By Kevin P. Sullivan
March 08, 2016 at 12:00 PM EST
Warner Bros./Pottermore

In addition to being able to do cool stuff like casting spells and flying on brooms, most wizards who can be named also have the benefit of generally being less racist.

The first story in J.K. Rowling’s new series of short stories, The History of Magic in North America — now live on Pottermore — is a brief examination of life for witches and wizards from the 14th century through the 17th. Similar to the Harry Potter novels, Rowling’s first exploration back to the early days of North America weaves the story of wizards with the Muggle history we all know.

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The discovery of the New World as we know it was preceeded by centuries by trans-Atlantic communication between European and North American witches and wizards during the Middle Ages. In opening a line of communication between wizards on both sides of the pond, Rowling has essentially given us a new history of how exploration and colonization could have happened. Instead of genocide and enslavement on the part of Muggles, magical beings found common ground. In the wizarding world, there weren’t “native savages.”

Rowling’s premise that magical beings are essentially good people with a greater understanding of the world — Dark Lord and his minions aside — carries over into her revision of the skin-walker myth, which has been a part of Native American folklore for centuries and defined as Animagis in the world of Harry Potter. According to Muggle legend — or No-Maj, as American non-magicals were called — skin-walkers are practioners of pure evil, and the presence of such power is predicated on a heinous act. As Rowling mentions in the story, “derogatory rumours” stated that a skin-walker would have to sacrifice a family member. Other versions of the myth expand that sacrifice to include incest and necrophilia, basically any act evil enough to strip away one’s humanity. 

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Rowling then gets into some of the differences between Native American and European wizards, the main being the particular strengths of the New World communities. Apparently, Europeans wouldn’t stand a chance in a potion making contest, while Native Americans would have trouble in the charms and transfiguration categories because of their lack of wands, an Old World invention. 

The distinction continues a trend from some of the more recent Pottermore stories, which explored the other wizarding schools are the world. Cultural specialities in magic, as well as the history of wandless magic, appear to be important threads in the expanding wizarding universe and are elements that fans should keep an eye on as the story continues. 

Check back tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. for the next story in The History of Magic in North America, “Seventeenth Century and Beyond.”

  • Movie
  • PG-13
release date
  • 11/18/16
  • 132 minutes
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