It could’ve been great

You know, the thing I always try to remember when I’m borrowing from mythology is to be a shit-ton more careful with still-living traditions than I am with those long gone or transformed away from their roots. I feel relatively safe treading on the threads of Egyptian myth because there isn’t a centuries-long-and-ongoing history of using, say, the worship of Bast as an excuse to steal people’s ancestral land and children in the name of Christianity. But you know what? I’m still careful, even with “dead” faiths, because I don’t know how playing with these things might hurt real people. Nations have been built upon and torn down by the concepts I’m playing with. The least I can do is research the hell out of a thing before I put a toe in that ancient water.

It’s even more crucial for religions that are alive, and whose adherents still suffer for misconceptions and misappropriations. But these are easier to research, and it’s often much easier to figure out when you’re about to put a foot right into a morass of discrimination and objectification. All the evidence is there, sometimes still wet with blood. You just need to read. You just need to ask people. You just need to think.

And whether I believe in a thing or not, I always try to recognize that these concepts, these names, these words, have power. Power is always to be respected, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, present or past.

(For example, I was careful as hell with the Inheritance Trilogy, because so much of that was inspired by real, living traditions. Sieh is a combo of Loki and Anansi and Coyote and Japanese foxes and more, but I did everything I could to strip recognizable elements of those actual gods from him, leaving only the archetypal bones. It’s never wise to antagonize trickster gods.)

Anyway. This is just to say that there’s a number of ways Rowling could’ve made her Magical North America work without causing real harm to a lot of real people. That would be for her to have treated American peoples — all of us — with the same respect that she did European. Pretty sure she would never have dreamt of reducing all of Europe’s cultures to “European wizarding tradition”; instead she created Durmstrang and Beauxbatons and so on to capture the unique flavor of each of those cultures. It would’ve taken some work for her to research Navajo stories and pick (or request) some elements from that tradition that weren’t stereotypical or sacred — and then for her to do it again with the Paiutes and again with the Iroquois and so on. But that is work she should’ve done — for the sake of her readers who live those traditions, if not for her own edification as a writer. And how much more delightful could Magic in North America have been if she’d put an ancient, still-thriving Macchu Picchu magic school alongside a brash, newer New York school? How much richer could her history have been if she’d mentioned the ruins of a “lost” school at Cahokia, full of dangerous magical artifacts and the signs of mysterious, hasty abandonment? Or a New Orleanian school founded by Marie Laveau, that practiced real vodoun and was open/known to the locals as a temple — and in the old days as a safe place to plan slave rebellions, a la Congo Square? Or what if she’d mentioned that ancient Death Eater-ish wizards deliberately destroyed the magical school of Hawai’i — but native Hawai’ians are rebuilding it now as Liliuokalani Institute, better than before and open to all?

Sigh. She just shouldn’t have touched North America if she was going to gloss over everything that makes this part of the world what it is — the grotesque along with the sweet. This is who we are, for better or worse. Our history — all Americans’ history — needs respect, not pablum and stereotypes.

I’m a HP fan. It’s been tough over the years, as I’ve realized just how representationally flawed the books are (the real UK is far, far more diverse than Hogwarts, for example), but mostly I stuck it out for the seven books. Hadn’t paid attention to the whole Pottermore thing before now, though, because tooth-gritting frustration does not make for lifelong loyalty, surprisingly. But my interest in HP could’ve been reawakened by good worldbuilding. That would’ve shown me that Rowling has grown in the years since the books’ end, and that her afterthoughts are sincere, if belated. Also, this could’ve made for a much better story.

Oh well. Coulda woulda shoulda.

69 Responses »

  1. Even the original series was full of (lazy) stereotypes: have you ever met an Asian person named Cho? The boy w the aristocratic last name (Justin Finch-Fletchley) is a pompous snob; the twins finish each other’s sentences and their own mother can’t tell them apart; Lee Jordan, the black character, while he doesnt speak the British equivalwnt of BEV, is the comic on the mic; the Eastern Europeans (where in Eastern Europe, apart from Viktor Krum’s Bulgaria? Romania? Serbia? Azerbijian?) are dark, brooding, secretive, heavily accented, and vaguely menacing men and boys–is that the Romanian vampire in them, or Rowling’s memories of our Cold War fear of the USSR?; the Beauxbatons (the only other great European wizrds continental wizards are female and French, apparently) are snooty, sophisticated, and also heavily accented. I, too, love HP, but for all the humanitarian “muggles, house elves, goblins, and centaurs deserve equal rights” messages, Rowling has always been a bit heavy-handed when it comes to creating nuanced characters, especially non-white Brits.

  2. I guess you could say it lived down to my expectations, more or less. In many ways the imaginations of the fans were far more nuanced and complex.

  3. Hi!

    Always a thought-provoking read. Insanely cool ideas about American magic. I haven’t looked at Pottermore and know nothing about the controversy, but it’s super interesting that you feel the need to respect religion in your fictional treatment of it. It’s kind of obvious to me, in retrospect, of how that might’ve influenced your work (thinking both Inheritance and Dreamblood). The respect is clear.

    But I have to disagree that respect is the *one correct* approach to dealing with religion in fiction. The big example that comes to mind is His Dark Materials, which was willing to disrespect and offend the traditional religious teachings of Christianity, even to the point of blasphemy. Which probably hurt some people’s feelings, right? But it was still worth it, to explore Church corruption, reveal abuses, etc..

    I think there’s room for both approaches to religion in SF, but respect to the point of reverence, for me at least, is unnecessary. I just see religion as another social fact that I can invent or change at leisure.

    Also, this is mind-blowing for me, but maybe something people love so much about your books is that respect for myth, and part of your understanding about it is that ‘invention from whole cloth’ might feel weird or underdeveloped for readers.

  4. Ethan,

    Of course respect doesn’t require reverence. Those are completely different things. And respect can be shown through criticism; how better to improve a thing than to point out its flaws, after all, and seek a way to make it better? But respect also means you need to know what you’re talking about if you’re going to rewrite or criticize a thing. Pullman, like damn near any British citizen, was raised in Christianity. He was soaked in it, whether he wanted to be or not, whether it soaked in or not. That’s a different thing from him pulling the same treatment on a faith that he hasn’t immersed himself in. This is what Rowling did wrong; she decided to rewrite and play with several religions that she plainly knew squat-all about.

  5. This is such a great post. I’m writing a game right now set in six different locations all over the world — NYC, London, Cairo, Mombasa, Hong Kong, Western Australia — and every time I write a chapter I am inevitably drawn to my stereotypes about a place; with the help of my wonderful partner, I’ve been able to push through those stereotypes and, as a result, write MUCH more interesting stories!

    A plug here for my local library: I’ve been finding information there that I just haven’t been able to through Googling around. The lazy side of me wants to sit at home and do everything on my laptop, but again I find that I write much richer, more interesting stories if I read a book on the subject in addition to doing web research.

    Nothing much new here, just agreeing and being enthusiastic about it!

  6. Also, the Cho thing: please don’t talk about this if you aren’t a native speaker of a Chinese language and familiar with Chinese diaspora. There are so many wrongheaded misconceptions flying around that one particular issue — not at all helped by that one viral spoken-word piece by a person who neither spoke the language nor knew the history — and it’s really frustrating to me as a sinophone and diasporic huaren to hear it being parroted endlessly.

  7. Um, not to plan your life for you or anything, but I’d totally read a series of books on the outline you suggest in this post. Very exciting stuff. Not so interested in the J.K. Rowling Pottermore stories, though we’re big HP fans in my house.

  8. Pottermore is a pretty immersive fan experience with a game where you go to Hogwarts as well as news and indi.

    And I gotta say Pottermore creeped me out when I took the test to determine which house I was in at the beginning of the game. It asked me for my eye color. The fuck? And then have 4 different shades of blue/green followed by brown. The sorting hat should not care about eye color.

  9. Check out New World Magischola, I am sure there are problematic elements here as well. But it definitely seems like effort was made to capture the various roots of the peoples in America. Indigenous, Immigrant, settler, slave, you name it.

  10. I am so looking forward to the day I manage to take your Writing the Other class. I at least need to pick up the book!

  11. I have to disagree with you on the way you think she represented Europe well.

    You ask for more school to represent the country and its culture in a better way? Europe is made up of almost 50 different *countries*, each with their culture (very often more than one culture per country, yes, even when those countries are smaller than some of the US cities), each with their language (also often more than just one).
    As a European, believe me when I say that once you pass the border you can only be VERY AWARE that you’re not home anymore. If I drive from my home in the direction of the rising sun, I’ll have crossed at least 4 different countries in less than 5 hours, three of which I don’t even speak one word of the language.

    And yet we had 2 schools to represent all of that… (I’m not even going to start with the tons of clichés that those school were, because otherwise I don’t think I’ll sleep tonight).

    Please, stop saying the HP series was in any way a good thing about representing Europe, because it wasn’t and it’s about as much an insult to us that anybody thinks that it was, in any way.

    So yes, I can totally agree on the fact that the USA deserved a better representation than they were given, and a lot more respect in the way different culture were represented, but that’s nothing new in Rowling’s writing.

    HP readers just grew up to know better, that’s the one and only difference.

  12. The thought of the ruins of a magic school at Cahokia sends chills down my spine in the best way. (And would do so even more in the context of all the other details you suggest.)

    Thanks for this post. (Not only for those details, but in general as well.)

  13. Your points are well made.

    The Pottermore pieces linked in this post read like world building notes more than fleshed story. So many stereotypes in early notes should be culled in the writing process. No one will use cultural aspects perfectly, but we can strive for more perfect.

  14. Thanks for the thoughtful article. When I read that Rowling had written about North American wizards, my first thought was, I hope she’s not using Native American mythology. And there it was… I just can’t get my head around the fact that no one in Rowling’s professional circle thought to warn her, and if they did, that she apparently ignored them.

    As for His Dark Materials, it’s already been pointed out that Pullman criticizes from within. He’s criticizing his own culture, and he has every right to do so. Rational criticism isn’t blasphemy and can only offend those who reject rational thought, but stereotyping Native Americans is racism.
    I’ve read His Dark Materials, and it’s a criticism of the corruption of the European, white male dominated Christian church (though in the first place it’s a terrific story, in my opinion), whose claim of authority and white superiority has done so much damage to the world that we’re nowhere near recovery from those atrocities. Rowling, and I think she should have known better, being such a well-known author, doesn’t even come close to Pullman’s thoughtfulness and depth.

  15. Lys,

    I don’t believe I did say that Rowling’s representation of Europe was good. Complete agreement that it wasn’t. My point, though, was that even this paltry level of differentiation is better than the sweeping homogenization she offered to American NDNs. She gave all of Europe only three schools, but that’s two more than the nearly-as-populous, equally disparate cultures of North America got. She may have reduced Durmstrang to “generic Eastern European” stereotypes, but she didn’t imply that Eastern Europeans were innately or philosophically inferior to British people. And as far as I know — correct me if I’m wrong — there aren’t whole industries (e.g. New Age naturopathy, retail clothing, problematic paganism, football) devoted to creating and perpetuating and profiting off of racist hogwash about French people, which means that Rowling’s stereotyping of Beauxbatons didn’t feed into that.

    So basically I’m saying there was a pretty low bar she needed to hop; HP fans are clearly willing to accept some reductionism, though that’s not a good thing. But at least if she’d treated American cultures with the same degree of shallowness as her European depictions, we could say she was consistent. This is worse.

  16. This is the most troubling idea in modern culture, that only brown people can write about brown culture, only white people can write about white culture (but not really, because they aren’t oppressed) only women can write about women issues, etc.

    Human culture is all about sharing, appropriating, and re-imaging. It has been going on since the first human ancestor could convey a story. If we try and enforce these rigid rules, try and twist up and bind culture to be a static thing only touched by a select few, our cultures will whither up and die.

  17. Jesus,

    Well, if you’ve read my other blog posts on appropriation issues, you know I don’t subscribe to the idea that only X can write X, and Y can write Y. Fortunately I never said anything of the sort! So we agree.

    But I do insist that if X writes Y, that X does its level best not to screw it up. I have the same expectations of cross-cultural writing that I do of any writing — that it be approached with research and empathy, and that doing it well is a matter of skill — with the added caveat of “do no harm” where it comes to writing about marginalized groups. The problem with the Magical North America material isn’t that a white British woman chose to mention American NDNs in her fantastic work, but that she did it badly.

  18. Aimee,

    I don’t teach a Writing the Other class. Are you maybe confusing me with K. Tempest Bradford, who does?

  19. I am nodding all along until I read Macchu Picchu… what has something in Peru (South America) has anything to do with Magic in North America?

    Also, nothing to with this, but I AM kinda pissed that the Wizarding School in South America is not in Macchu Picchu, Peru instead of Castelobruxo in Brazil. I mean, Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese! Are all wizarding children in South America bilingual? Do they put some translating spell on them in Castelobruxo?

  20. “brown culture”

  21. Mirella,

    Yeah, as I noted on Twitter, I posted this before coffee this morning. I’d been thinking about the Americas, not North America specifically, in part because I’d seen Rowling’s mention of the Brazilian rainforest school. Decided to leave the error in place largely because I’m tired; I’ll fix it later.

  22. I really liked this article, but regarding your comment that the UK is “far, far” more diverse than Hogwarts- even according to the 2011 census (which was taken years after the series was set/written and reflected significantly increased immigration and diversity from the 2001 census), white people made up 87% of the British population. That sounds about right for the series’ representation of non-white students.

  23. Halito!
    Sv hochifo yvt Brit Reed, Chahta sia hoke! Hello! My name is Brit Reed, I am Choctaw. I totally agree with you how awesome it would have been have had the wide range of cultures and “magical” history shared. In terms of a school at Chokia, it would have been great (hypothetically of coarse, as your suggestions were hypothetical – loved them!) to have that not be a ruin but instead a thriving school Although the Mississippian/Mississippi Valley Culture fell from what it was some time ago, there are many living descendants – including myself – from that civilization and peoples. The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muskogee, and many other tribal nations from that area of the land are descendants of that civilization and have pieces from that time present in our traditions today.

    In the world you presented, I would have loved to send my children there to that school. I could imagine that as a part of that school, instead of owls and what not being the way the children receive an invitation to that school, they would have to be invited by what we call Bohpoli and also that the Bohpoli would also comprise of many of the teachers at the school. If it followed that, it would be sticking pretty close to what our traditional stories say about them and how many children learned how to take care of the people. Our stories and traditional ways from that area of the land are so rich an entire world and series could be created – much like the HP books. Many of our traditional stories are available to the public if one knows where to look for them – even our prophesies are available. Tom Mould, for example, was given permission by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to collect and annotate the books Choctaw Prophecy and the book Choctaw Tales. Both contain prophecies and stories rich enough to weave a world as full as that found in the HP book series.

    Of coarse to do it correctly, much on the ground leg work needs to be done in researching with tribal communities and gaining the permission of tribal communities to write these books/stories so that they most accurately represent the Peoples, Nations, cultures, and histories they come from. We are in the mist of quite a large Self-Determination and Revitalization movement within Indian Country. There’s quite a lot of information to be drawn on and inspired by to create these books.

    Personally, at this rate, I would love for Native and Indigenous authors to be able to write a “magical world” from their own tribal history and perspective so that we can see ourselves most actually represented and be able to be empowered as we imagine ourselves in this “magical” what now known as North America – world.

  24. Yes, you get so much better stories when you do the research.

  25. Whoops – make that Cahokia. can’t spell today (obviously lol).

  26. Seems an awful lot like Rowling did her research with an 8th grade American history textbook (with all its emphasis on American exceptionalism and the associated glossing over of just about everything to do with the people who live in American before white settlers crossed over), combined with a bit of well-meaning but still somewhat ignorant modern morality. Sigh. Her heart may have been in the right place, but he mind and research materials sure weren’t.

  27. Plenty of room for that North American school in Teotihuacan or Chichen Itza – or for that matter both.

  28. Well said, hear hear! You summarize very exactly what’s in my mind, but isn’t so easy to put on paper.
    If anybody would like to read about *one* set of possible North American magical schools, please feel free to have a look at my own novel, “A handful of spells”, Savvy Press, 2014, 9781939113283 at Goodreads, Amazon, etc. It was a lot of fun figuring out what American magic might be like, and I had a lot of fun writing it.

  29. Thank you for a wonderful piece. It seems like Rowling gets more reductionist the further she gets from her personal familiarity–Neil Gaiman has talked about the way that growing up with an experience of America that was almost purely defined by its mass-media representations made the country seem almost like a fictional land itself, and I wonder if there wasn’t something similar going on here. When all you know about America comes from fiction, I wonder if it doesn’t become very easy to forget that it’s real.

    (Not an excuse, obviously. Gaiman worked to counteract that tendency, and Rowling doesn’t seem to have even acknowledged it.)

  30. I wonder if one of the specific issues here is that while Rowling’s work is almost always referred to as ‘Fantasy’, in a truer sense it’s a form of ‘Secret History.’ She isn’t writing about a secondary world or even alternate version of our own but rather a secret history of our world: Hogwarts exists, wizards are real and always have been–most of us just haven’t been able to enter their portions of our world. That’s part of the appeal of the stories: the sense of wondering if perhaps–just perhaps–that kind of richness might exist in some form, somewhere. I suspect this is even more true with the expansion of her story world because with Magical Beasts she’s explicitly broadening that notion of the secret history to include North America.

    In the context of pure fantasy or even alternate history, I think there’s a stronger argument to be made that, while one’s inventions may draw upon particular symbols that are also found in our world, they do not have to share a set of cultural connections with ours. It’s harder to take that position with a secret history, in which all sorts of events, people, and cultures may be changed, but the author is explicitly (though fictionally) saying, ‘these are parts of our world, just parts of it you didn’t know.’

    I think the approach that you take, N.K., is the best one in that you’re offering up a meaningful intersection in the Venn diagram between those who are sensitive to cultural representation and appropriation, and those who are equally sensitive to the prerogative of the writer to, well, write about what they choose: that there’s a better and richer way for J.K. Rowling to create her fictional history of magic in North America, one that is, in fact, more consistent with her own work. As an author she has established some rules for her world–degrees of complexity in connecting the diversity of forms of magic to the diversity of cultures represented (regardless of whether that range satisfies Europeans or anyone else). In this particular instance, however, she’s–I suspect unintentionally–collapsed that range down to one simplified strand that is at odds not just with the complexity of not just our world but of Rowling’s own.

  31. Emma,

    It sounds completely off, to me. I count over 150 human characters in the series, from this page. Of those, only Cho Chang, the Patil twins, Lee Jordan, and Kingsley Shacklebolt are specifically noted to be characters of color in the series. Fans have ‘claimed’ some others, like Lavender Brown, but it’s never confirmed — and in that character’s case, in the film she was depicted as black in one film and white in another. Anyway, 5 out of 150 is 3%, not 13%. There should’ve been another 15 CoCs to match the diversity of the UK, by your reckoning.

  32. Brit,

    Some are. I know I’ve met a number of American NDN authors who’ve been writing from their own traditions or more generally. Check out Owl Goingback — he’s more horror than fantasy, but I like his work.

  33. Has anyone read the Patricia C. Wrede Frontier Magic books? I would love to hear some thoughts on her attempt to explore the way the US is a melting pot of culture. The books introduce three types of magic, and while the names are slightly altered, they are basically Eastern Asian, European and African magics. Part of the development of the books is the magic student’s learning that none of them will work for her, and she needs to access an American magic that contains pieces of all of them, as those traditions are all present in early Americans. There’s no representation of Native Americans a the slightly alternative universe Americas are more dangerous that the real ones and are uninhabited by the time people came across the Atlantic. I wouldn’t say the books are perfect (I am a scholar of Japan and I’m always a bit irked by the “Asians are collectivist” stereotype which is present in these books), but I did feel I was reading an attempt to engage with some of the same things this blog post was touching on of a type I had not seen before.

  34. Sebastien,

    Dunno, and I can’t speak to what was in Rowling’s mind as she came up with all this. I think this is a case, though, where the author’s intentions aren’t the issue; what matters is the impact of her creation on the real people who are going to have to endure the fallout.

  35. Amanda,

    I’ve read The Thirteenth Child. I had the same objection to it that I do to Rowling’s framing of American history — stronger, really, since in Wreade’s case she literally erased American NDNs from existence. This fit very neatly into a number of Manifest Destiny/white supremacist fantasies, though I don’t think Wreade realized it until the controversy erupted after her first book’s publication. There was a lot of discussion of it, too, at the time.

  36. While I agree that your suggestions here would have perhaps made for a “much better story” I fear that you are falling into much of the same territory as you are accusing Jo of here. For starters, the first portion of the story is dealing with the state of the magical community prior to the beginning of the European take-over. Do you really mean to imply that schooling of the European variety existed in the new world prior to Europeans? Because to imply that the Native Americans either came into contact with European wizards (as is implied in the piece) and were so enamored of the boarding school model that they immediately implemented it into their own society is probably more offensive that the small liberties that JK took in her piece. It seems far more likely that magical knowledge was imparted in much the same way as other knowledge in Native American communities, through oral traditions and one-on-one practical instruction, rather than in a classroom with books, exams, headmasters and houses.

  37. Nicole,

    Not really. “School” or “mass education” is not a British-only concept. Traveling for an education is not a British-only concept. The idea of a “magic school” doesn’t need to fit the British boarding school model any more than any school in a non-UK country has, throughout human history. It’s not like the British Empire was the first to come up with large-scale education of a population, after all; ancient India, China, Greece, and any number of countries started that centuries before the birth of Christ. Globally and historically speaking, most of Europe was kind of late to the party on that account.

    And there is no single model of American NDN knowledge transmission, so I’m not sure why you’re suggesting that there is. I’m no expert in all or any of them, but I do know that a number of Mesoamerican and South American cultures did indeed practice education in a compulsory, mass way — which was probably necessary given that these were societies with large urban centers and a vast citizenry, prior to the disease epidemics that wiped out 90% of the population of the Americas. They probably didn’t use the word “school”, but schools definitely existed in this half of the world long before Columbus.

  38. “Pretty sure she would never have dreamt of reducing all of Europe’s cultures to “European wizarding tradition”; instead she created Durmstrang and Beauxbatons and so on to capture the unique flavor of each of those cultures.”

    Not really. The students at Beauxbatons are characterized as a typical British stereotype of the French: they are fluttery, have ridiculous accents, and dress fashionably. The students at Durmstrang are vaguely eastern European, have ridiculous accents, unibrows, perpetual glowers, and fascist tendencies. These are derived from Cold War-era stereotypes of Eastern Bloc citizens.

    Rowling did not “create” anything here, instead she relied on stereotypes that British readers would easily identify and accept. I am perpetually shocked by how few American readers see this. She reduced European wizardry to two stereotypes. She did not create unique flavors of every European culture.

  39. Ms. Pris,

    Yep, I addressed this in my reply to Lys, yesterday.

  40. One of the biggest joys of reading is that it lets us inhabit the skin of someone other than ourselves. It allows us to explore places we’ll never go, things we’ll never see, and it lets us experience someone we’ll never be. Writing well, as my author friends tell me, is hard work. And it’s hard work before the words start hitting the page. It requires a great deal of thought and, quite often, a lot of research. JK Rowling is definitely a talented writer, but she never developed strong deep background for her work.

    I already know what it’s like to be a fifty-ish white woman of privilege in America. Tell me what it’s like to be something besides that. Let me learn. Let me grow. Let me become bigger on the inside. That’s what reading is for.

    A huge part of the problem is marketing. Authors like Rowling, that publishers know will sell well, get marketed. Authors who are people of color, woman, gay, we don’t get to hear about so much and therefore don’t even know enough to buy and so publishers aren’t so enthused about taking them on and working to market them.

  41. Completely agree with the article. I wondered, myself, if she was pressured, or rushed, to get this new series out ahead of the movies.
    The reason why this is such a big deal is because American NDNs have been stereotyped and marginalized since the “rebirth” of this nation, and it is probably infinitely harder for them to get their truths and their beliefs out to the public when a “mega-author” like Rowling lazily (perhaps not on purpose) writes about their traditions in such a cavalier way. I do believe that Rowling will somehow correct this, and be more careful moving forward.

  42. Thank you so much for the link. I’m not at all involved with blogging and did not know anything about RaceFail or the whole broader discussion until now. I’m glad to educate myself a bit.

  43. Fantastic essay, and confirms my belief that the very least you should do is a lot of research, rather that somewhat randomly using collective ‘knowledge’ of a culture and going from there.

    I don’t like Harry Potter – barely made it through the first chapter of book one, tbh – but I am disappointed that JKR didn’t think about the ramifications of how she used the lore of Native American/First Peoples cultures. TL;DR – everything you said, basically.

  44. Thank you.

    I learned a great deal, and I will go forward with a far greater appreciation of the rich tapestry available.

  45. BTW, have you seen what she did with Africa? The African magic academy (there’s only one, apparently) is named Wagadou, which suggests either ancient Ghana or the Mossi/Burkinabe capital… and it’s in Uganda.

  46. “Yep I addressed that already” – Not really. You said things but that doesn’t mean they go away.

  47. azazel,

    Yeah, I saw about Uagadou. She listened to the “Africa isn’t a country” outcry there, so I’m extra surprised that she screwed up this way with North America. Should’ve been easy to see that her fans actually care about accurate, non-stereotypical, non-colonialist representation. Ah, well.

  48. R3,

    Then maybe you should ask some more questions, because I can’t guess at whatever answers you or Ms. Pris might be looking for.

  49. Luckily someone interviewed a real skinwalker for a response:

    My favorite quotation: “It didn’t take us nine or ten movie installments to tell one story about a boy learning how to play with his magic stick.”

  50. The Aztecs are thought to be the first society to make education mandatory for all children.

    When I was a teen reading Harry Potter, I always assumed that three named magic schools in Europe was barely scratching the surface of what the magic world had to offer. It’s disappointing that her world outside the U.K. really is that shallow (and even the U.K. magic world is pretty shallow).

  51. I’m from Peru and I really wished JK Rowling had put another school there in Machu Picchu and not just in Brazil. Like another person said, Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks portuguese! But i also think it was a missed opportunity. Machu Picchu is super close to Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, which covered. Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, even a bit of Colombia. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a school at the center of that Empire. But considering what she did with North Amercia maybe it’s for the best she didn’tt do this.
    I also want to point out that it’s important for fans to do their research also if they are going to make gifs or inages about the schools. I saw a gifset of all the schools and in the place of Castelobruxo, they put what was obviously a Mayan or Aztecan Piramid. That has nothing to do with Brazil. Just because it’s also from Latin America doesn’t mean you can put something from Mexico. The cultures are torally different. Just don’t.

  52. Concerning PoC in Harry Potter, I am sure I remember one black girl who was on the Quidditch team, who hasn’t been listed here. That’d probably increase the percentages.

    The representation of Europe is underwhelming, but I don’t mind much – I actually think it is rather funny to see what Brits think Germany is like.

    Misrepresenting cultures that the British and European invaders did their best to eradicate is a bigger deal.

    @Brit R.:

    “Personally, at this rate, I would love for Native and Indigenous authors to be able to write a “magical world” from their own tribal history and perspective so that we can see ourselves most actually represented and be able to be empowered as we imagine ourselves in this “magical” what now known as North America – world.”

    That’s what I thought when I read that Rowling failed at this – she should have asked people who know about those cultures to come up with something to cover the Americas.

    I hope she will do this. The research necessary to properly cover the magical history of the whole world is too much for one person, and there are so many interesting local myths only locals would know about.

    It would be awesome if you could explore a sort of parallel universe on Pottermore, with each country’s description written by a person who is from there.

  53. That’s a very well written post. :) As you said, research and empathy are incredibly important when fictionalizing foreign cultures.

    Also, an unrelated beef I have with Rowling is the way she’s chosen to extend the story through these short snippets and regular tweets on her twitter account. When reading a book, I feel immersed in the world, and my willing suspension of disbelief makes it magical and surreal. This just feels like words on paper that mean very little. I would’ve loved it if she chose to continue the story through proper novels rather than these slapdash chunks.

    Also unrelated, but I must say that I absolutely loved The Fifth Season. The sheer imagination at work coupled with the blending of sci-fi and fantasy along with some rich character development and great dialogue totally blew me away. Ah, dammit, I’m gushing. Anyway, I hope to keep reading great fiction from you. :)

  54. to the author, you mention she did it again to the Iroquois and Paiute. What was it? Appropriate something? I’m following closely and lost on that! Please help and great read! Thanks!
    Wendy, a concerned Paiute…

  55. @Rose, Angelina Johnson is described as being black in one of the later books, and Dean Thomas is heavily implied to be black in the UK editions of the books, and I think explicitly black in the US versions. Still, not enough diversity, though.

    I agree with other commenters that her depiction of all cultures tends to be shallow and not well thought through, but most cultures (e.g. European cultures) have not been systematically erased through centuries of oppression. Western Europe is not going to suffer through misconceptions perpetuated by JKR, but in the absence of more thorough and diverse media depictions, many people will fail to interrogate her depictions of Native Americans in this shoddy and thoughtless piece, and will unfortunately believe much of what they hear/read.

  56. Great post and why I love your work so much. Great world building makes a richer story. She doesn’t take the time and research necessary to do it, you do.

The Broken Earth Book Two:

The Obelisk Gate

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Read Sample Chapter 1