J.K. Rowling, has a new short story out on Pottermore that tells us about the early years of The Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), the governing body for witches and wizards in the United States.
It’s the third Rowling story about magic in North America, following an overarching history of magic over six centuries and a detailed backstory on Ilvermorny, the North American wizarding school.
It’s also the last story we’ll get before the release of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” on November 18, a movie written by Rowling about the adventures of a wizard named Newt Scamander in 1920s New York.
What does Rowling’s new story tell us about the movie? Here’s what we learned:
Newt Scamander will be breaking the law — a wizard befriending a “No-Maj” is illegal in America
Throughout its history, MACUSA has been all about keeping wizards and witches away from No-Majs (American English for “Muggle”). The government’s first home base was in the Appalachian Mountains, far from most No-Majs, and didn’t move to the cities until the wizarding population there grew. MACUSA also took no official position in the Revolutionary War.
And in 1790, MACUSA passed Rappaport’s Law, one of the most significant laws in its history. It totally segregated magical folk and No-Majs, making even intermarriage and friendship with No-Majs illegal. The law remained intact in the 1920s, during Scamander’s arrival in New York.
So the overriding tension of “Fantastic Beasts” seems to be about hiding the magical world from the No-Maj community. Newt Scamander, a British wizard played by Eddie Redmayne, will not be making that easy after he befriends a No-Maj in his quest to find the magical creatures that escaped from his suitcase.
Serious breaches of MACUSA law in America are punishable by death
Scamander, given his earlier expulsion from Hogwarts, is prone to getting into trouble. Based on the latest trailer, it looks like Scamander unleashed a few magical animals in New York, and American magical law enforcement has to crack down on them before they cause too much havoc.
Rowling’s backstory tells us just how severe Scamander’s punishment could be. Unlike other countries, the magical government and the non-magical government in America simply haven’t collaborated historically. If Scamander unleashed magical animals in America’s biggest city that would reveal the magical world to No-Majs, it’s a huge deal.
How big a deal? Rowling explains, “Whereas British witches and wizards were sent to Azkaban [for committing a serious crime], the worst criminals in America were executed.”
Things are not looking good for Scamander.
Newt Scamander will be running from one of the best aurors in the country
Percival Graves (Colin Farrell), the head auror or magical law enforcement officer of MACUSA during Scamander’s time there, was a descendant of Gondulphus Graves, one of the first dozen aurors in the United States. Those original twelve wizards are revered for risking their lives to protect the magical community and tracking down dangerous Scourers, basically helping establish a legal order for American wizardry.
“The descendants of these witches and wizards have been given particular respect in the US ever since,” Rowling writes.
So Scamander is dealing with someone serious with a reputation to lose — it’s likely Graves will be passionate about catching Scamander before he accidentally exposes the magical community with his creatures. Who knows to what lengths he’ll go?
Scamander will also be battling against people who want to expose (and wipe out) the magical community
MACUSA’s first challenge after it was inaugurated was to rid the continent of Scourers, “corrupt wizards who had hunted their fellow magical beings for personal gain.” They were kind of like wizard bounty hunters that trafficked in other wizards, and sentenced some of them to death while serving as judges in the Salem Witch Trials. Because of the Scourers, North America was a dangerous place for wizards.
MACUSA largely succeeded in its goal, but several Scourers eluded justice, hiding within the No-Maj community. “The vengeful Scourers, cast out from their people, passed on to their descendants an absolute conviction that magic was real, and the belief that witches and wizards ought to be exterminated wherever they were found,” Rowling writes. Scourer descendants who buy into that philosophy are on the lookout for magic, and occasionally threaten to reveal magic to the world.
In “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” we know that two characters, Mary Lou Barebone and her son Credence, are members of the Second Salemers, a No-Maj group that wants to destroy witches and wizards. Sounds like they’re descendants of Scourers, and could throw a major wrench into the plot, especially if Scamander’s actions are threatening to expose the magical world at large.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” hits theatres November 18.
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