J.K. Rowling’s Latest Pottermore Story Is An American Wizarding Civics Lesson

J.K. Rowling’s Latest Pottermore Story Is An American Wizarding Civics Lesson

Another day closer to the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, another Pottermore story about the history of American wizardry which, we presume, will be all shaken up by that movie’s protagonist, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) Today’s lesson: Politics!

Rowling’s written a sort of encyclopedia entry on the Magical Congress of the United States of America, founded in 1693 (about 80 years before there actually was a United States), abbreviated as MACUSA. It’s pronounced, per Rowling, as “mah-cooz-ah” and not “mac-U-S-A.” which feels more American, to be honest.

The MACUSA’s job was really to protect American wizards from Scourers, wizards who had gone bad by hunting their own kind. America had plenty, as it was just full of European wizarding criminals on the run from the law.

Other tidbits from the story include that Harry Potter has a distant relation among America’s first 12 Aurors and that another of those 12, Theodard Fontaine, has a descendant in charge of America’s only wizarding school of note, Ilvermorny. Also, in the grand American tradition, the MACUSA and the actual US federal government never cooperate, because of all the mistrust engendered by the Scourers.

There’s also the story of the MACUSA president whose magical dogs savaged some No-Majs (the American word for Muggles) and caused the founding of the country’s first mental hospital through the weirdness of his home. Also, apparently, the wizards decided to debate whether or not to get involved in the Revolutionary War. When they asked the British Ministry for Magic what they were going to do, they answered, “Sitting this one out.”

And, you’d think that given the whole “witches and wizards hate and fear the No-Majs” thing, they wouldn’t celebrate the Fourth of July. You would be wrong:

While officially the American witches and wizards did not engage in battle, unofficially there were many instances of intervention to protect No-Maj neighbours and the wizarding community celebrated Independence Day along with the rest of American society — although not necessarily alongside them.

Sure, OK.

Of course, just like in the History of Magic in North America, the repeated theme is that wizarding America has a formal and informal policy of making sure no No-Maj ever finds out magic exists. And just like in the History of Magic in North America, Rowling’s description of the law continues to be a nightmare:

One of the most significant American magical laws was created in 1790, when MACUSA approved an edict to enforce total segregation of the wizarding and No-Maj communities. Rappaport’s Law, named after then-President Emily Rappaport, was created as a result of one of the worst breaches of the International Statute of Secrecy ever known, a breach in which the daughter of Rappaport’s Keeper of Treasure and Dragots and a Scourer descendant almost exposed the existence of magic worldwide. With the passing of Rappaport’s Law, intermarriage and even friendship between wizards and No-Majs became illegal in the United States.

Rowling needs to not use “segregation” when talking about American history and laws that keep two groups apart. It’s not a clever allegory, it’s appropriation. The fact that there’s actual justification for wizards to remain apart from normal people — namely, that the government will burn them at the stake — makes it worse, because of course there’s no justification for the other segregation in American history.

To make this parallel both clearer and much more unacceptable, Rowling goes on to say that the MACUSA has “several offices” enforcing this law, which OH MY GOD DON’T CREATE AN ANTI-MISCEGENATION DEPARTMENT IN YOUR FICTIONAL MAGICAL FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. The US actually did have laws and agents forbidding miscegenation — again, it’s appropriation, not allegory. That’s going to stick in the mind every time this government shows up in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie. Every time. Less a magical romp and more Newt being chased around by government-created and sanctioned bigots.

Rowling also feels compelled to point out that these “No-Maj Fraternisation” MACUSA offices have no counterpart in Britain (despite apparently using a British spelling of “fraternisation”). She also throws in a line about how Americans wizards execute their worst criminals. We get it, J.K.

Anyway, for the purposes of the movie, the important takeaways are the enforced total separation between wizards and No-Majs, that the MACUSA has its headquarters in New York City, the current president is Seraphina Picquery from Savannah and the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement (yeah, sure, it can have the same name as the British one, I guess) is Percival Graves. Graves is also a descendant of one of those original 12 Aurors, Gondulphus Graves. And, I’m betting he’s not going to be a fan of Newt’s.

Which is fine, since I’m rapidly becoming a fan of no one who will be appearing in this movie.

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