Magic In Native America: J.K. Rowling is Not Infallible

The Wizarding World you thought you knew is much larger than you imagined. History has many secrets. The official story is never the whole story.

In classic myths and legends, we try to explain the unexplainable. In Prometheus the Fire-Bringer, Greeks explain how Prometheus disobeyed Zeus and gave the human race a way to light their paths and roast their meat—how gods are the reason why we have fire today. J.K. Rowling is the queen of borrowing from myths and legends, and using magic to explain the unexplainable… to explain why things are the way the are, or how incredible things in history may have happened—if you choose to believe that magic could be real.

It’s very clear to me after watching the above trailer (and subsequently reading the articles that were released last month, which have been indexed on my Pottermore Index page) that lighting is about to strike twice: first on Harry Potter’s forehead, second in these United States of America. But at what expense? Europe is much older than America is. J.K. Rowling is able to borrow from Greek, Roman and other myths and legends so easily, because there is no one (or very few) still alive who believe in them. That’s why they’re called myths and legends. No one contested their use.

In fact, every time someone discovered a connection from Rowling’s writing to a Greek or Roman myth, she was praised for her cleverness. In many cases, these mythological connections sparked theories: remember when everyone thought that Remus Lupin had a twin brother, because his name was taken from the Roman myth about Remus and Romulus, twins who were raised by wolves? Certainly, the Remus name was inspired—Lupin was a werewolf, after all—but Rome’s namesake, Romulus? He never came to fruition in Rowling’s stories. Which was fine. Harry Potter is Jo’s story. She can choose to include (or not include) whichever myths or legends suits her fancy, to add “credibility” to her story.

After Pottermore’s new articles were released, and it was discovered that Rowling chose to use her own forms of magic (Animagi) to explain skinwalkers, people had a few things to say. Why? Because there are decidedly more Native Americans who don’t consider what they believe to be “myths” or “legends” than there are Greeks who believe the same.

From the start, I was a firm believer that Queen Rowling was infallible. She could do no wrong in my eyes. After I read the Epilogue, I blindly thought that Albus Severus was the perfect name. I had so readily forgotten and forgiven all the terrible things that Snape (and yes, in some cases Dumbledore) had done to Harry. Snape is certainly a very interesting character, but he’s definitely not perfect, nor is he the bravest. Jo is an incredible storyteller, but she isn’t perfect either.

What made me open my eyes? Friends who made convincing arguments and who reminded me of story details that I had forgotten, going to panels at conventions, listening to friends run panels at conventions, and so on. What made me rethink my stance on using Native American “myths and legends”? Putting the situation into my perspective.

What if, instead, Rowling released an article on Pottermore explaining that Jesus Christ turned the water into wine with a simple transfiguration spell, or used the Gemini spell to multiply the two loaves of bread and three fishes, or didn’t actually raise Lazarus from the dead, but instead reanimated his corpse by turning him into an Inferi? Would I #BoycottRowling? Yes, I believe I would. In fact, I would lead the charge. Absolutely, I would hate to close the door to Harry Potter, but if Jo were to somehow claim ownership and then be so flippant with my faith, well, some things are non-negotiable.

However, is Rowling’s current treatment of Native American culture (of which I do not belong) enough to cause me to turn away from these stories that I have loved for so long? Not quite yet. These articles were written as a way to increase hype over the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movies (the first of which will land in theaters November 18th), and we don’t know yet how much of an impact the skin walkers or medicine men are going to have on the overall story. If Jo (who has yet to reply to concerned fans’ comments on this) were to take her fans’ criticism to heart and revise any upcoming movie scripts that may have further misappropriated Native American traditions, so that they reflect their culture in a more positive light, then good. However, if things go from bad to worse… I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.

There’s also something to be said of bringing a culture to light that many know so little about. While I had heard of medicine men, I had never heard of skin walkers prior to the Pottermore article. Rowling appears to be doing just that with the articles about the worldwide wizarding schools too. By telling us about the schools in different cultures, countries and continents, she’s inherently teaching us about those cultures and bringing us closer together, which is never a bad thing, especially in a world (and particularly in a country) that is becoming increasingly my-way-or-the-highway.

However, I hope that Jo exercises caution as she movies forward with expanding her wizarding world. Writing about your own British culture is easy and requires less research. Writing about other cultures is much harder, because you don’t have nearly as much background knowledge at your disposal, which means that much more research is necessary. And when you’re working on a two-part play and a three-part movie series basically simultaneously, not to mention book four of the Cormoran Strike series as Robert Galbraith, I can’t imagine that leaves a whole lot of time for extra research.

I think this is a good point to remind everyone that every fandom has its problems. I love Harry Potter, but Jo defends a teacher who was an abusive jerk to too many students. I love Narnia, but for some crazy reason, Lewis doesn’t let Susan into “heaven” simply because she likes make-up and he likes the number seven. I love Middle-Earth, but good luck finding any persons of color there (or any women in The Hobbit that Peter Jackson didn’t fabricate). Certainly, eventually, there’s a breaking point where you decide that enough’s enough and the author has gone too far. I’m not there yet.

Are you on Jo’s side in this? Or have you reached a breaking point? Share in the comments!