Perhaps another one of the reasons why she received backlash is because she’s essentially calling Medicine Men wizards in this piece, but honestly, if I went to one and they somehow take away the migraines I’ve been dealing with forever, then I’d certainly think that magic was at play.

Seventeenth Century and Beyond

This section details the trials and hardships that were faced during the move from Europe to America, specifically highlighting the tensions between the Natives and Europeans, as well as focusing on the Puritans and their religious beliefs.

Native American history is taken into account once again with the mentioning of human trafficking and slaughter – events that happened because some of the settlers were dicks who thought that they were better than others. She doesn’t distort or lighten these historical facts, but people are upset at her mentioning of it because Rowling, again, took facts and melded it with her fictional world.

Scourers are introduced for first time in this piece. A Scourer is an individual or a group of people who have decided to take justice into their own hands. Unfortunately, as time went on Scourers became increasingly corrupt in their search to seek reward. As a result, the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the United States of America) was formed to help weed out the Scourers and help protect the wizarding community (especially after the Salem Witch Trials).

Here’s my main issue with this section: MACUSA was formed in 1693. America was not known as the United States of America until our Declaration of Independence in 1776 – that’s nearly a century off. Damn you, damn you Rowling for further screwing up! Now my life is a lie, and I can no longer read your stories! (Read: I will continue to read everything and anything you put in front of me because no one is perfect and mistakes happen. I wouldn’t have even thought twice about this if the date wasn’t mentioned).

Rappaport’s Law

In an already secretive America, witches and wizards seldom mingle outside of their own kind. The president of MACUSA, Emily Rappaport, created a law segregating No-Majs from magic users to help protect their way of life. However, a massive breach was made by the Keeper of Treasure (and Dragot’s daughter), Dorcus Twelvetree. A poor performer of magic, Dorcus was more or less a socialite who became infatuated with a young man named Bartholomew Barebone. Unknown to Dorcus, this young man came from a family of Scourers, and as such had a deep disdain for magic. Bartholomew wooed young Dorcus into telling him the secrets of the MACUSA and Ilvermorny, which led to a sort of new-age witch hunt that harmed the already shaky American wizarding community. Because of all this, Rappaport’s Law was passed, which banned all mingling between wizards and No-Majs; no friendships, marriages, etc.

I found this part to be pretty harmless, but there are some people that are upset because they believe that the fictional magical segregation mirrors the very real racial segregation of America. I understand their concerns – this story takes place in a very tough time for civil rights, afterall. We thankfully have moved on from this era (for the most part), and today we are a country that strives for equality and happiness. But we need to remember that this story is a work of fiction by an author, and fiction will ALWAYS have similarities to reality.

1920s Wizarding America

Rappaport’s Law is still firmly in place in the 1920s, even though many witches and wizards stood with both sides during the Great War of 1914-1918, aiding in the prevention of some loss of life.

MACUSA has relocated from Washington, D.C. to New York City, and it’s been brought to my attention that some folks are displeased with this. What is the problem with it being in New York? Wizards and Witches live in secrecy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t live among us, especially in New York, which is a major world hub. Rowling’s historical timeline ends in the 1920s, but maybe she eventually said fuck it and moved the MACUSA to Las Vegas in the 1990s when the Excalibur opened. It would be a hilarious little tongue in cheek, “hahaha we’re literally right under your nose.” Who knows?

As far as education goes, American wizards have the opportunity to attend Ilvermorny, one of the top wizarding schools in the world. The wizarding world practices the magical equivalent of common core education, but because there were initially no wand makers in the new world, American wizards were falling behind their international peers.

So, in came wand makers and legislation for them.

Wand permits were introduced in the last half of the nineteenth century. Anyone carrying a wand needed a permit so that any mischief that may occur could be controlled. In total there were four wand makers, each coming from different locations and each with their own special abilities. It doesn’t seem that the wand chooses the wizard here in America, though, but rather magic users could buy their wands according to the type of magic they favored ( in order to maximize spells).

We also learned that wizards gave no care for prohibition. They were already on the down low about existing, so why not keep that ‘Gigglewater’ flowing?

This section has one parallel that really stands out here. If you replaced wand permits with gun permits, then you basically have the second amendment. If you own a wand (gun), then you have a permit as to identify ownership in case of death and craziness. Hey, everyone needs accountability.

In conclusion…

To close, these stories are short, and some of them come off as insensitive even. There is no doubt about that.

I can understand the detractor’s points of view on these, but there also seems to be a bit of nit-picking coming through, and for what reason? Because it’s something new, and some people think that Harry Potter was done after book seven? There are so many people, including fans, who are turning their noses up to this new world that J.K. Rowling is taking time to create for us, even though it’s something that a lot of people have been asking for. I remember being one of those people who wondered if she’d do a story set in America, wanting to know if there were wizarding schools outside of Europe.

She’s finally creating these worlds for us, and it’s wonderful and amazing.

I am one of those people who will sit here and defend ANY author I read and admire, primarily because it’s THEIR world, THEIR story, THEIR way. Yes, she is taking some liberties, intertwining history with her wizarding worlds, but that’s what writing is. If you don’t borrow a little from here, a little from there, and put your own twist on things, then there would be no great literature there would be nothing new.

Sit down and read these stories for what they are: a work of fiction.

These stories are something that another person is taking time out of their day and families to create for other people, to give folks a way to escape reality just for a short time and imagine a world that is awesome and fun. No one is telling you to read it or watch the subsequent movies, but it’s wrong to sit here and criticize everything that is written in a piece of fiction. There are far more abhorrent things going on in the world, and frankly it’s a waste of time to sit here and get your knickers in a twist over someone’s writing.

But then again, we are also a world (and country) that bans books because they’re too depressing or include nudity…because READING about someone losing their pants is apparently scandalous.

You’ve heard my thoughts on the controversy, now share yours in the comments!

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