J.K Rowling’s history of magical North America was not a travesty as io9 put it, but rather it was incredibly lazy and poorly researched. I’m going to try and not be overly mean to her, as I believe that she was well meaning in trying to come up with a cool, unique history for North America. That said, for the effort that Rowling put into this history she may as well have used the subtitle to the Spaceballs sequel “The History of North America, the Quest for More Cash”. Who am I to judge Rowling’s history you may ask? I’m a history buff who wrote my own, incredibly flawed, version of the history of magic in North America. I know how hard it is to do this well, and the amount of research it takes to right by this.
The fun starts from the beginning with Rowling asserting that European Wizards had known and visited the Americas from well before Columbus made his trip, which is an absurd idea. It’s absurd for a multitude of reasons. Let’s start with the most cynical of them. From basically the moment that Columbus “discovered” the Americas the European powers set out to exploit the new world for all it was worth. With what Rowling established about British Wizards we are to believe that, unlike their muggle counterparts, they were going to be respectful to the Native Americans. Nope, don’t believe that for a second. On an a less cynical note, why wouldn’t the European Wizards establish trade routes the Americas and make money on the goods that could only be supplied from Across the Atlantic? If they knew about the Americas, then they could have commissioned ships to make regular trips there.
It also takes a tremendous suspension of disbelief to go along with what Rowling tells us about the travel to the Americas. It took Charles Lindbergh thirty-three hours to make the trip from New York to Paris on the Spirit of St. Louis. The plane had a top speed of roughly 120 miles per hour, and by the time Lindbergh had landed he had been awake for 55 hours (thank you google). Though we don’t know exactly what the top speed of a broom is, let’s make a few assumptions. One, the brooms that would be around in the middle ages were slower. Based on what the novels also tell us, Harry has a top of the line broom designed for speed. If the books had made an effort to emphasize the maneuverability Harry’s Firebolt, and that was why it was the best broom for Quidditch, I wouldn’t assume that the broom was built for speed. Speed is that is mentioned in regards to his broom, so we have no choice but to assume that the speed on the Firebolt is about as fast as they get. Not only that, but we are lead to believe that Harry Potter gets the most possible speed out of his broom. Given that Harry is alive and actually able to handle the broom, it’s safe to believe that believe the top speed of one of, if not the, fastest broom on the market is well below 120 mph. Knowing that, any trip on a modern day broom would take multiple days to cross the ocean. Older brooms would take even longer. It is thus entirely unreasonable to believe that trips could be made on brooms over the Atlantic Ocean. Apparation as a way of travel across the Atlantic Ocean is self-evidently dumb. We know it takes a lot of effort to Apparate safely to the point where a license is required. Apparating thousands of miles to a place that people have never gone before is next to impossible.
Rowling really shows her ignorance about an entire host of things in her discussion of the Native Americans. First off, the entire bit about Skinwalkers is just lazy. I don’t mind the cultural appropriation that much (I’m going to have pizza for dinner which was cultural appropriated from Sicily), but I mind the laziness of it. Understand one thing, people of European descent committed genocide of the Native Americans. The least that Rowling, a woman who could get herself a meal with the Queen of England, could have done was get some Native American tribal leaders on the phone and ask them about what legends could be used. Strangely enough, Rowling also doesn’t seem to understand what a wand actually is: a focus. Ultimately a wand is a way to focus magic for more precise casting. Thus, while I could buy wands not being developed by Native Americans, they could easily have another form of focus.
Unlike Rowling, I know where it’s best to shut up because of ignorance on the subject of Native Americans. My Great, Great Grandmother was Comanchee, and, while I’ve been meaning to learn more about that aspect of my heritage, I don’t know enough to say more. That’s also kind of the point. Rowling went solely by stereotypes and things she had vaguely heard about when it comes to Native Americans. She did not bother to do an ounce of research to truly understand even a single Native American culture when writing about them. At most she did a google search and came up with some legend to use.
Come back for part two because there will be a lot to address there. Among the highlights will be why using the Salem Witch Trials as actual Witch trials is so bad. The insanity of the Scourers and the laziness of saying criminals were a major source of immigrants. I will also make a book recommendation for how she could have done things better.