Harry Potter remains one of the biggest movie franchises of all time and, five years after the release of the last movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the fandom shows no signs of slowing. In part, this is because of the continued push from Warner Bros. with merchandise, the creation of several Wizarding Worlds at their theme parks, and the Harry Potter Studios in the U.K., but largely, the continued thirst that Potterheads have for the Wizarding World is thanks to J.K. Rowling herself.
The Harry Potter author and creator has continued to drive the fandom on by intermittently writing essays on the Pottermore website, where she examines the backstories of various characters from the franchise, and also by being sympathetic to fans' wish to have more of everything: more Harry Potter stories, more worlds to examine, new characters to dissect. In short, Rowling loves the franchise as much as we do, and we love her for that in return.
During the course of 2016, Rowling will extend the Wizarding World with the release of the stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and also the cinematic release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The latter is an extension of the Wizarding World, taking us back in time to 1920s New York, when Newt Scamander is returning from his research journey for his textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which Harry, Ron and Hermione studied during their time at Hogwarts. That isn’t the only connection to the Harry Potter books/ films though, and though in essence Fantastic Beasts is a standalone story (with more films lined up to create its own trilogy in the future), Rowling has actually woven a complex tapestry across various platforms, to create one enormous Wizarding World that extends both back in time and well into the future.
Eddie Redmayne takes the central role of Newt Scamander, a Magizoologist from England who is stopping off in New York on his way home. He carries a magical case, with samples of all the Fantastic Beasts he has encountered on his travels, ready to document them in his new book. The problems start when that case is accidentally opened by an unsuspecting No-Maj (American word for Muggle) and some of the creatures escape. What ensues is a race against time as Newt and his newfound friends struggle to recapture the creatures before the No-Maj population discover them, especially since they are already wary of the Wizarding community and its ‘witchcraft.’
The time setting allows Rowling (who enjoys her very first screenwriting credit) to explore the fear of witchcraft that was very much prevalent in America at the time, but it’s also given her licence to travel even further back to lay the foundations of Wizarding education in the United States.
Writing on Pottermore again, Rowling gifted fans with the entire history of how magic found its way to North America in the seventeenth century, and how one woman went on to found Illvermorny, the U.S. equivalent of Hogwarts.
According to the mythos, Isolt Sayre was the offspring of two pure blood wizards, and spent her early childhood growing up in Ireland. When she was five years old, a fire at her home killed both her parents and Isolt was taken to live with her mother’s estranged sister, Gormlaith Gaunt. As Isolt grew up, she realized that her aunt had in fact murdered her parents for their willingness to help and show kindness to their muggle neighbors. Gormlaith decided to raise Isolt, a direct descendent of Salazar Slytherin, to have no association with muggles. Gormlaith refused to allow Isolt to attend Hogwarts, bemoaning the fact that Slytherin’s plans for the purity of the Wizarding World had not come to fruition.
Eventually, Isolt stole her aunt’s wand and escaped on the Mayflower in 1620, arriving with the earliest No-Maj settlers, before concealing herself high in the mountains. During her time there, Isolt met a variety of magical creatures, including a Pukwudgie, described by Rowling as a “Short gray-faced, large-eared creature, distantly related to the Goblin.” Pukwudgies do not care for human contact, but Isolt nursed one back to health and he then declared himself her servant until he could repay the debt (similar to House-Elves). The two developed a unique kind of friendship, and Isolt named him William.
William introduced Isolt to a wider variety of magical creatures, including a Horned Sea Serpent, and Isolt discovered she could understand what the Serpent was saying - though she could not speak Parseltongue. Still, her ability to understand a Serpent is hardly a surprise considering her connection to Slytherin.
Isolt and William went on to rescue two small boys, Chadwick and Webster, from a Hidebehind, a magical creature that had killed both their parents. The boys were both magical and Isolt decided to raise them as her own. She then met a man in the woods, a No-Maj named James Steward, and the two quickly fell in love and built a house together, which Isolt named Ilvermorny.
Unable to send her boys to Hogwarts, Isolt resolved to educate them herself, and the boys insisted that the school have four houses. Wampus, Thunderbolt, Pukwudgie, and Horned Serpent were decided upon, and Ilvermorny school of Witchcraft and Wizardry was born. Gradually word spread, and magical families who had settled in America began sending their children to Ilvermorny for their education.
Ilvermorny, Rowling tells us, is less elitist than Hogwarts and more accepting. The sorting process is different; allowing each house statue (Pukwudgie, Horned Serpent, Thunderbolt and Wampus), to offer the student a place in their house if they want. It is not unheard of for a student to be offered a place in more than one house, and then the choice is given to the student.
Seraphina Picquerey was the last student to be offered a place in all four houses. She chose Horned Serpent, which is said to favor the scholar. Seraphina is also the President of the MACUSA (Magical Congress of the USA) in Fantastic Beasts.
Make no mistake, the timing of Rowling’s introduction to Ilvermorny is very purposeful indeed. She leaves nothing to chance, and we can certainly expect to see or hear references to Ilvermorny or its houses in the movie. It’s a long story to read in its entirety, but worth it, because subtle references could well arise in Fantastic Beasts, as well as more blatant pointers.
Firstly, the fact that Seraphina was chosen by all four houses means she is clearly a wizard of some magnitude. It seems as though she was the Hermione of Ilvermorny back in the day. Not only has she risen to the most powerful role within the American Wizarding community, but she has managed to keep a tight grip on the use of magic, in an effort to stem the flow of bad feeling from the Muggle community. Until now, that is.
We know that Samantha Morton plays Mary Lou, leader of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, an extremist group looking to kill all witches and wizards, so the community must be on the down low even more than they were in Harry Potter. However, the escapades of Newt’s creatures all across New York will certainly draw attention, and Mary Lou will be all over that. The detailed descriptions Rowling gives in her story of the variety of beasts Isolt encounters also gives rise to the possibility that some may be featured in the movie, given that fans will be eager to see what they really look like.
Just as in Harry Potter, where the houses the students are sorted into generally match their personalities, so too will Ilvermorny houses have their effect. We already know Seraphina chose Horned Serpent which favors scholars, but will we hear what houses Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) were sorted into while they attended Ilvermorny? Tina is said to be a talented Auror, using skills she no doubt honed during her time at the school.
Hogwarts is a place of huge significance in the Harry Potter world, in part because a lot of the action takes place at the school, but also because being educated there is a common bond that all wizards share. A lot of the adult characters frequently reference their time there, and Voldemort’s time at Hogwarts is touched upon in some detail. Ilvermorny will have played an equal part in the lives of our American wizards, and so we can expect it to be at least mentioned.
As for whether we will see the school in Fantastic Beasts, well, the possibility seems slim, but there is another connection that could well be explored in later films, since there are two sequels lined up concerning Newt Scamander’s adventures. That is the connection to Slytherin, and whether that means, in essence, that one of the Ilvermorny houses has also developed a reputation for developing the talents of dark, yet powerful wizards (like Slytherin has). If so, that could mean that dark wizards are lurking, nurturing their talent and possibly helping the future Dark Lord's army to grow which, in turn, could tie into the Harry Potter storyline further in the future.
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them will arrive in U.S. theaters on November 18th, 2016.
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) release date: Nov 18, 2016