JK Rowling, author of the record-breaking Harry Potter series, is under fire by some in the Native American community. The controversy surrounds the first part in a four-part series History of Magic in North America. The series launched Tuesday, and the first part, entitled “Fourteenth Century – Seventeenth Century” has ruffled some feathers, reports The Guardian.
Part one-of-four in the new story JK Rowling story series, which is published on her Pottermore website, reportedly tells the story of how wizards communicated with North America prior to the continent’s colonization by the “No-Maj,” which are the American versions of British “Muggles” (or non-magical people). JK Rowling used the word “Muggle” in her Harry Potter series, integrating the invented term into the vernaculars of English-speaking folks the world over.
“Magical travel meant that even far-flung wizarding communities were in contact with each other from the Middle Ages.”
In the story, JK Rowling tells the tale that “the Native American magical community and those of Europe and Africa had known about each other long before the immigration of European No-Majs in the seventeenth century.” Rowling goes on to describe a proportion of “magic folk” that is “consistent all over the world.” Rowling spends the remainder of the story focused on Native American magic, and describes Native American wizards as being “accepted and even lauded.”
Unfortunately for JK Rowling, the result of her new series related to North American wizards has resulted in harsh criticism. Rowling has been accused of “appropriating the living tradition of a marginalised people” for her depiction of the skinwalker of Navajo legend, The Guardian reports.
JK Rowling wrote that the myth of the skinwalker has its basis in fact, that the legend developed “around the Native American Animagi” and they had sacrificed close members of their family in order to attain their powers of transformation. JK Rowling goes on to explain that the skinwalkers actually used their powers to escape persecution. According to Rowling, the negative rumors associated with the skinwalkers often came from No-Maj medicine men who faked their own magical ability and were afraid of being exposed as frauds.
When questioned on Twitter about her fictionalization of Navajo legend, JK Rowling responded that “in my wizarding world, there were no skinwalkers,” but rather the legend was created by those lacking their own magic in order to “demonise wizards.” Not everyone is satisfied by Rowling’s response.
While many JK Rowling fans were delighted by the author’s new descriptions and depictions of the Harry Potter universe, those who thought Rowling had crossed some kind of line were very quick and specific with their criticism.
It's not "your" world. It's our (real) Native world. And skin walker stories have context, roots, and reality. https://t.co/mRZD0M1UCf— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) March 8, 2016
The response was written by Dr. Adrienne Keene, academic and citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Keene also took offense to JK Rowling using the phrase “the Native American community,” explaining to Rowling (and everyone following the Twitter exchange) that Native peoples are “diverse, complex and vastly different” from each other.
On her blog, Dr. Keene wrote that there is “no such thing” as one “Native American anything.” Even in a “fictionalized wizarding” universe. She continued her rant against JK Rowling, saying that Native American spiritual beliefs are “not fantasy on the same level as wizards.” She described, obviously directing her words to JK Rowling, beliefs that are actively practiced, alive, and (perhaps most importantly) protected. Keene described the struggle by Native Americans to be seen as “contemporary and real” and to push away the stereotypes that put Native Americans into the same familiar categories: “mystical-connected-to-nature-shamans or violent-savage-warriors.”
Brian Young, a Navajo author, also took to Twitter to berate JK Rowling about the new story, calling himself “broken hearted,” and telling Rowling that his “beliefs are not fantasy.”
I'm broken hearted. Jk Rowling, my beliefs are not fantasy. If ever there was a need for diversity in YA lit it is bullish!t like this.— Brian Young (@hungrynavajo) March 8, 2016
Jonnie Jae, a self-described “Potterhead” and founder of “A Tribe Called Ceek,” also weighed in on the subject and JK Rowling. Jae said that she’d often wanted to see Navajos incorporated into the Harry Potter world created by JK Rowling. However, now that it’s happened, she found the effort by Rowling “so disrespectfully done.”
We're saying that there is problem when non-natives continue to use outdated & racist stereotypes as the basis for their native characters— Johnnie Jae (@johnniejae) March 9, 2016
because @jk_rowling has based her "native wizards" off the same racist stereotypes & miseducation that JM Barrie used in Peter Pan.— Johnnie Jae (@johnniejae) March 8, 2016
While neither JK Rowlings’ representatives nor JK Rowling herself have responded to media requests for comment on the controversy surrounding her new stories, Adrienne Keene says that she has been inundated with responses from people calling her “oversensitive” and calling her an “idiot.” Keene also points out that while JK Rowling often responds directly to fans on Twitter, she has not responded to concerns about her new story, despite thousands of queries.
“The silence is noted, and it’s deafening.”
The remainder of the JK Rowling History of Magic in North America is scheduled to come out this week, with a new part added to her Pottermore website everyday at 2 p.m. Friday’s installment will be the final in the four-part JK Rowling story series, which supposedly ties into the the November release of the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, based on the JK Rowling book of the same title.
What do you think? Is it appropriate for JK Rowling to rewrite Native American legends into her fiction in a society where major Hollywood studios are making films based on rewritten stories from the Bible? Are these activists too sensitive, or are they justified? Was JK Rowling acting within the bounds of propriety with her story, or did she cross a line?
[Image Courtesy Of Julian Finney/Getty Images]