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J.K. Rowling’s new writing connects Fantastic Beasts to Harry Potter lore

There’s been an update to the Wizarding World of J.K. Rowling and this time it doesn’t have to do with seeking out spoilers to a play that only exists in London. Since this year also sees the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a movie where Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander will travel to 1920s Wizarding America.

That means Rowling is back in her familiar world-building headspace, which means we get new writings. These writings are taking the form of Magic in North America, a series of posts on Pottermore, Rowling’s official site. The first foray into new written material didn’t go as well as it could, with several Native American scholars bristling at how Rowling portrayed their culture in her fiction.

This second drop of written content focuses on the American school for wizards, and is called Ilvermorny. Not only do we get the history, but the site has been updated with a sorting quiz for the new institution.

First things first: the story of Ilvermorny’s founding is much better than the first four short pieces on the magical history of North America. In hindsight, it’s obvious those four pieces were summaries of large swaths of fictionalized history that were meant to set the scene for more complete stories to come. It looks like we got our first complete story in the tale of Isolt Sayre and the founding of her family’s school. The whole story dropped on Pottermore this week, but in the text are some key things that any Harry Potter fan will find exciting beyond how they are utilized in the writing.

It turns out the Gaunt family in Harry Potter’s mythos is much more important to the history of English speaking wizarding communities than we knew at the end of the series of seven books. In the Harry Potter novels we learn that House Guant is filled with powerful pure blood wizards as they are the descendants of both the Perverell family (the family whose three brothers try to cheat death in the Beedle the Bard’s tale from The Deathly Hallows) and Salazar Slytherin, one of the four founders of Hogwarts.

In the books, we learn that Voldemort visited his Gaunt relatives to obtain a ring that becomes one of his horcruxes. The movies leave the Guant family out altogether, which makes it doubly interesting that the hero of the Ilvermorny story, Isolt is a Gaunt. We don’t know how likely it is that Isolt’s story makes it on screen in any form, so the Gaunt family might end up being Rowling’s most important family to never make it to the movies.

This time, Rowling took the extra step to weave in her fictional story more seamlessly than the shorter versions that just mentioned witch trials and skinwalkers in passing. Two times in the Ilvermorny story we get characters traveling to America under assumed names: Isolt disguises herself as a young boy named Elias Story and later the villain Gormlaith enchants herself to look like an older man and travels under the name of Isolt’s dead father, William Sayre. Both of those names are called out for when they happen (Isolt/Elias goes to Plymouth settlement and Gormlaith sails on the Bonaventure. Both of those names should be easy to look up both Elias Story and the Bonaventure passenger were real people.

Isolt as a purebred descendant of Slytherin (and Gaunt) is technically an ancestor of Voldemort. Yet, as she wanders in North America she happens across a No-Maj (short for “No Magic”) named James Steward. He’s name dropped as being part of the Plymouth settlement and eventually Isolt marries him and they raise the family that will start Ilvermorny. In another great connection to the real world, there was a James Steward who lived in Plymouth until 1623, after which there is no further record of him. He very well could have met a witch and started a wizarding school in America.

Another piece of Potter-riffic connective tissue: The wand that Isolt steals from Gormlaith to make her escape from Ireland turns out to be the original wand of Salazar Slytherin. After a dual between Isolt’s makeshift family and her aunt/kidnapper, Isolt decides to bury the wand and never use it again. Where the wand was planted there is now a tree that sprouts leaves with powerful magical properties. One of Hogwarts’ original founders seems to have had quite an influence on the history of North America’s wizarding school, and that one is Slytherin.

The story of how each Ilvermorny house got it’s name and sigil is charming, and the knowledge that sorting isn’t done with a hat, but with a ceremony involving magical statues of each sigil creature is essential, but all we really want to know is what Ilvermorny house we belong in, right?

The information found in the Pottermore code turned out to be accurate about the names of the houses, but the Ilvermorny story goes a bit further to provide the background behind two of the creatures – the Horned Serpent (Isolt’s house) and Pukwudgie (James’ house) – but otherwise provides some more generalizations about what each of the four houses represent: “the mind is represented by Horned Serpent; the body, Wampus; the heart, Pukwudgie and the soul, Thunderbird…Others say that Horned Serpent favours scholars, Wampus, warriors, Pukwudgie, healers and Thunderbird, adventurers.”

You can rush over here to be sorted into your Ilvermorny house, but make sure you also check out the whole Ilvermorny origin tale, it’s so much better than the previous stuff.

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