If you’re a fellow Harry Potter nerd like myself, you’ve been loving author J.K. Rowling’s series of short writings explaining some of the history behind magic in North America. While the Harry Potter series delved heavily into the European wizarding world, we knew very little about magic across the pond, and Rowling used that to her advantage to build an entire feature film franchise around the differences between European and American magic. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks Rowling’s screenwriting debut and stars Eddie Redmayne as English magizoologist Newt Scamander, who finds himself in deep trouble when his collection of magical creatures gets loose in 1920s New York City.
The past couple of days have seen Rowling fill in some backstory on American magic, beginning with Native American wizards and continuing yesterday with some fascinating history on the Salem Witch Trials. Rowling’s writings continue today with another entry that could be heavy foreshadowing for Fantastic Beasts, as it explains why in America, witches and wizards are heavily segregated from the No-Maj population.
Per the entry on Pottermore, it all stems from an incident that occurred in 1790 involving the daughter of MACUSA Keeper of Treasure and Dragots (essentially the Secretary of Treasury) Dorcus Twelvetrees. By Rowling’s description “as dim as she was pretty,” Dorcus let slip a bevy of wizarding secrets to a No-Maj who happened to be a descendant of the Scourers. We learned yesterday that Scourers were a band of vengeful magic-folk who, after their persecution as a result of their complicity in the Salem Witch Trials, began breeding out magic from their descendants while instilling in their offspring a belief and disdain for magic and magic-folk.
A Scourer descendant named Bartholomew befriended Dorcus with the purpose of learning the secrets behind the location of both MACUSA (America’s version of the Ministry of Magic) and the primary American wizarding school, Ilvermorny. He succeeded and subsequently disseminated fliers revealing both locations and then rounded up a group of armed men who set out to persecute and kill all the witches and wizards in the vicinity. Bartholomew got a bit trigger happy, though, and ended up shooting at a group of No-Maj who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, resulting in Bartholomew’s imprisonment by the No-Maj authorities without the need for MACUSA involvement.
The fallout of Dorcus’ indiscretion, however, was dire. MACUSA had to be moved, Dorcus served one year in prison and then essentially exiled herself, and MACUSA President Emily Rappaport created Rappaport’s Law, which enforced strict segregation between No-Maj and wizarding communities. As Rowling explains, this had major consequences that further delineate the American wizarding world from that of Europe:
In the Old World, there had always been a degree of covert cooperation and communication between No-Maj governments and their magical counterparts. In America, MACUSA acted totally independently of the No-Maj government. In Europe, witches and wizards married and were friends with No-Majs; in America, No-Majs were increasingly regarded as the enemy. In short, Rappaport’s Law drove the American wizarding community, already dealing with an unusually suspicious No-Maj population, still deeper underground.
In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we can no doubt expect to see these cultural differences explored as Newt Scamander is basically a stranger in a strange land, surrounded by American witches, wizards, and a No-Maj named Jacob (Dan Fogler). Now, doesn’t this all get you even more excited for this new installment in the Harry Potter universe?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in theaters on November 18th.