We’ve read the books. We’ve watched the movies. We’ve made our memories, we’ve mourned our losses, and we’ve been waiting for whatever’s next for more years than we can count. It’s been an exciting year for those of us who weren’t ready to let go of the Wizarding World, what with the announcement of the new movie, the opening of the new play, the hoards of new content on Pottermore, it’s as though this monolithic presence of our childhood is planning its own immortality. I for one am cool with that, you know, as long as there’s no soul-splitting involved. Been there, done that.
The latest installment of Pottermore is pleasantly timely. The descriptions of extra-European wizarding schools were released this week. Ilvermorny, the North American wizarding school, was given a lengthy backstory, in time for the United States’ celebration of its independence from Britain. Those of us over here still pretending to be members of an international wizarding community can blend our delusion with our patriotic celebrations.
The story of Ilvermorny delightfully parallels North America’s larger history. It’s an example of how European imperialism might have been, if those crossing the ocean had recognized their own refugee status. One of Ilvermorny’s founders, Isolt Sayre, was a descendant of Salazar Slytherin, plagued by some of her family’s prejudiced roots. She fled across the Atlantic and tried to disappear there. Like the No-Maj, or magicless humans, around her, she carved out a place for herself in the landscape instead of trying to assimilate into the cultures and communities already there, and in doing so, had to scale the learning curve of a new continent all by herself. Ilvermorny’s other founders, James Stewart and Chadwick and Webster Boot were also colonists struggling to survive in this unfamiliar territory.
Perhaps because of this, Ilvermorny has a very frontiersy, homesteader-esque feel to it: it started as a humble stone house atop a mountain, and grew into a castle. The Pottermore description doesn’t say it, but I like to imagine that as new teachers and students got involved in the culture of the school, the physical additions to the building reflected the diversity among the student body. Ilvermorny has a much more borderless and xenophillic relationship with the many people groups on the continent than its early No-Maj counterparts. Again, Pottermore doesn’t spell it out, but I suppose this inclusivity is due to the camaraderie nurtured by the tumultuous surroundings of war and nationalism, and the fact that Ilvermorny was intentionally separate from all of that, as a refuge from persecution and prejudice of all kinds.
Ilvermorny isn’t without its controversy. I don’t have to visit it to know that it’s Eurocentric–you don’t get more British than these founders–and as such cannot wholly escape the continent’s race relation struggles. But, unlike Hogwarts, it seems to have successfully shed its wizarding prejudice against No-Majs and Squibs. Because of this, there is a flurry of confusion over Ilvermorny’s houses, the structure of which is a holdover from the English system, but whose personalities are nowhere near as fleshed out or concrete as the familiar Hogwarts houses.
For those unaware, the houses are named after magical creatures native to North America, each one chosen by a
The founders of the school were two parents and two children. Without a Slytherin-like figure, full of self-satisfaction and elitism, present at the founding of Ilvermorny, without a shred of systemic prejudice even alluded to in the story of its creation, what sets these houses apart from each other? Are there rivalries? Is there any suggestion of division or strife in the school? Who is the enemy, if it is not, as it was in Hogwarts, within? I’ve speculated quite a bit about Ilvermorny and its history, but this is one thing Rowling is being more tight-lipped about, and I couldn’t start to guess even if I wanted to.
I guess it’s time for Harry Potter fans to settle into a game they’re very good at: waiting.