J.K. Rowling has published the first two pieces of a four-part series on the history of magic in North America and it is already drawing criticism for her blanket consideration of Native Americans. Book Riot has a great article discussing the problematic aspects of Rowling when it comes to race especially in this new content (warning: it does use explicit language, if that is something you are concerned with). Dr. Adrienne Keene also raises important issues and concerns in this article. I happen to agree with both articles, and have a few other thoughts too. As an American religions historian, I was intrigued by where Rowling would go with this…and I have to say I am disappointed.
I read the two pieces (Fourteenth Century – Seventeenth Century & Seventeenth Century and Beyond) and am struck by two things. First, it’s boring. Really, really boring. If Rowling is going to give Potter fans new material, I’d like it to be somewhat interesting. Nothing in either of the two pieces thus far has made me think, “This is awesome and I am enjoying this new content!” It doesn’t feel like Rowling put that much energy into the work, like she’s just throwing a bone because she knows people will eat it up whether or not it is good. Overall, I think it’s a poor rendering of actual North American history.
Second, Rowling’s treatment of Native Americans is incredibly problematic. Rowling treats all Native Americans as a homogenous block when in reality there are more than 500 recognized tribes in North America. I also think her equating of magic with Native American spirituality completely disregards the sacredness and importance of Native American spirituality and spiritual practices. By associating strong magic with Native Americans, and especially her mention of medicine men, I think Rowling cheapens the actual spirituality of Native Americans…and continues to ignore the vast diversity of tribes.
I enjoy the Harry Potter series, and have read the books multiple times, but I am not a diehard fan. I don’t particularly care about reading “The Cursed Child” or “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” though I’ll probably see the movie when it comes out. I do think it is time to see that while Rowling may be a prolific childrens/YA author, she can and should be held accountable when she produces poorly written and racially problematic work. And if you read the History of Magic in North America and don’t see the problems of race and ethnicity, please go read the Book Riot article and Dr. Keene’s article. It’s there, whether you see it or not.