J.K. Rowling's New Pottermore Story Has Some Pretty Glaring Historical Inaccuracies
Harry Potter author JK Rowling continues to give the world new insights into our beloved wizarding world through her website Pottermore, but some of these updates are better thought out than others. For instance, a new Pottermore update makes some pretty glaring American history mistakes. Think you can spot the problems?
In an entry for the Magical Congress of the United States of America, or MACUSA, which was apparently founded in 1693, Rowling writes,
MACUSA relocated to Baltimore, where President Able Fleming had his home, but the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, followed by the arrival of the No-Maj Congress in the city, made MACUSA understandably nervous and they departed for Washington.
It was in Washington that President Elizabeth McGilliguddy presided over the infamous ‘Country or Kind?’ debate of 1777. ... The issue for discussion was: did the magical community owe their highest allegiance to the country in which they had made their homes, or to the global underground wizarding community? Were they morally obliged to join American No-Majs in their fight for liberation from the British Muggles? Or was this, simply put, not their fight?
There are a couple of problems with this description of the MACUSA, so points if you caught any of them.
The first, and most obvious, is that the Magical Congress of the United States of America was created before there was a United States of America. There's no indication in the entry that the Congress changed their name at any point, and there is no logical reason that anyone would be using the phrase "United States" in 1693 when the Congress was supposedly founded.
And then there's the second big issue: Supposedly the Congress relocated to Washington (by which she presumably means Washington, D.C.) before the Revolutionary War. But D.C. wasn't even founded until long after the war was over. It's hard to see how wizards were holding a debate there in 1777 when the land for the city wasn't even set aside until 1790 and the city wasn't founded until 1791. In fact, the whole point of Washington, D.C. is that the government wanted a new, neutral city in which to house to government. So unless those witches and wizards were holding a debate out in a Virginia swamp...
There are other curiosities in the full description of the MACUSA, as well. There is no mention of what the congress did during the Civil War, for instance — indeed, the chronology skips straight from 1790 to 1892. And there is no mention of how the MACUSA responded to the adding of American states. Did this process mirror the one going on in the non-magic community? Did the wizards have their own boundaries or requirements before wizards in U.S.-owned territories gained representation in national government? Did the MACUSA consider territories owned by the non-magical U.S. to also be under their jurisdiction?
These mistakes and omissions drive home a point that many have pointed out before about J.K. Rowling's wizarding world updates: She's just not as good at writing about magic in the U.S. Last year, many people were dissatisfied with her "History of Magic in North America" series of stories — particularly with her treatment of Native wizards, which numerous native readers and scholars called out as harmful and offensive.
Yet even as a white reader, I found myself dissatisfied with the impression of American magic that came through in Rowling's stories. In a nation founded by immigrants, why wasn't there an emphasis on the way different magical traditions have influenced each other here? After all, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire we got a pretty good look at how magical traditions vary even within Europe. So wouldn't the many traditions of America's many ethnic groups — Italian and German and Irish and Chinese and Mexican and Jewish and more — have mixed and melded over time?
In a country as huge as the U.S. with such strong regional differences, why would there only be one magical school? How could it even hold all the witches and wizards in the world's third most populous country?
Most perplexing to me was the fact that Rowling seems to want her historical wizards to have all been as enlightened as we are today, never getting their hands dirty in America's history of genocide or slavery — which begs the question why they then let their non-magical brethren suffer from these historical realities.
All in all, I'm not opposed to J.K. Rowling continuing to write about American wizards and American magic — but if she's going to write about a country not her own, she clearly needs to put in a lot more research. Because making mistakes about very basic things like the date our nation's capital was founded — or the point in time when people even began calling the United States of America "the United States of America" — does not inspire confidence that American fans are getting the thoughtfully done wizarding world we deserve.